Restaurant Review

Blackwattle - Experimental success

Odd combinations of ingredients and flavours take centre stage at Blackwattle, but they mostly work

Lately, I have noticed a number of chefs breaking away from the tried-and-tested to create entire menus of dishes that have never been seen before.

Such experiments do not always work, but when they do, they are exactly the thing for diners with jaded palates.

Blackwattle - the latest under restaurateur Loh Lik Peng's Unlisted Collection group and which opened in Amoy Street about two weeks ago - is one restaurant that does it well.

Australian chef and co-owner Clayton Wells, who also co-owns Automata in Sydney with Mr Loh's company, brings his brand of Australian cuisine here.

Often, odd combinations of ingredients and flavours take centre stage. The results may not appeal at first bite, but judging from my dinner last week, they often grow on you.

Blackwattle offers a five-course dinner at $115 a person, as well as a la carte choices.


  • 97 Amoy Street; tel: 6224-2232; open: noon to 3pm (weekdays), 6 to 11pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays

    Food: 4/5

    Service: 3.5/5

    Ambience: 2.5/5

    Price: Five-course dinner set at $115 a person; budget from about $80 a person for a three-course a la carte meal, but at least $110 if you order meat. There is also a three-course set lunch at $48

The dishes in the set - most of which are not found on the a la carte menu and change according to what is in season - look more appealing to me, so that is what I go for. Besides, with meat main dishes on the a la carte menu going for about $50, the set offers much better value too. But the restaurant is still tweaking the menus and moving dishes around.

At my dinner, each course brings a pleasant surprise, except for one.

That would be the first course, described as "king crab, braised pumpkin seeds, egg yolk, white pepper broth". While the king crab is delicately sweet, the bitterness of the pumpkin seeds undermines it, so I can't figure out the pairing. The mildly spiced broth is a neutral element that attempts to bind the other ingredients together, but is not altogether successful.

The other dishes, however, either make a favourable impression immediately or slowly win me over.

The dish that gets my unhesitating vote is "grilled octopus, fennel and ink, XO and red vinegar". I have been starting to find the ubiquitous grilled octopus a cliche, but chef Wells presents it with a flavour profile that makes it fresh again for me.

The octopus from Fremantle in Australia is tender and smoky from the grill. It is the sauce, however, that makes the dish.

The moreish squid ink gets an edgy tinge of acidity from the vinegar and, together with the hint of spice from XO chilli, acquires a unique flavour profile that I fall in love with the moment it hits my palate. And for some strange reason, when it settles, I get a hint of orange, even though the fruit is not part of the listed ingredients.

But I may have missed it in the server's introduction to the dish because the restaurant is so noisy, I can't hear half of what he says.

The sauce for the next dish, "steamed greenbone, roasted lettuce, green sauce, lardo and herbs", is another inspired creation. It is a blend of herbs and vegetables, with a touch of tartness from capers. It doesn't look very appealing, but goes really well with the greenbone, a smooth-fleshed white fish found around New Zealand.

The main course of "grilled beef tri-tip, burnt carrot, wood ear mushroom, tamari sauce" is the most conventional, even with the tamari sauce, a soya-based product more often used in Japanese cooking. The wood ear mushrooms are a nice touch though, their crunchy texture relieving the monotony of the tender and reasonably flavourful beef.

The dessert - "yogurt sorbet, shiso, oxalis, black grapes, roasted kelp oil" - sounds more exotic than it tastes.

It is much like the yogurt I eat for breakfast, with honey drizzled over it, except when you bite into a spicy shiso leaf. There is yuzu in the mix too, to make things a little more exciting, but if you hate yogurt, that is not going to help. I love it.

So I am a fan of Blackwattle, despite the din raised by the tables around me that keeps me on the verge of a headache the entire evening.

Decor-wise, the general grey palette and bare walls are a bit plain. But that may be deliberate because it forces me to look more closely at the ceiling lamp, which is recycled from an antique British aircraft engine and resembles a retrounidentified flying object.

It is as odd a fit with the rest of the restaurant as the ingredients on the plates - which makes it quite appropriate.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke

• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 22, 2017, with the headline 'Experimental success'. Print Edition | Subscribe