SINGAPORE — If there’s one thing Raw Kitchen Bar has that would probably put it in good stead amongst its many cuisine adjacent competitors, it would be its location. Taking over the space once occupied by painfully hip Kilo Kitchen, Raw Kitchen Bar has origins in the old Bukit Timah fire station’s backroom where realness and rawness of being and living are applauded, celebrated, and encouraged. It’s a little bit confusing when I realised that ‘raw’ in its moniker refers not to the food movement that gripped the globe back in 2016 but to the spirit and general joie de vivre of life.
I understand its appeal. There’s not much to complain about when you’re sitting in a huge garden on stone tables and chairs, watching the sun kiss the horizon as amber hues flood a clear sky like the paint bucket tool does to an outlined shape in Photoshop. It’s all a very dreamy-soft-moody aesthetic, fairy lights strung across trees, inadvertently creating a scene that’s very first date specific.
The best way to get here is a short and scenic walk from Lavender MRT station, along the Rochor River, towards a dull, grey building that seems un-ironically out of place and screams industrial from whichever way you look. To know you’ve reached the right building, simply look out for the gaggle of Lucali BYGB servers in their white lab coats loitering by the gate, greeting and leading their customers upstairs. Raw Kitchen Bar is to the left of this entourage of enthusiastic minders.
With expectations better managed, I peruse the menu, looking for a thematic thread that might give me a better sense of what Raw Kitchen Bar purports. There’s a Falafel Salad, so maybe it has Middle Eastern leanings? But there’s also a Greek Honey Burrata, so perhaps it’s a touch Mediterranean? It’s entirely possible that there isn’t a uniting theme which, truthfully, sends a cold shiver down my spine but also makes me insanely curious. How dare they, but also how brave.
I’m left wondering if this ambiguity pays off. From the Small Plates, the Raw Salmon Laab (S$15++) wasn’t as savoury as I expected a grand showing of salmon slices to be. The overarching flavour leans more towards that of sourness which can be a tad bit overbearing at parts. I reckon a little more restraint of shoyu and lime would help this plate go a long way. I mean, it’s salmon—this fish barely needs anything else to shine.
The Ba Ka Lao (S$12++) was also a tad confusing in that I didn’t know what I was supposed to taste. The description says salted cod, but all I get is flour, batter, and ginger-lime dressing. The kind server says it’s Spain-inspired, but a quick Google search led me to think that ‘inspiration’ is a bit of an overstatement.
Elsewhere, I munched on the Gochugaru Potstickers (S$14++) and thought how safe and predictable this was. It’s Gyoza with bamboo shoots, leeks, and mushrooms dipped in a tofu aioli which I quite enjoyed. Safe and predictable just work at times, you know.
From the Large Plates, a beautiful presentation of Saucy Roasted Seabass (S$34++) comes served with Café de Paris sauce (essentially a rich and creamy butter sauce), fermented leeks, curry leaves, and hazelnuts. I know who will like it—health-conscious people, yoga practitioners, and ordinary folks who feel guilty from overeating the week before. It’s creamy and slightly spiced, but I desperately want more layers to the flavour. The fish was faultless, but I thought it all felt a little too one-note with the bountiful beauty of butter pervading over everything, proving once again that not everything is better with butter.
Thankfully there’s the Black Mamba (S$26++)—fried rice coated in a handsome squid ink sofrito, curry leaves (they use a lot of this here), and served with delectable fermented chilli sambal. The menu says ‘tiger prawns’, so imagine my disappointment when it’s not served whole, but instead in chunks which is either a cost-saving measure or a solution for the lazy diners who don’t like to peel prawns. Why? Where are you rushing to that you don’t have time to peel prawns?
There are lots to love about this fried rice, not least because of its beautifully layered flavours that seesaw between a bright seafood brininess and umami from prawns. The fermented chilli sambal is a work of art that would go very well with the pizza upstairs at Lucali BYGB. It amazes me how this whole fermentation movement is giving even the humblest of ingredients so much life.
A dessert of Rum Berry Tart (S$12++) needs more work but only to be more deserving of a place in this menu. When it arrived, I wondered where the other half of my tart went. Serving things in half is seriously démodé. By itself, the tart works. It’s predictable, but it’s not great. The rum cream that it comes with, though, was spectacular, with a pronounced flavour of rum with each spoonful.
This tart is, in some ways, representative of Raw Kitchen Bar in its current iteration. At times, it dishes out flashes of fantastic flavours only to be let down by portion size like with the prawns in the Black Mamba. Other times, it takes inspiration from something gastronomically familiar like Gochugaru, but not far enough, rendering it a tad too predictable. This back and forth between culinary brilliance and routine predictability are healthy signs, which, I’m sure when harnessed diligently, might win over discerning diners soon enough.
Website | 66 Kampong Bugis, Ground Floor Patio, Singapore 338987
Thu to Fri: 5.30pm – 10.30pm
Sat to Sun: 11.30am – 10.30pm
Balancing the New Normal: