It’s almost 9pm on a Saturday, and the dining room — cast in a sultry orange glow — is full. The hip-hop music and chatter of conversation are so loud, we can barely hear ourselves think. “Can I help you?” asks an attractive, bright-eyed waitress. She shows us to our table, wedged tightly between a group of hairy men and a biracial couple — the lady looks like a cougar who’s dressed for Zouk. It’s the opening weekend of Irish chef-owner Andrew Walsh’s (below) sophomore restaurant and it’s apparent that it’s filled with mostly his angmoh pals. The last time we tasted Walsh’s food was years ago at Esquina, back when he helmed the Loh Lik Peng-owned mod Spanish tapas joint. We never made it to Cure, the more refined, tasting menu-centric mod European place he set up after leaving Esquina. Maybe because we only really liked the food during Esquina’s early days, but less so as time (and perhaps the chef’s boredom with working for someone else grew) went by.
Butcher Boy, located a stone’s throw from Cure on Keong Saik Road, is Walsh’s more casual and funkier offering. It’s described as an “Asian-inspired bar and grill” with sharing plates, baos and mini sandwiches, grilled meats, desserts and cocktails. This sounds a lot more enticing to us.
THE LOOK: Moody, edgy and masculine. There’re textured concrete walls, distressed leather and vintage-style lamps by the bar. Light boxes showcasing photos of greenery work well as surreal-realistic art pieces.
Fried Chicken, Yuzu Kosho, Kewpie, Bao, $18 for two (8 DAYS PICK!)
We’d willingly splurge both our cash and calories on this (see main pic). It’s quite obviously inspired by the buns from the popular eatery Little Bao in Hong Kong — but who cares when it’s this delish? Succulent buttermilk-soaked chicken thigh fillet brimming with briny juices is coated in a liberally salted, shatteringly crisp batter. This is jammed into soft steamed mantou, together with shredded cabbage, mayo and a smear of punchy yuzu kosho (Japanese citrus chilli paste).
Aubergine Satay, Green Mango, Coriander, $18
This is part of the small plates section on the menu, and it is correspondingly petite for its price tag. We devour what little there is like starving vegans. Moist, fleshy slices of eggplant are pressed against a hot grill till striated with smoky char lines. These are laid to rest on a voluptuous satay sauce crowded with chopped nuts and earthy spices. The richness is slightly mitigated by zesty slivers of green mango. Not quite satay, but still super yummy.
Salmon, Tartare, Ikura, Wasabi, Nachos, $20
Decent, but less impressive than the aubergine. Especially since there is barely enough of the cubed fresh salmon, pearls of roe and creamy wasabi crème fraîche to go on the crunchy but pedestrian nacho chips (actually fried wanton skins).
Grilled Market Fish, Vietnamese Style, $35 for 500g (8 DAYS PICK!)
While the ‘Butcher Boy’ section features mostly beef cooked in a Josper Charcoal Oven, we opt for the fish instead. This is a risk because, Vietnamese-style fish in a trendy angmoh restaurant? Happily, this turns out to be very good. A whole red snapper is enthusiastically crammed with fat stalks of lemongrass, thyme and grilled till its skin is gently singed, its flesh sticky, succulent and perfumed with herbs. It’s topped with an equally excellent Viet-style sauce of chopped galangal, lime juice, and fish sauce.
Duck Banh Mi, Liver Pâté, Sriracha, $18 for two
These mini baguette sarnies look adorable but taste dull. The bread is disappointingly dry and the duck liver pâté gamey. Order more fried chicken bao instead.
Peanut Butter Ice Cream And Plum Jelly ‘Sandwich’, $10 for two
A posh riff on the humble PB & J sarnie. Crumbly cinnamon-kissed biscuits neatly envelope two opposing layers of deep red plum jelly and a silky wodge of peanut butter ice cream. It’s quite a lovely dessert with comforting and Christmassy flavours. We just wish there were less of the rather sweet jelly and more nutty punch to the ice cream.
VERDICT: *** 1/2 While hipster modern Asian food has been done to death and isn’t quite as affordable as it markets itself to be, here, it is prepared by a chef with actual talent. And it shows in the simple but full-flavoured dishes. Mostly, anyway. But be prepared to rub shoulders with the noisy pre-party crowd here. $$-$$$
31 Keong Saik Rd, S089138. Tel: 6221-6833. Open daily. Mon-Sun 5pm-midnight (also open noon-3pm Fri-Sun). Last orders at 3pm & 11pm. www.facebook.com/pg/butcherboysg