The best seats in the house are no longer tucked away in an exclusive corner of the restaurant behind closed doors; doors that shielded the public’s eyes from the gastronomic wonders that await within.
These days the best seats are center-stage, right smack in front of an open kitchen, like at Burnt Ends, with counter seats so close to the elevated charcoal grills and custom built dual cavity oven that you can feel the heat radiating over the pass.
Seated at the counter, you are offered a look into the trenches of the kitchen. Chefs, servers, patrons, all collide in the thick of it, mingling in the experience of gastronomy. As such, one has the opportunity to observe, study and debate on the food while witnessing the precarious art and science of cooking.
This kitchen is now a performance theatre, an entertaining experience where you dictate the direction of the entertainment with the decisions you make as you order from the menu. Lofty expectations are likely to be developed by patrons since the usual white linen covered table accompanied by a team of servers and revolving doors separating you and the kitchen brigade are replaced by a lifted veil – where the chef reveals his naked kitchen and beckons you to feast your eyes on more than just the food.
Chefs sometimes host a table in the middle of their kitchen (known as ‘chef’s table’) and to be invited to attend was a great honour. The chef (and his sous chefs) would prepare the menu for you and spin tales of the dishes, reminiscing about working under different chefs, of what was learnt and what drove him. The chef was highly engaging as it offered a rare chance to connect with the patrons on a personal level while presenting his knowledge and to revel in the pride he had in the food cooked. A trend popular in the 80s and early 90s, chef’s tables are hardly available now and only a few chefs still practice it. I was lucky enough to attend such a table in my youth and the memory of that experience has always stayed with me; the chef with his tall torque,the colorful Chaîne des Rôtisseurs lanyard and his magical stories of faraway lands is one of the reasons I became a chef.
Our experience of Burnt Ends was pleasurable – the service impeccable, the food marvellous and the theatre of the experience was well designed with all the right set pieces to intrigue.
Cheryl and I however, left with a disquiet around the dining experience. We felt what stopped this from being a great experience was the lack of individual customer engagement from the chef. With an ‘invitation’ to an open kitchen we expected a more personalised experience.
If the reader will so kindly allow me to digress a bit and to to use the Kabuki theatre as an analogy to illustrate my point. The individual kanji for Kabuki means sing, dance and skill.
For Burnt Ends’ performance, the stage was set, with the actors there at their marks as the audience shuffled in and was seated. The drums sound and the dance begins . The dance – ambitious and admirable, characteristic of the lively folk style as the chefs skillfully spun around each other preparing the dishes. The skill was in a class by itself but there was no song sung that night; watching Kabuki without vocalisation is a disjointed experience regardless of how good the production is.
Our seats were the best in the house and though we were served a stirring plot (wonderful food) by talented actors (the chefs and servers) and a beautiful theatre setting, once the performance ended, we felt that an important aspect was missing. There was no engagement.
The menu was skillfully executed and thoroughly enjoyable as you will see below.
Smoked quail egg and caviar – the yolks were silken smooth with the earthiness of the smoke and the saltiness of the caviar this created a very nice amuse bouche.
Eggplant tempura with miso – Crispy eggplant tempura served with a silken miso sauce and smoked dried chilli
Burrata, fennel and orange oil – The charred fennel was tender and delicate in flavour, the burrata was creamy and the orange oil offered a nice hit of orange to enhance the otherwise simpleness of the dish.
Braised beef marmalade on toast with pickles – a delectable portion of braised beef and home made cucumber pickles on charcoal grilled toasts.
Burnt Ends Sanger – Pulled pork, coleslaw, chipotle aioli and brioche bun.
The brioche bun was light and fluffy as if you are biting into a cloud. The coleslaw is crunchy and the pork very flavourful, my best experience of the pork was when I bit into one piece that had charred nicely. I had wished for more of the moments ie. pork carnitas but sadly the best notes of flavour was in that one lonesome bite alone. Regardless, it is a fantastic sandwich.
Onglet, bone marrow and burnt onion – Hanger steak is traditionally prized for its flavour, and this was mouth watering and tender. What is regarded as the most tender part on the animal is best served by a quick grill, which was executed skillfully by the chefs. The rich fattiness of the bone marrow and the slight bitter char to burnt onion jus paired beautifully with the steak , creating a memorable dish.
Flat iron steak – served with jus and a waterceress, radish salad with a salivating sour plum vinaigrette
Both the brioche for the Sanger as well as the sourdough that we ordered to mop up the residual jus on our plates were fantastic – some of the best quality breads I have tasted in Singapore, having a delectable crust and crumb.
Ultimately Cheryl and I left feeling as if we hadn’t connected with anyone that evening which is a vast difference from our previous Michelin-starred restaurant experiences. One part of it was because I spent the evening talking over my shoulder to the wait staff without being able to make eye contact due to the counter seating. Another was the head chef’s Aragoto Kabuki performance: the famous mie or mie wo kiru (見えを切る) as he stood stoically behind the counter. His harsh demeanour was tense, distant and at odds with the concept he was plying, showing deep tension the mie never breaks and as such the play is always left hanging and cannot continue. I left satisfied yet still longing to be enlivened and enriched by a magical evening with a chef passionate to engage.
20 Teck Lim Road
+65 6224 3933