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Yes, it’s another casual diner from local powerhouse Loh Lik Peng – this time he’s working with World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 finisher André Chiang. It’s a strange collaboration given the concept: as you might expect from the name, everything here is grilled and cooked by fire – it’s almost the antithesis of the bedecked progressive cuisine Chiang is known for.
Not that we’re complaining. There’s something incredibly honest about a solid slab of meat coaxed over open flames into a lovely charred outer while remaining tender and juicy on the inside.
At Burnt Ends, this a thought that executive chef David Pynt brings to life pretty effectively with the help of two well-insulated cement-walled ovens (be sure to look above it every once in a while – fire tends to escape in a tempered rage from a spout) and a series of impressive grills raised and lowered by an industrial-looking winch and pulley system designed by Pynt. You have to admire the effort. Besides providing brand new flavours to our already myriad culinary scene, there’s something theatrical about watching the chef scoop out white hot coals from the 700-degree oven to heat the grills, and the making of your food by his team right in front of your eyes.
The ventilation here, by the way, is unrivalled. Despite being sat by the ovens, the air is clear and room temperature remained at a comfortable 20ish degrees.
The menu is split into snacks, appetisers and meat offerings – all designed with minimal frills to be shared among your dinner party. If the smoked quails eggs ($6) show up on the rotational menu, order a serving or better, two. Smoked in the oven, the translucent eggs reveal a deep smokiness and gooey centre we’ve rarely encountered. Pass on the pork skins ($5) paired with a mild Dijon, unless you’re Northern English craving a pack of hard-to-come-by Mr Porky.
For something a little more substantial, we suggest the squid ($14) finished with a very mild paprika oil and corn – it is reminiscent of a particularly good hawker centre barbecue, but of course served with finesse. There are some vegetarian options – courgettes topped with heirloom tomatoes ($17) and simple grilled asparagus ($15), both excellent – but of course, the highlight is the selection of grilled meats on offer. Our Waygu onglet ($140/kg) was a perfectly executed steak – crisp on the outside, juicy and made even more sinful with a topping of bone marrow.
Being able to specify the weight of your desired meat (Pynt will show you the whole slab and cut where you point) also means you’ll leave a little bit more tummy space for a serving of the suckling pig served simply with fresh fennel salad ($65 for two). Ours came a tad bit on the dry side, but this has potential to be a show stealer on a better day.
Plan a return visit on a special occasion to dedicate a meal to the 45-day aged OP rib cap ($150/kg). The average (massive) cut – on the bone, of course – weighs in at a whopping kilogramme or so, and should definitely be shared among four with a minimal padding of appetiser. Plus, there’s the excitement of feeling each thump of Pynt’s cleaver reverberating through the connected countertop as he chops past the marbled meat and into the bone.
Given how impressive the savouries were, we were a tad bit disappointed by the desserts. The idea of a smoked ice-cream (with this as well, Pynt leaves a pot of milk in the smoke-filled ovens overnight before feeding it into the ice-cream maker the day after) served with hibiscus and ginger crackers ($10) sounds novel, but the flavours ultimately didn’t quite work. The ice-cream sandwich ($12) of chocolate cookies and hazelnut ice-cream is the safe option, but ho hum and a bit pricey for what it is.
On the drinks front, we’re pleased with restaurant manager Cameron Dewar’s picks of craft beers (though our fingers are crossed that they’ll add spirits like Islay peat whiskeys or aged rums to take the food’s strident flavours further) – our pick of the Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout ($15) helped add even more depth to the smokey flavours of the meal. On the cocktail side, however, the house mix of hibiscus syrup and Mezcal ($18) was a little weak.
Ultimately, a night out at Burnt Ends is all about luck. You’re never guaranteed a seat unless you happen to get there at the right time (thanks to Loh’s standard no-reservations policy), and the dish you loved one night may not be on another night’s menu. But like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, every night’s meal is a surprise, and at Burnt Ends, it’s more than likely to be wonderful.
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