Ah Singapore, Asia’s living, breathing version of The Truman Show. Home to confused taxi drivers, relentless heat and peerless cheap eats at hawker centres. It’s a quick two night visit reporting for www.finedininglovers.com on the annual Bocuse d’Or competition for Asia’s best young chefs. The strain and stress was clear as they had five hours to wow the heavyweight panel – the overall winner, Japan’s Kotaro Hasegawa, had judges including Tetsuya Wakuda blown away by his utterly flawless execution.
An evening escape led to Burnt Ends, the ridiculously popular Chinatown space where chef Dave Pynt works his charring magic. Even if you get there in time for a walk-in, your wait will generally be at least 90-120 minutes. We’d wangled a booking and dinner quickly lived up to and explained the hype.
It’s a tight space, maybe 30 covers in total, most of whom sit along the bar facing the action. And what action. An enormous beast of an oven, four tonnes of custom-built metal and some very groovy elevation grills give the place the feel of a metalworking shop from Game of Thrones, chefs constantly stoking and poking the engines.
The one page menu reads like a dream. While barbecue is definitive dude food, there’s no pontificating about it here. And while you could ask the waiters for more details on the dishes, there’s no point – because it’s part of the fun to see what you’ll get – and because everything we eat is excellent.
A case in point, ‘beef marmalade with pickles’. What would your guess be? This arrived, one of the most glorious mouthfuls of 2016 to date, the very best bits of a roast, but on toast, with mayo and sweet pickles. Wow. Slightly sweet, certainly sticky, you can see where the marmalade descriptor came from. ($SGD14/$HK80)
From one definition of meatporn to the next with one of their signature dishes, ‘Burnt Ends’ Sanger’: Pulled pork shoulder, chipotle aioli, home made slaw on brioche (SGD$20/$HK115). Boom. If there’s a sandwich to equal it in Singapore, I’d be very impressed. You just know by looking at it how good it is for the soul and bad for the arteries.
The hits keep on coming. ‘Beef and mustard’ is surprisingly dainty, the most perfect tartare enveloped in charred lettuce with a mustard seed dressing (SGD$18/$HK100):
Given that our monthly recommended red meat intake hadn’t quite been consumed in one evening, we hit up the ‘Rump cap with burnt onion and marrow’. Rump cap is a flat, triangular cut, thinner at one end, that sits on the main rump muscles. It responds with real tenderness when cooked properly. At Burnt Ends they show you your cut before cooking it, the marbling a thing of beauty:
When cooked with the marrow and onion, it becomes a simply epic plate of good stuff. $SGD78/$HK440)
Although Burnt Ends isn’t the first place you’d bring a vegetarian, there are some meat free dishes including a very passable leek, hazelnut and brown butter.
By now utterly defeated, thanks also to their brilliant sourdough, some Swedish Pistonhead lagers and a very fine bottle of Chianti, we sit back and watch as plates of superb-looking Whiting and Kingfish hit other tables. As the Burnt Ends Dungeon Master Dave Pynt talks to fellow happy diners towards the end of service, for once you know unequivocally that you’re somewhere that you can believe the hype.