Singapore diners like brand names, sometimes the big names work, sometimes they fail spectacularly.
In the case of newly-opened Blackwattle by celebrated Chef Clayton Wells, the reputation he’s built with hip Sydney restaurant Automata (and also his years at marquee names like Quay, Momofuku Seiobo and Tetsuya’s) is more than well deserved.
The 60-seater that took over ZOTT’s True Alps on 97 Amoy Street opened with no lack of fanfare judging by the social media buzz opening week – almost every foodie in town had wrangled a reservation for the chance to taste Wells cuisine first hand.
The restaurant – opened together with Loh Lik Peng under the Unlisted Group (Burnt Ends, Ards, Nouri) – won’t just be a vanity project for Wells. While it is helmed by Dutch head chef Joeri Timmermans (also his sous chef at Automata), Wells will split his time between Sydney and Singapore, and like his Sydney outpost, he intends to change the menu regularly.
What we hope is a permanent fixture though is his bread and butter. Not just because it makes a great first impression, it’s likely you won’t taste anything quite like it. The soft pillowy buns (served warm from the oven) sport a perfectly crisp crust with a generous dish of hand whipped butter with chicken jus and anchovies. Simply put, it’s just begging to be bottled up and sold by the dozen.
It’s this attention to essentials that elevates Blackwattle’s menu. Wells’ keeps things simple, his dishes are easy to digest (both literally and visually) and veers away from gimmicks and crowd pleasing Insta-friendliness; although they are beautifully plated.
The grilled freemantle octopus, cooked to perfect bounciness, is served with a vinegar XO chilli sauce that has an unmistakable smokiness that’s incredibly addictive – you’ll do well to keep some bread aside to mop up this sauce. While it could have been too easy for Wells’ to introduce some fancy cooking technique or over complicated reduction, he confidently let this dish shine all on its own.
The next dish, a steamed red fish with roasted lettuce, green sauce, lardo and herbs is something you imagine really good (but slightly naughty) spa cuisine tastes like. The green sauce adds a touch of tartness to what some might decide is a bland-tasting fish, but that’s the beauty of it: to allow a really fresh piece of protein to shine with just a hint of “window dressing” and a touch of texture, thanks to the fresh herbs and crushed nuts atop the crisp lettuce.
The main course of grilled Black Angus beef tri-tip, burnt carrot, wood ear mushroom and tamari sauce is a labour of love that should not be missed. Cooked for three to four hours before being finished off on the Big Green Egg (always a sign of a good restaurant), the meat is done perfectly with a thin crust (thanks to the BGE) and together with the tangy tamari sauce, is a mouthful of meat heaven.
To end, Wells’ dessert of creamy pumpkin seed sorbet is an unusual sweet that could take getting used to. For me, I enjoy desserts (but not overly sugary ones), so this gets my vote for its creativity and playful textures: blending burnt meringue with dried mandarins (which were still juicy) and plums, genius. None of these ingredients appear to belong together but Wells’ pulls it off.
All in all, is this the best restaurant opening for 2017? Possibly yes. The food served is not overly complicated yet the flavours are playful and creative. The prices are reasonable (five-course dinner menu costs $115++ and the three-course lunch menu is $48++, there’s also an ala carte menu), the décor just hip enough without being painful – check out the UFO-shaped lighting fixture from Spitafields (surely one of Loh Lik Peng’s finds) – and the atmosphere not at all intimidating, making it ideal for first dates, business meals or simply dining solo.
Everyone should make reservation here, and soon, before the Michelin inspectors visit and do the inevitable.
97 Amoy Street, 6224 2232, blackwattle.com.sg