Restaurant Review

Restaurant review: Bite into lips at Western restaurant Wolf

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 24, 2013 

Nose-to-tail cooking may sound very exotic these days, but it was very common back in the 1970s when I was a teenager in Kuala Lumpur. In fact, odd parts of the pig such as the head, ears, tongue and innards were poor men's food because they were cheaper than pork chop and fillet.

But I loved them, especially when they were stewed in spices and dark soya sauce, and eaten with a piquant chilli dip. So I am more excited than turned off by the opening of Wolf, a nose-to-tail Western restaurant in Gemmill Lane that serves various parts of pigs and cows.

There is one part of the cow on the menu, however - beef lips - that I had not eaten before.

To me, it is alluring in a rather sensuous way. But served in a dish of Beef Lips & Oxtail Stew ($32), it tastes less luscious. It is tender meat that is lined with gelatin and tastes just a bit more gamey than regular beef. Together with the oxtail, carrots and a thick layer of mashed potato at the bottom of the plate, it is a heavy dish best reserved for cold weather or when you are feeling ravenous.

Dining at Wolf is not always a walk on the wild side though. There are also dishes for the less adventurous diner which are very good too.

I am certainly very impressed with the Wood- smoked Kurobuta Pork Chop ($48). The succulent texture of the slightly pink meat is something lacking in Kurobuta pork I have eaten in recent years, and I am glad to encounter it again here. Also, the thin layer of fat on the edge of the meaty chop is just enough to add flavour and moisture without greasing up the dish.

The pork is so perfect on its own that I want to savour it without the accompanying apple mustard sauce. But the sauce, which is slightly sweet with a mere hint of spice, is lovely too, so I use it as an extra dressing for the salad greens served with the meat.

It works too with a side of charred baby gem lettuce ($12). The gribiche sauce - made with egg yolks and mustard - that the vegetable comes with is too light anyway.

I have no complaints, however, with another side order of Potato Skins ($14). Baked with cheese and generous bits of smoked bacon, and served with creme fraiche, they are seriously good.

Starters feature offal such as chicken hearts and liver, and beef hearts as well as odd parts such as pig's ear. I decide, however, to order one "wild" and one "safe" item to see how they compare.

The wild dish is Pig's Head & Trotter Brawn ($18), a terrine-like piece of chopped-up bits eaten with cilantro, mustard and pickles on charred bread. It is delicious, a tasty mix of meat and gelatin that melts in the mouth. Eaten without the garnishings, it reminds me of a Chinese appetiser served chilled at the start of a banquet.

I like it much better than the safe dish of Octopus & Chorizo Stew ($30), which is ordinary in comparison. The octopus is tender enough and the chorizo certainly tasty, but the flavour from the tomato-based sauce is something you find in many tapas restaurants.

For dessert, I like the Banoffee Tart ($14), which comprises layers of banana and cream in a tart shell. It is not too sweet and the combination of banana and cream, though rich, is very satisfying.

The more exotic-sounding Chocolate Beetroot Cake ($12) is too dry despite the goat's cheese frosting. Otherwise, it is decent. The beetroot comes across only as an aftertaste as the chocolate initially overcomes the palate, and the combination is not as weird as it sounds.

One thing I learn from dining at Wolf is that the unknown can turn out to be something you like. So when you encounter a dish that seems strange to you, give it a try. You may like it - in which case you have one more thing in your list of things to enjoy.

ahyoke@sph.com.sg

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.