SINGAPORE - While many restaurants tout the latest gadgets and cooking methods, a new bakehouse-cum-restaurant in East Coast Road has decided to bring back the old ways instead.
At Firebake, which opened about two weeks ago, the bread is baked in two wood-fired ovens that were built brick by brick on the premises. And food is cooked on a cast-iron stove or grilled over a wood fire.
The star here is the sourdough bread, made with organic flour and wild yeast - the way it was done decades ago before the advent of modern farming and baking methods. Even the water goes through something called a Nordaq Fresh water filtration system from Sweden that purifies it without removing the minerals and natural salts.
The result is dense but tasty sourdough bread that is full of flavour. There are four types available - white, wholemeal, rye and fruit with organic sultanas and apricots from Australia - which you can buy home ($8 to $13 a loaf) or order in a tasting platter ($10) when you dine in.
The restaurant menu is not big - there are seven small plates and nine shared plates - but is interesting in how the dishes are designed to be eaten with the breads or incorporate various elements of them.
Some are obvious, such as a chicken liver pate that is ideally spread on a slice of toasted fruit sourdough. And you would want to dunk pieces of white sourdough into a pot of blue mussels to soak up the juices.
FIREBAKE – WOODFIRED BAKEHOUSE & RESTAURANT
237 East Coast Road, tel: 9784-2950, 6440-1228, open: 6 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays; breakfast and lunch will be launched later
Food: 4/5 stars
Service: 3/5 stars
Ambience: 3/5 stars
Price: Budget about $60 a person for food
But others are more subtle and unexpected.
The Cured Norwegian Salmon ($25), my favourite dish, is one of them. What looks like skin along the side of the fish slices is actually a thin layer of bread crumbs that is grilled until it forms a crispy crust. The fish itself is lightly grilled, but retains the bright pink colour and soft texture of cured salmon.
The contrast with the crispy crust is what makes this dish so good. It is served with sweet leeks and pickled onion - perfect matches for the mildly salted fish.
The Grilled Pork Belly ($22) surprises, too, but in a different way. The chunks of meat come sitting in a pool of vegetable broth. But the soup does not cover the crackling, which is nicely crisped.
The cut is a bit lean, though, and the meat at the bottom gets dry. The well-reduced and robust broth redresses that slightly, though its primary function is to reward the palate with an added layer of flavours without weighing down the dish. An assortment of vegetables, such as carrots, celeriac and fennel, in the soup also provides a nice balance to the meat.
A slice of rye bread completes this dish, but is not essential to it.
That is not the case with the Norwegian blue mussels ($25), where the slice of white sourdough served alongside comes in very handy in mopping up the broth in the pot.
Cooked in lager with chopped-up chorizo sausage, shallots and garlic, the shellfish is lovely the second time I eat it. On my first visit to the restaurant - an invited meal two weeks ago - the broth and the shellfish taste flat, but by my dinner last week, the recipe has been tweaked. The flavours are now well rounded and the mussels are juicy and sweet.
The only hiccup in the meal is the Australian Prawn Capellini Aglio Olio ($19). The pasta, which is tossed with sakura ebi, is fine, but the grilled prawns are overly salty. I think I was not the only person to complain that night and it being a fault so easily remedied, I will be very surprised if it has not been fixed by now. This is also the only dish that has no connection to bread that I can see.
The desserts, however, have a lot to do with the loaf.
Bread And Butter Pudding ($10) makes good use of the fruit sourdough. In fact, there is so much of the bread that I would actually prefer a bit more custard in the dessert. But it is good bread, so I won't complain too much.
The other dessert - Peach, Vanilla, Sourdough Ice Cream, Rye Chip ($12) - is different the two times I try it. The first time, the ice cream has a distinct taste of sourdough and an interesting gummy texture. The second time, it tastes more like a vanilla ice cream with a hint of sourdough. The peach, which is poached in moscato and syrup, is fine both times.
Firebake has the vibe of a neighbourhood eatery and diners come in shorts or with their dogs in tow. The doors are thrown open and tables are set up indoors as well as on the pavement, where ceiling fans keep everyone cool. There is also counter seating that faces the open kitchen and ovens, which may be hotter.
So, yes, dress casual.
•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke
•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.