SINGAPORE — Few things symbolise successful gentrification of a neighbourhood than a stand-alone store that sells organic and low waste solid soap and shampoo from France. Luxury bedding that runs into the hundreds would work just as well. Gentrification in Singapore is a serious real estate business that determines property prices, residents demographics, and the types of products companies peddle.
At Joo Chiat Road, gentrification is in full swing, which genuinely excites me. Some poo-poo my enthusiasm citing loss of culture and heritage. Still, there’s just something so incredibly charming about having a cheese emporium unit neighbours with a provision shop selling onions and a re-upholstery workshop that revamps tired looking sofas. It’s full of character.
If you can’t already tell, I’m enamoured by Joo Chiat Road. But I am a food writer first and foremost, so naturally, looking out for interesting F&B joints wherever I traipse is second nature to me. And so it came to be, one weekday afternoon, post solid soap-shampoo stock up that I chance upon Blue Smoke with a very familiar face fronting the unit. I’ve profiled Chef Ivan Yeo previously and remembered him as the founder of brewery and restaurant 1925 Brewing Co. What I didn’t realise until recently was that in December last year, the establishment underwent a massive spruce-up and identity change and will, now and forever, be known as Blue Smoke.
Naturally, there is no smoke without fire. Chef Yeo tells me that the inspiration for the change came after a recent project with an external vendor involving smoked meats had to take a hiatus due to Covid-19 restrictions. Armed with all this smoked meats knowledge, Chef Yeo decided to refresh the culinary concept of 1925 Brewing Co at Joo Chiat as a smoked house where he brings together elements of Teochew and Asian cuisine with a decidedly Western cooking method.
The result is a concise but flavour menu that retains the prized element of comfort food, burnished with a fierce smoke from using Lychee Wood. It’s a juxtaposition that deserves praise for being an immaculate balance of tradition paired with a cooking method that is primal but effective.
Take, for instance, the whole Tamarind Snapper (S$58++) made with a Sri Lankan recipe that marries a spicy undertone with a delicate sourness from the use of Asam Jawa (tamarind). It’s served whole and deboned in the middle for ease of consumption though I went all-in with my hands and ensured not a single flesh goes to waste. On top, Chef Yeo dresses the creamy fish in red and green chillies that have been pickled with Kombucha—everything that’s pickled in the restaurant has undergone the same treatment. Inside, the snapper is stuffed with Serai (lemongrass) and lemon, both to add flavour and counter any fishy aftertaste. With this much spice in sight, I’m surprised that all I felt from this much chilli was a mild tingle on the lips and a slight jaunt on the hip because this fish was the very definition of excellence.
For starters, have a go at the Miso shiitake buns (S$8++) that are utterly deserving of mention because of how intensely savoury it is. Stuffed between locally-sourced Brioche is Shiitake blended with miso and butter. Imagine all that umami in a simple presentation of buns. My dining partner thought it was too liberally seasoned—a thought I similarly shared. But what’s life without some living on the edge of much too much, right? My only criticism is the lack of texture which can easily be solved with the addition of some enoki tempura, I’m sure.
Still, the star of dinner is hands down the Smoked Brisket Point End (S$15++/100g). Mine came served with Grilled pineapple (S$10++), Dirty Rice (S$8++), and Sambal Belacan Lady Fingers (S$6++). There are many things to go through here, but let’s start with that smoked brisket that has been lovingly and tenderly smoked for 19 hours until everything just comes apart beautifully with great ease. I asked for the fattier cut, and honestly, I couldn’t be more satisfied. It comes served with a rendang sauce for an Asian kick that is altogether unmatched in the flavour profile.
The Dirty Rice, I’m told by Chef Yeo, is made by adding the juices from the various cooking processes of the seafood and meats in the kitchen. Apart from being a great way to ensure nothing goes to waste, the inclusion of all this liquid gold elevates the rice to new heights—it’s beyond flavourful with very little need for additional flavour enhancers. It’s all-natural umami. Elsewhere, the Sambal Belachan Lady Finger surprises me with its lack of spiciness despite its glowing red hue. There’s a forward smoked aroma in this that is equal parts enticing and alluring. If you’ve always looked down on okra, Chef Yeo’s version will surprise you and make you a dutiful convert.
Dessert comes by way of a Goreng Pisang Split (S$15++) that genuinely embodies a large-and-in-charge mentality. In the middle of all this fabulousness is a whole Del Monte banana larger than all of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams combined. What I thought was a normal run-of-the-mill varietal has, in fact, been slightly dehydrated and aged in a 3-day process such that it achieves slight fermentation for a flavour reminiscent of wine before being panko-ed and fried till golden brown. It’s banana but complex and elevated. It comes served with generous (and I mean ge-ne-rous) and copious scoops of plain vanilla ice cream topped with coconut cream and pistachio. It’s a simple dessert that pays off incredibly well and is accurately symbolic of the changes afoot at Blue Smoke. Comfort food, familiar flavours, and a chef that dares to take risks. Bravo Blue Smoke. Bravo.
261 Joo Chiat Road, S427515
Tue to Sun: 12pm – 9pm