Not since Burnt Ends have I come across a restaurant with a hitherto unknown chef to wit, who uses the oven, his set of grills and its billows of smoke as well as a whole arsenal of cooking techniques to deftly imbue his dishes with such intensely beautiful flavours.
No, woodfire gastronomy is not new to us but Hawaiian Jordan Keao, a native of Hilo, Hawaii, is. Formerly chef-owner of Bib Gourmand-awarded Hawaiian restaurant Aina in San Francisco before he landed on our shores, Keao paid his dues in wood-fire cooking when he worked as sous chef of Burnt Ends for two years.
Newly crowned Chef de Cuisine of Butcher’s Block, Keao is switching gears in the former meat-focused restaurant and doing exactly what the press release says, introducing a “wonderful depth of flavours, distinct aromas, and textures” to his repertoire of dishes that are suffused with the unmistakable flavours of woodfire, be it through smoking, contact ember-roasting, slow-grilling or smouldering coal infusion.
While Keao serves an a la carte menu, first timers should most certainly defer to the tasting menu that the chef curates (mostly with items from the a la carte). Here, they call it the Tour de Force menu (about 10 courses including snacks, S$218++ per guest) and, as it unfolds during our dinner, this moniker is very much a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To open, Baby Corn is coated in a house-made preserved black bean aioli flecked with puffed quinoa and simply grilled so that the innately sweet and crunchy cob is imbued with a layer of salty-umami flavour and slightly sticky texture. Unusual? Yes. But it offers Keao’s unique approach with uniquely local ingredients never before seen in fine-dining.
Next, Keao serves thickly sliced Blackmore MBS9+ beef as Wagyu Sukiyaki, infusing the raw beef with beef jus and beef fat to give it added depth of flavour. Before eating, you coat the slice of wagyu richly in the accompanying disc of smoked olive oil-poached egg yolk encircled by a pool of lemon verbena oil and aged garlic soy sauce. If the smokiness of the yolk overwhelms the wagyu, dip it in lemon verbena oil bath for brief palate relief.
Keao keeps his best for his mains. Norwegian King Crab is grilled and poached in butter, then served in its shell doused in a buttery and savoury burnt bearnaise sauce that the Hawaiian chef makes by submerging burning wood coals in cold butter before adding chopped chives. The finished crab leg will come across as incredibly rich but also remarkably tasty.
The only downside of picking the Tour de Force menu is that some la carte standouts will go unnoticed.
Keao’s Dry-aged Duck ($34) with barbequed plum sauce is one. Dry-aged for 30 to 40 days in the restaurant’s Vault, the Malaysia-sourced duck is hung on a rack hours before dinner service so that billows of smoke from the grill further dries the poultry, suffusing it with smokiness in the process. The duck skin, in particular, dazzles with crispiness not often seen in ducks prepared by western chefs.
Apart from the firework of woodfire flavours, another point that deepens my admiration for Keao is his commitment to reducing wastes. No, he did not mention a word about sustainability or reducing wastes and neither did the press release. Everything will become clear as day if you order the Grilled Endive ($17) with green goddess aioli, the latter made using herb trimmings destined for the bin. The Sourdough Ice-cream with Manjimup Truffles ($16) prepped with leftover sourdough is a must-do too. Both are toothsome and one could only wish that they join the Tour de Force menu.
#02-02 to #02-07 Raffles Arcade, 328 North Bridge Rd, Singapore 188719; butchersblock.com.sg
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.