Simple dishes, as most chefs would tell you, can be very difficult to do well.
But that is exactly what The Naked Finn, a month-old seafood restaurant in Gillman Barracks, does: simple seafood dishes that turn out very well.
Simplicity defines the look of the place as well. It is little more than a standalone plastic shack. The original building in the former barracks is used as the kitchen, while a tiny makeshift structure covered in clear plastic sheets is the air-conditioned dining room. A few tables laid outside, under a canopy, complete the restaurant.
On the menu are mostly Western dishes; there are a couple of Asian ones too.
The trick to good seafood is to work with fresh, quality ingredients and not spoil them with fussy, complicated recipes. Good seafood naturally tastes great and its flavour should not be masked by heavy sauces or seasoning.
The Naked Finn not only abides by this principle but also follows another golden rule: Never overcook seafood. Almost every dish is perfectly timed and cooked at the right temperature.
Few dishes show the skill of the chef as clearly as the pan-fried barramundi fillet with sea salt and olive oil ($12). I am no fan of barramundi, a popular fish in Australian restaurants. Similar to the local sea bass, it is inoffensive but, for me, its soft flesh lacks character.
At The Naked Finn, however, the fish is as perfect as it can get, with its skin pan-fried to a lovely crisp and the flesh still moist.
Barramundi fillet is also used in another dish where it is steamed Teochew-style ($13). There is nothing wrong with the dish, but other than swopping the usual pomfret with the boneless barramundi, there is little about it that stands out. You find the same soupy stock you get in Teochew restaurants, with cherry tomatoes and salted vegetables thrown in to cover up any unpleasant fishiness.
My favourites are the shellfish dishes, especially the grilled live razor clam drizzled with hot shallot oil and topped with fried shallot ($12 a piece). Cooked just right, the clam is springy and sweet, and the shallots give it a tantalising aroma. Add a grain or two of sea salt and you have it: a perfect dish.
The grilled great Atlantic (diver) scallop drizzled with hot garlic and shallot oil ($20 a piece) is cooked almost the same way - sans the crispy fried shallot - and the result is very good too. The scallop is plump and sweet, and worth its expensive price tag.
The grilled African lobster ($28 each) is also worth ordering. It looks small for a lobster - more like a biggish langoustine - but is surprisingly meaty. And it tastes sweet like a langoustine too, without the toughness of Boston lobsters commonly served in restaurants here.
A couple of dishes do not move me, however. One is the chilled blanched kangkong tossed in freshly squeezed calamansi juice and shallot oil ($5), an original idea that sounds better than it tastes. The lime juice is too sharp and fights with the aroma of the oil. Toning down the acidity would work better, I feel.
Besides a la carte, there are also set menus for one and two persons. The one for two ($128) is a good idea if you are dining there for the first time. It comprises seven dishes, which is almost half the menu, and you can top up with other dishes that catch your eye.
Desserts are rather limited. There are only four, out of which one is a fresh fruit platter ($8) and two are sorbets ($10). And both the coconut sorbet and the lychee sorbet taste like what is used for the cocktails served here - which, by the way, are good - but without the alcohol.
That leaves only the creme brulee with strawberries and candied orange ($10). The creme brulee itself is a little too creamy and rich, but the diced fruit sprinkled on top provides delightful bursts of flavour and a bit of acidity to cut the fat.
The restaurant has another brilliant original idea. Instead of serving bread with the food, it serves a free flow of chilled beehoon tossed with shallot oil and sprinkled with chives. It is delicious, goes with both Western and Asian dishes, and probably costs next to nothing.
As with almost everything else here, it is simple - and very good.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
THE NAKED FINN
41 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks, tel: 6694-0807 (call after 4pm)
Open: 6pm to midnight (Mondays to Thursdays), 6pm to 2am (Fridays, Saturdays and eve of public holidays). Closed on Sundays
Price: Budget about $80 a person, without drinks