SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Why do Western chefs insist on cooking Asian food, and why do we enjoy ridiculing their efforts? Is it because we can't get over their presumptuousness for adding lemongrass to their cooking and boasting that they invented fusion food? Are we so protective of our local fare that we don't even like Malaysians to claim ownership - much less anyone who grew up on Vegemite, croissants or bangers and mash?
The latest to jump into the fray is Andrew Walsh, whose new Butcher Boy is an Asian-inspired modern casual eatery. The chef behind Cure and former head chef of Esquina/right-hand man of Jason Atherton offers the likes of chilli crab, satay and XO sauce on a menu that also includes curry, banh mi and sambal.
Because he named it Butcher Boy (instead of say, An Wa Zichar) - which is inspired more by his favourite movie than any desire to go out and chop up a cow - he is obliged to include a meat-centric selection. And because he is also a New Age chef, he offers a small range of vegetable dishes that do more than fill your five-a-day quota.
So you not only get that Asian link - punctuated by a rather irrelevant Japanese katakana spelling of "Butcher Boy" and a bottle of Sriracha at every table - but you also have a flexible umbrella that you can throw just about anything under. With a menu organised into small bites, buns, grills and veggies, it feels less like a concept and more of a "this sounds good, let's put it on the menu" game of chance.
It's not necessarily a bad thing. Taken at face value, Butcher Boy is eclectic, uncomplicated and there are a few things to like.
We cosy up to the eggplant satay (S$18), partly because the idea of grilling steaks of aubergine - till covered in grill marks and suitably soft without being meltingly so - and coating it in peanut sauce is something that Ah Pui the satay man would never think of doing. But rather than stop there, they embellish it further with Thai-style green mango salad in a clash of cultural metaphors. They should go just one country at a time, and work at perfecting the slightly off-kilter satay sauce that lacks the depth and fragrance of spices.
From the "bun" section, the chewy fried doughnuts with chilli crab sauce (S$18) give you more reason to order the dish than the sauce itself. Instead of mantou, you get golf balls of dough that are crusted like Japanese fried curry doughnuts without the filling. You can chomp, pull and dissect how it gets the right mix of bite and resilience inside and the satisfying crunch outside. If there's any left, you can dip it into the chilli crab sauce which is a close contender for the real thing, but overpowers the sweet, salty and spicy formula with too much salt.
Cauliflower steak seems to be a thing these days, when self-deception is needed to elevate vegetables beyond their sidekick status to main course. Here, a thick "steak" is sous vide and then pan-fried, joined by little florets deep-fried and drizzled in a little teriyaki sauce. Refreshing green apple balls add a sweet-tart contrast. It's not quite as satisfying as The Black Swan's version, with truffles and onsen egg, but if you belong to the Make Cauliflower Great Again movement, then go for it. At S$24, it follows a steak pricing policy too.
We'd rather put our money on real meat - for an extra S$4, fuel up on the Butcher Boy bacon cheese burger (S$28), a classic patty and bun combo which has the requisite juices, tangy-spicy sauce and shoe string fries.
But the highlight of our meal is the Welsh lamb rump (S$34), which is tender by citizenship, nicely executed with a smoky char on the outside and deliciously rare inside. From a list of sauces ranging from sambal to yuzu bearnaise, the XO sauce is a winner - a generous amount of dried shrimp slow cooked in olive oil and chilli. It doesn't seem to have much of a scallop presence, but nonetheless has all the hallmarks of the real McCoy.
For dessert, Chocolate Textures (S$12) is a funfair for the mouth - a rollicking mixture of sticky chewy chocolate ice cream, crunchy cookies, crumbly soil, frozen bitter matcha ice cream discs and chocolate sauce. The different textures and mouth feel balance one another out, unlike the dominance of the sugar monster in the peanut butter and jelly sandwich (S$10). This grown-up version sees peanut ice cream sandwiched in spiced cookie squares and cloying plum jelly - a defiant stand against the anti-candy movement.
Asian, butcher or greenie, take your pick. There's a strong enough local presence in the kitchen to ensure that the basic tenets of local cooking are met. Butcher Boy has its moments, but it's not quite a cut above the rest.
31 Keong Saik Road
Open: Noon to 3pm (Fridays to Sundays), 5.30pm to midnight daily
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.