|Clayton Wells and his chefs at Blackwattle|
If my eating trips in Australia has taught me one thing, it’s that contemporary Australian cuisine is a big term, an excuse if you will, that Australian chefs use to broadly define what it is that they want to cook. It is, as what many people will say, a melting pot of indigenous, European (particularly Nordic in recent times) and Asian flavours. If I may borrow the words of a foodie friend, it is “a bit of everything and a fundamental identity crisis”. It’s easy to associate modern Australian with the refined cooking made famous by Tetsuya Wakuda but it is also so much more.
In Singapore, the popularity of this cuisine reached fever pitch with the recent award of one Michelin star to Cheek by Jowl and Whitegrass. Both are strong modern Australian contenders although the cuisine of the former cannot be more different than the latter. But, in my humble opinion, you haven’t really tasted contemporary Australian until you check-in to Blackwattle, a new eatery by Clayton Wells, head chef and co-owner of Automata (Sydney), and Loh Lik Peng of Unlisted Collection.
|Chef Clayton Well of Automata and new-to-Singapore Blackwattle|
An alum of Quay (Sydney) in 2006 and Tetsuya’s (Sydney) in 2009, with a short stint in Noma before he opened Viajante (London) as senior sous chef with Nuno Mendes in 2010 and Dave Chang’s Momofuku Seibo (Sydney) as sous chef in 2011, Wells brings strong credentials and an unapologetic kaleidoscope of flavours to his charcoal-black bathed 60-seat eatery at Amoy Street.
On offer at Blackwattle is an a la carte menu in addition to a Prix Fixe menu costing S$48++ for 3 courses at lunch and S$115++ for 5 courses at dinner. In fact, the 5-course dinner menu offers a total of six courses including a duo of opening snacks – stormshell clam in a most unusual rosemary-scented dashi infused with aerated cream and a thick Parmesan cheese and tapioca cracker flecked with espelette pepper.
If you sense a peculiarity about these snacks, I’d say you’re right for the ensuing courses from the 5-course Prix Fixe will send you on a roller coaster-ride of flavours from Nordic-inspired, funky Chinese, refined modern European to somewhat Japanese, all underscored by an element of umami delivered almost always with a hint of acidity. Here’s Wells’ take on contemporary Australian for you.
To start, a bowl of halved cape gooseberries accompanied by avruga caviar in a light pickled ginger flower broth streaked with kelp oil to pique the appetite. I must say it does its job very well.
Just as you wonder with amazement at how light and ethereal the first course is, the ensuing dish sends you into a state of funky Chinese-Spanish disarray – grilled octopus in a thick, almost pasty, fennel and squid ink sauce infused with a heady dash of vinegar and housemade XO sauce for a heave of umami. As much as I want to find fault with it, I find myself liking it more and more with each bite until the shock from the first bite becomes but a distant memory.
Instead of a red bass as the menu suggests, Wells switches the fish course for a moist and luscious steamed turbot, its freshness brought to the fore by the endearing flavours of the heap of chervil that tops the fish. If you’re in need of more flavours (not that the fish needs it), the bed of green sauce (basil, parsley, mint) below provides more than adequate insurance.
Mains arrives by way of a generous chunk of tri-tip steak with burnt carrot, wood ear mushrooms and tamari sauce. While not an overly ambitious dish in its design, the beef is perfectly well executed.
|Artichoke + Girolles|
If you’re a vegetarian, try trading the tri tip for a vegetable dish. Wells’ offering, whipped up last minute, pretty much marries two standout vegetarian creations from the a la carte – earthy slow-fried artichoke in sunflower seed miso (S$16++) with a steamed cabbage that cuts like butter dressed in a rich and savoury fermented mushroom butter accompanied by girolles (S$20++).
Should you wish to try something from the a la carte menu, we highly recommend the king crab (S$32++), a rather curious gathering of the luscious flesh of the crustacean on crab stock braised pumpkin seeds for a thorough jaw workout and egg yolk jam spiked with sherry vinegar. But what elevates this to the next level is the white pepper flower crab broth that it’s served in, a lovely brew that cuts the richness of the crab with each fragrantly peppery sip.
If you think the above are interesting, wait till you try the dessert – a more-savoury-than-sweet assembly of pumpkin seed sorbet with plum jam and frozen plum.
I did say you should brace yourself for a roller coaster ride of flavours at Blackwattle because Wells will nudge you in many different directions with the arrival of each course. But if you come prepared for the ride, there is no reason why you should not enjoy or even love what I consider to be the most deliciously interesting dining proposition this year.
Hopefully, the quality stays high when Wells is keeping busy with Automata.
© 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.