|Frontage of Hua Bee (left), Backdoor access to Bincho (right)|
Once in a while, a new dining concept unveils that sweeps us off our feet. This does not happen every so often in our tiny red dot but when it does, it’s often inextricably linked to hotelier/restaurateur Loh Lik Peng of Unlisted Collection.
Peng has made heads turn with Esquina and, most recently, Burnt Ends. Since December 2013, he has muscled his way into the run-down Hua Bee kopi tiam (local coffee shop) in Tiong Bahru, transforming the popular neighborhood haunt into a modern yakitori joint that runs alongside a 70-year-old mee pok stall.
Hua Bee has probably not seen this much drama since it was featured in Eric Khoo’s 1995 flick, Mee Pok Man, but it’s all for the better. Now, with Bincho as its anchor tenant, there’s life after dusk (on weekends, the yakitori-ya also dishes up spiffy donburi sets for lunch) and regulars on-a-shoe-string can still swing by Hua Bee on weekdays for cheap and good mee pok at breakfast or lunch.
The seamless amalgamation of old and new at Hua Bee also extends to the interior. While the mee pok stall continues to front the kopi tiam, Bincho takes up residency further indoors, in a windowless yet charmingly cavernous space accessed via a blink-and-you-will-miss-it backdoor.
|Cavernous bar @ Bincho|
|Counter seats @ Bincho|
|The spacious kopi tiam dining room|
|Chef Asai Masashi|
The decidedly underground vibe is immediately obvious when you step into the awkwardly narrow and dim lit bar lined on one side by brass-and-wood bar seats. Have the bar tender rustle up a Japanese-accented cocktail (crafted by the folks at The Library) before you adjourn through a low-ceilinged, brass-plated corridor into a yakitori room where chef Asai Masashi holds court amongst old-school tables and chairs, distressed walls and a row of marble-topped counter seats. There is no doubt that the space is cozy but it’s also cramped and unless you don’t mind your next seat diners tuning in to your tête-à-tête conversations, we suggest you proceed past the set of wood-and-glass partition into the spacious kopi tiam dining room.
|Grilled chicken parts at Bincho|
|Grilled vegetables @ Bincho|
Now, the food – it’s all within expectation if you come with the right expectation. Bear in mind that Bincho’s specialty is skewer-less yakitori (grilled chicken), not any new fangled izakaya concept, and succulent grilled poultry is rightfully its star. Chicken parts of heart, bonjiri (bishop’s nose), thigh, breast and neck plus tsukune (grilled chicken meatball) are skillfully grilled with salt (shio) and/or served with sauce (tare), then bundled into 2 sets at dinner – Fuji (S$80++) and Bincho (S$120++). These are augmented by sides of grilled Japanese-imported vegetables like sweet potato, koushin (red-heart) daikon and nagaimo (mountain yam) alongside a staple of oyako-don (a Japanese rice bowl dish with chicken, egg and scallion) and an amazake (fermented rice) cheesecake dessert (courtesy of Restaurant Andre), amongst other items.
There is also a Miyabi hotpot set ($65++ each, minimum 2 orders) for the unwilling dining partners of yakitori lovers and if you fancy grilled seafood or grilled wagyu, the chalkboard of a la carte items beckons (as will the dent on your credit card).
The clever juxtaposition of old and new lends a hipster appeal to Bincho that will win the adoration of many. But in truth, does grilled chicken have the allure of well-marbled red meats or luscious seafood? If not, Bincho’s limited menu of rather pricey – albeit well executed – chicken-centric yakitori sets may trip the overall experience of Singapore’s fussy but discerning diners. Having said that, with a few tweaks and Peng’s Midas touch, we don’t see why Bincho can’t take off like Esquina and Burnt Ends did.
78 Moh Guan Terrace #01-19, Singapore 162 078 | +65 6438 4567 | bincho.com.sg
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.