I have always held that if there were ever a place for a new era of dining well to take root and make a notable stand, it would be in a cosmopolitan food capital such as Singapore. Fine dining has long outgrown its rather limiting embrace, led by a revolutionary band of culinary cowboys who are armed with enviable experience at some of the world’s best restaurants and have a passion for honest food.
So, you can easily imagine the buzz among the discerning when news broke that one of Australia’s best in that category would be opening a 60-seat restaurant and bar on Amoy Street. It would be puerile to presume the excitement stemmed from the simple fact that there was a new player in town, one that had earned a reputation for bringing something innovative to the table. If anything, the arrival of Blackwattle, the first Asian outpost of Sydney chef Clayton Wells—which is also his second venture with local hotelier‑restaurateur Loh Lik Peng of the Unlisted Collection—affirms the growing interest in cuisines that transcend geographical boundaries. Wells cut his teeth at the likes of Tetsuya’s and Quay, before setting up the award-winning Automata at Sydney’s Old Clare Hotel, which was opened by Loh.
As he divides his time between Sydney and Singapore, Blackwattle is helmed by former Automata sous chef and a long-time collaborator Joeri Timmermans, who first met Wells in 2013 when they both worked at Sydney’s Momofuku Seiobo.
Much like Nouri, its challenger for hottest new restaurant this year, the menu at Wells’ Blackwattle—a name it borrows from a native Australian tree—impresses with its bold flavours dressed in an uncomplicated style. It reflects Automata’s winning DNA, and also forms part of a growing crop of chef-led modern Australian restaurants that include the likes of Whitegrass and Cheek By Jowl. As such, the food here is not easily pigeonholed, as it aims to tell a more personal story using quality ingredients and, well, less than traditional methods.
One such dish that I tried was the warm starter of beautifully charred octopus over a little fennel dressed in a dark, almost viscous, blend of squid ink and red vinegar. As enjoyable as the combination was, the addition of a little XO sauce was far from patronising. It added something I didn’t expect it needed just by looking at the dish—and that was more depth of flavour. Granted, the touch of heat is something locals in particular will appreciate. But the deeper kick—similar to the one chilli oil gives—was key in accentuating the dish’s natural umami.
And that, to me, are the subtle but significant touches that make all the difference. The dishes aren’t fearlessly flavourful for pomp sake. There is something personal and genuine about these wild amalgamations. This is embodied too in the naked allure of the grilled beef short rib with a puree of carrot and kelp, and dill pickled cucumber, which make for a harmonious blend of sweet and savoury.
Work in Progress
While it would be easy to declare something new or untested as a work in progress, the dishes here are far from incomplete. I would much rather describe them as evolutionary—dishes that not only grow on you but that also evolve to accommodate the changing landscape. When I first visited, the catch of the day was a steamed green bone served with roasted lettuce with green sauce, lardo and fresh herbs. The next day, I was told, it could be a different fish—a monkfish, perhaps—that works just as well, if not better.
I also tried the dish of grilled beef tri‑tip served with burnt carrot and wood ear mushrooms in tamari sauce that I imagine would glisten in the company of the aforementioned puree of carrot and kelp.
As easy as it is to appreciate the year‑round appeal of dishes such as fried Jerusalem artichokes with sunflower seed and miso, or stracciatella and tomato with kombu and shellfish oil, it is even better to savour them at specific periods of the year when they taste the best, or when they are paired with other seasonal gems.
(Related: The Future Of Singapore Cuisine Defined)
During a pre-opening exchange of e-mails, Wells teased about incorporating uniquely Singaporean influences, in dishes such as mud crab with braised pumpkin seeds, egg yolk jam, and spider crab and white pepper broth, which he explained is inspired by an early trip to Singapore. The last I checked, there was a dish of king crab with braised pumpkin seeds and egg yolk in a white pepper broth. If it’s not available on the day you dine there, there’s nothing wrong with opting to have instead the scallop with macadamia milk and rosemary oil and romanesco. It is a simple enough decision but one I doubt diners would see as a compromise—not when the food in general is this good. Sure, there is the risk of an odd pairing or two, but given how spoilt for choice we are already, it might just be a risk worth taking.
Blackwattle is at 97 Amoy Street, Tel: 6224 2232; blackwattle.com.sg
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