Quite literally the hottest new restaurant in Katong, month-old Firebake is centred around two gigantic wood fire ovens and the old-world European-style breads that owner, head baker and chef Konstantino Blokbergen, 42, makes. Yet, though it is tempting to pigeonhole Firebake as a bakery, it is much more than that. Tino, as he is affectionately known to friends and family, describes Firebake as a “bread-centred restaurant”, which means that while the rustic sourdough loaves he purveys are the backbone of the establishment, there is a menu of hearty European-style fare like pâtés, braises and roasted meats created to be enjoyed with said breads.
A well-known consultant in the F&B industry, Tino is the man credited for bringing in celebrity chefs like Joel Robuchon to Resorts World Sentosa when it first opened. “After years of consulting and creating concepts for other people, he decided to do something on his own,” says his wife, Bing who now runs their food consulting company. Incidentally, Tino’s late father was executive chef of two-Michelin-star restaurant L’Auberg de Raisin in Cully, Switzerland. When Tino decided he wanted to follow in his old man’s footsteps, his dad sent him to three-Michelin-star restaurant Fredy Girardet, who he worked for three years in the ’90s.
The inspiration for Firebake was sparked during a trip to Western Australia in 2013, when Tino tasted the rustic loaves from Yallingup Woodfired Bread, a humble bakery tucked away in sleepy Dunsborough. For the next two years, he dedicated his free time to experimenting with and learning about bread making through books and by talking to other bakers. When he was ready to set up Firebake, he reached out to the baker and founder of Yallingup Woodfired Bread, who eventually helped build Firebake’s wood-fire ovens.
THE LOOK: A unique, airy restaurant clad in light wood, and black and white checkered tiles. Anchoring the space where the Katong stalwart Carlton coffeeshop once stood are two wood fire ovens built into a wall. The larger dome-shaped one is designed for higher heat and capacity, while a tunnel-shaped one allows for more flexibility in heat control. The ovens took six weeks to build, using four types of brick, volcanic ash, cement and sand. Every day at 9am, they are fired up with Jarra wood, also from Western Australia, so that they reach up to 1,000°C. Adjacent to the ovens, in the open kitchen, are two incredibly cool antique cast iron stoves from Sweden that date back to the 1880s. Also heated by wood fire, these stoves are used for cooking many of the dishes on the restaurant’s dinner menu, as well as for quick-toasting slices of bread.
All this fire can make for a warm dining room, but the several evenings we visited, there was a lovely breeze in the al fresco area. If you tend to be a die-hard air-con-loving Singaporean, sit away from the counter that fronts the open kitchen. Otherwise, the 56-seat dining room is sufficiently air-conditioned even when the wraparound doors are thrown open.
WHAT’S COOKING: Right now, there are just four loaves on the menu: a white sourdough, fruit sourdough, rye and wholemeal. All are made using organic flour from Western Australia, natural salt (unprocessed and non-iodised), and Nordaq Fresh water (a filtration system that yields water in its purest form, “with its natural salts and minerals intact”). The dough is mixed in 40-year-old electric mixers from Germany (“their gentler process replicates hand-moulding”) and proofed at room temperature. The breads are baked for 30-45 minutes, in either oven depending on the number of loaves.
Now open only for dinner (they plan to open for breakfast and lunch later this month), the menu carefully pairs hearty European classics like roasted meats with the various loaves available. And while you can ask for regular (free) tap water, the Nordaq Fresh water (both still and sparkling) — which tastes extremely clean, with a soft mouthfeel — is available at $3, free flow.
Bread Board ($10)
The best way to sample all the breads on offer. The fruit loaf is our favourite thanks to its soft, almost milky texture. It has a golden crusty exterior and tender crumb studded with whole organic apricots and sultanas. We also like the white sourdough that has a mildly sweet tang and long, densely tender strands. The rye and wholemeal breads are too moist and chewy for our liking, though it must be said that all these slices benefit greatly from a gentle char over the wood-fired stove.
4-Spice Chicken Liver Pâté ($12, 8 DAYS PICK!)
Made in the classic French style (other European and mod French styles of pâté are not as butter-laden) with an equal ratio of butter to liver, this chicken liver pâté has the texture of loose cream cheese. The lush, silky spread is spiked with pepper, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, and enriched with cocoa butter, a shallot reduction and eggs (no one said it was healthy). All this yields amazingly rich, complex flavours while retaining that gentle earthiness of the chicken livers. It goes wonderfully with toasted slices of the fruit loaf.
Cured Norwegian Salmon, Bread Crust, Dill, Leek, Pickled Onion ($25, 8 DAYS PICK!)
A study in textures, flavours, and how to cook salmon right. The cured salmon’s skin is dusted with rye crumbs before it is pan-seared over wood fire to yield a lovely crisp outer crust. The flesh remains plump and almost sashimi-like, suffused with the flavour of its salt-sugar-dill-coriander-fennel-lemon cure.
Grilled Pork Belly, Garden Vegetable Broth, Rye Bread ($22)
A spoon-tender slab of pork belly is crowned with a crisp, friable layer of skin. But, delicious as it is, that’s not the dish’s draw. Rather, it is the deeply-flavoured vegetable broth the meat sits on that is compelling. You’ll find chunks of celeriac, pumpkin, fennel, carrots and potatoes swimming in it, and you’ll taste every single one of their flavours.
Peach, Vanilla, Sourdough Ice Cream, Rye Chip ($12, 8 DAYS PICK!)
We expected to find pieces of sourdough in our ice cream, but what we got was a thick, lusciously creamy ice cream with the most delightful tart edge. It tastes like sweet brown bread in ice cream form. Turns out it’s made by cooking sourdough starter (a natural yeast mix) into the ice cream’s custard base. Genius! The fleshy peach poached in a vanilla and moscato-infused syrup is pretty awesome too.
BOTTOM LINE: The most original restaurant concept we've seen in a long time. The dense European-style breads may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there's no denying that the ethos behind their creation and how the food is cooked in those impressive wood-fired ovens, are quite fascinating. Breads aside, the food here is pretty fantastic. $$
237 East Coast Rd, Level 1, S428930, Tel: 9784-2950/6440-1228. Open Tues-Sun 6pm-10pm. Closed Mon. Last orders 10pm. www.facebook.com/firebakesg