SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) It's a wonder they don't post an ambulance outside Meat Smith - a dedicated emporium of meat that is an open invitation to "Come on in, y'all - have a nice heart attack and don't you worry 'bout keelin' over before payin' 'cause ya already done paid at the self- service counter when you's walked in."
Welcome to serial restaurateur Loh Lik Peng's latest venture - a veritable gym workout for foodies who exercise their jaws to loud, pulsating music and emerge with a dire need for a green juice and the sound of Tibetan monks chanting.
But Meat Smith makes no apologies for what it is: a meatlover's hangout that gets its influence from the American South - with its emphasis on barbecued and smoked meats, in-your-face flavours and a raucous, fun-loving vibe that's fuelled by the heavy blues soundtrack and range of cocktails on offer. Throw all thoughts of flavour harmony and balance, creative plating or controlled portions out of the window. You are fully obliged to just hunker down and devour.
167-169 Telok Ayer Street
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Sat: 11.45am to 2pm; 5.30pm to 11pm
The crowd that fills up Meat Smith are Loh's acolytes - a good mix of hipsters and expats from the surrounding financial district. They know the drill - no reservations-policy, order and pay at the counter, find a table, sit down and wait for the food to be delivered.
At least, there are no buzzers. And Loh rewards them with style: blacksmith-inspired chic with a metal signboard and corrugated iron sliding door that opens into a large Texas saloon-like interior with individual and communal tables, and bar-stool seating closer to the kitchen. The menu by American chef Andrew Baldus adds substance - it's relatively small but well-executed, from the house-made pork crackling to the rib-sticking apple cobbler with "smoked" ice cream.
When you're used to the uniform-sized tough and crunchy pork crackling that's prevalent in Bangkok, Chef Baldus gets kudos for bothering to steam, dry and crisp up the irregular-sized puffs of airy, crisp nuggets for just S$5 for a large bowl, dusted with chilli powder. The only catch is that you have to eat them within the first few minutes before they start to sag.
Fried green tomatoes (S$6) always sounded good in the Sookie Stackhouse True Blood novels about vampires in the deep South and now we know why. Those seemingly innocuous discs of unripe tomatoes covered in cornmeal and deep-fried implode in your mouth with enough unrelenting acidity to wake up the palates of even the undead. Some living people like it too, but we limit ourselves to nibbling the delicious pimento-laced cheesy topping.
Even if fried chicken is the mainstay of the South, we're putting our money on Meat Smith's grilled half chicken (S$20). Its banal description belies the silken texture of the meat that comes from a long smoking process - there's flavour all the way through and when you can cut into a fat chunk of breast meat without any stringiness or relying on sous vide, that's really good chicken.
If you must have it fried, though, the Nashville fried chicken sandwich (S$8) is an adequate specimen of heavily seasoned chicken in batter that still maintains a slight crispiness despite being cocooned in a fluffy homemade bun with fixings of pickles and chilli sauce.
At S$8, it's a steal. In fact, prices are as friendly as the service, and despite your limited capacity, it's tough not to overdo the ordering. Also because you're too lazy to get up and order again at the self-service counter, so you're likely to go overboard the first time.
Asian influences make a cameo with the likes of crispy pig ear lettuce wrap (S$5 for a bite-sized wrap) - crispy crunchy shreds of deep-fried cartilage tossed with shredded carrots and radish slices in a Thai-style sweet-spicy dressing. A vinegar-brined pork belly (S$14/100gm) is fatty and tender but doesn't come with the promised crispy skin although it makes up for it with an addictive pumpkin sauce heightened by sweet raisins and broccoli. Also, don't miss the fried okra (S$4) - little nibblets of deep-fried cornmeal-coated joy that you can't stop eating.
The daily special whole short rib is the most expensive at S$50 for a caveman-sized hunk of meat and bone thoroughly blackened on the outside but tender within, although there's something off-kilter about the flavour and texture. The seasoning doesn't quite reach through the flesh, which, while tender, ends up dry.
After a surfeit of aggressive seasoning - you may well exceed your month's sodium intake in one sitting, even if slightly mitigated by the extra drinks you will order - there is some sweet relief in store with the inhouse apple cobbler. A piping-hot crusty-topped dish is filled with hot, buttery-sweet melting-soft apple chunks with a generous scoop of lightly smoky vanilla ice cream. It's the only dessert on offer and we're hoping to see more Southern-style desserts such as beignets appearing soon.
Meanwhile, if you're craving for a smoke but not the nicotine kind, Meat Smith is more than happy to oblige. But where your heart health is concerned, well, now, you takes your chances, boy.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on Mar 9, 2015.
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