SINGAPORE — I didn’t know people still go to the sleepy enclave of Tiong Bahru these days. I remember a time not too long ago when hipsters with flower wreaths on their head flock to this part of town for a photoshoot for the ‘gram.
The juxtaposition of old vs cliché (as in the flower head wreath things) fits perfectly into the lifestyle of a millennial who eschews all things vintage, home-made, small-batch, and quirky. There’s a homegrown bookshop, places selling little trinkets, and a cafe that annoys residents to no end. It’s hipster heaven—at least for a Singaporean hipster circa 2016.
It would be fair to say that, if Tiong Bahru could talk, it would regale you with tales of a short-lived burgeoning cafe scene in Singapore, not too long ago. It was a time of prosperity and innovation. A time when anyone who could pull an espresso shot, thought they stood a chance in this island’s competitive F&B scene.
But as with all things idealistic, eventually the reality of economics and a healthy profit and loss sheet beckons. Cosy dining outfits with big dreams ultimately made way for establishments with more staying power, capital, and a resilient concept that can weather Singapore’s fickle food scene.
Enter The Butcher’s Wife—Tiong Bahru’s slice of a gluten-free haven for celiacs and other diners with a lifestyle to maintain. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. There’s nothing more 2020 than a restaurant that has dedicated itself to catering to an extremely niche portion of the community, which still keeping things curiously interesting for dabblers of the gut-friendly slow food movement.
At its helm, is 28-year-old Paris-trained Chef Mariana Campos D’Almeida; born in Brazil, growing up in Rio de Janeiro before pursuing the gastronomical arts in Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. So expect to see a lot of Brazil-South American-African influences with a distinctive ode to fermentation in the dishes served here.
It starts with the Mini Corn on Fire (S$10) that comes served beautifully charred, mixed with an intoxicating fermented black garlic aioli that is both perplexingly sweet and pungent at the same time.
Following closely behind with the theme of flavour combinations that I don’t expect but adore is the Dadinhos de Sago (S$11) which are bite-sized cubes of chewy tapioca with salted cheese jammed in between that pairs like a dream with the sweet-ish dragon fruit chutney.
A slim disc of The Butcher’s Wife Own Goat Cheese (S$17) has been designed to be made entirely from scratch in Singapore. This dish is being made from goat milk with its intense aroma; a generous drizzle of honey makes quite a big difference between bleargh and beautiful.
It’s a wonderful marriage of cream and sugar that makes it so addictive. It can be a bit divisive, though, as evident by a dining companion who refused to give it a chance. Do ask around first before placing an order for this. It is, after all, meant to be shared.
You must order the Crispy Pig’s Ears (S$21). First, the presentation of this is organic in every sense of the word. You might as well have foraged the ingredients from a garden at the back. Placed on a raw wild pepper leaf are deep-fried pig’s ears that is not just satisfyingly crunchy to the bite, but also sweet—from both the marinate and the red dates. There’s a pickled ginger flower somewhere in there too for tartness. If you ask me, it’s a lot of effort for something I wolfed down in a single bite. Not that I’m complaining.
I’m not one to judge a dish by its presentation, but it’s futile to look at the Blue Pea Flower Naan Sandwich (S$20) and not compare it to its more glamorous siblings from before. However, do not be fooled as this was possibly one of the best things I’ve eaten here. It did cross my mind how strange the specks of blue on the naan looked but ignore that and focus your attention to what’s inside.
Fermented black beans falafel patty is moreish with a gorgeous nutty undertone that feels as healthy as it tastes. Slathered inside is a golden-coloured hummus made of red lentils, roasted carrots, coriander seeds, and cumin. And then, there’s the green mango chilli yoghurt for a kick of sourness lest you are lulled into a food comatose from all this healthy goodness that comes from this one unassuming sandwich. It’s a wrap that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of The Butcher’s Wife—I cannot emphasise enough how delicious this is.
For something a tad more filling, there’s a Sweet Potato Gnocchi (S$22) with an aromatic and mellow rosemary butter sauce served with mushrooms and pea shoots that you will swoon over. I’m a little less enthused about the Buckwheat Tagliatelle (S$29), probably because the gaminess of duck felt out of place in this concerto of food choices. It’s just an unfortunate placement, I suppose.
Second to prawns, my other weakness is an excellent Grilled Octopus (S$27), here grilled with the usual culprit of spices (I’m guessing paprika) till incredibly tender that it gives way with barely a sigh. There’s a sweet manioc puree that takes up a good third of the plate. Manioc, for the unaccustomed, is cassava, which, when blended into the form it takes here, becomes almost similar to the texture of cheese and mashed potato combined.
I did find the white kimchi on top strange since it had everything kimchi should except for the chillies that give it the familiar red hue. Here, it tastes almost like sauerkraut—with a sharp acidity from fermentation and a, ahem, cop-out in deference to customers with an aversion to too much spice. But I love octopus, so I shall agree to disagree, and forgive and forget.
Dessert is equally impressive and looks a lot like Marina Bay Sands, but with more surprise under its sleeves. The Lemongrass Panna Cotta (S$13) is a silky smooth, barely a ripple kind of plated dessert that invites closer inspection. But it is only with a spoon that you can get into the middle where a creamy calamansi curd lay in wait—a heavenly concoction of sourness and cream that made me squeal.
The Panna Cotta itself has been infused with mellow ginger and aromatic lime kaffir leaves and served with a structure of sweet pineapple cubes and a butternut tuile for crunch. Tres chic for a dessert, if I do say so myself.
Website | 19 Yong Siak Street Singapore 168650
Tuesday – Sunday: Brunch, 11am – 2.30pm; Dinner, 6pm – 9pm
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