SINGAPORE — As someone with ambitions and life goals, milestones are part and parcel of what defines my existence. Sure, you may look at me and think, “Oh, he’s just here for dinner and to take photos for a food review”, but if you bothered to ask, I’d share that a lot of the restaurants I review are a tick off a long list of places I’ve dreamt of eating at. The Butcher Boy at Keong Saik is one such example.
Though that’s technically just one-fifth of the story, my real goal is to eat my way up and down the street of Keong Saik and relegate each restaurant a successful conquest and a shiny beacon on my food writing resume. As of the time of writing, I’ve yet to set foot in Olivia, Cure, Pasta Bar, Thevar, and, of course, the shiniest trinket of them all, Meta. Oh, what I’d give to be at Meta and see what the fuss is all about.
While I get that sorted out—a tall task given our on-again, off-again Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) restrictions—there’s The Butcher Boy to review. Sandwiched between Japanese Restaurant, KYUU, and Keong Saik Bakery, The Butcher Boy is a concept by the folks from the Cure Group—who also owns Cure and Catfish—serving up a contemporary take on the bar and grill concept, albeit with an Asian twist. Think common meats with an Asian facade, done exceedingly well in a mise en scene that’s dark, brooding and serving on-the-cusp-of-manhood realness.
The Asian twist starts almost immediately, very early on in the meal with snacks that I reckon makes easy work to incorporate familiar flavours. There’s the Nori Pie Tee (S$12++/2 pieces) which I was not expecting to be a cold dish. But not only is it a cold dish, but it’s also a presentation with a great interplay of flavours. Inside, these seaweed pie tee shells hold tuna tartare with chives, dressed simply with lime zest and lime juice, and topped with marinated ikura, Wasabi cream cheese mayo, and more chopped chives. One bite, and every flavour and texture comes rushing at you. It’s an assault on the palate that I didn’t mind in the least bit.
I also liked the Scallop Ceviche with pickled plum and Vietnamese dressing (S$25++). The heady mix of the plum and Vietnamese dressing dutifully elevates the typical raw scallop dish to something pretty spectacular.
In a brave move, The Butcher Boy, bless his courageous heart, decided to serve up Szechuan Brussels (S$16++)—valiant because I’ve only ever had two that stole my heart. One was at Persea, the other at Atlas Coffeehouse. As expected, this was hit-and-miss, with better flavours in the middle where the Szechuan sauce pools, getting less concentrated as you work your way out. Even the Szechuan sauce wasn’t as forthcoming as I wanted it to be. Clearly, this has been crafted for a Caucasian crowd that can’t handle a little bit of numbing spiciness but can boast to their friends for having tried Szechuan-something in their life.
Elsewhere, the Sticky Baby Lamb Ribs (S$21++/3 pieces) seem a crowd’s favourites as I observed plate after plate of this flying out of the kitchen and onto the tables. It's a small wonder its popularity, a seductive trio of impeccably soft and tender lamb ribs glazed with honey and grilled over charcoal till a fierce char forms on the surface. On this, a glaze of vinegar and lemongrass lends a touch of acidity and balances everything out so poetically. I couldn’t get enough of it. On second thoughts, I wouldn’t hate myself if I ordered two plates of this.
Instead, I had the Warm Chilli Crab with Mantou Buns (S$22++), which, if I were, to be honest, I was not expecting much from, especially after the Brussels Sprouts kerfuffle earlier. But, this was surprisingly authentic with a rich tomato flavour that keeps on giving. It comes chock full of very chunky crab fillings with a spiciness that gave me cause for pause. My dining partner and I looked at each other in utter surprise because this was authentically spi-cy. Served on the side is are Mantou buns that, on first bite, reminds me so much of Sourdough with its slightly stretchy interior. A great bun with a great chilli crab sauce? Honey, a boy could hardly complain.
Of course, like a predictable chart of life, the ups will almost always be followed by a down. Here, it looks a little like the Grilled Seabass, with Smoked Chorizo Sauce and Escabeche (S$44++/400g). There’s a lot of char and smokiness in this, which is great. As is the Chorizo sauce on which the fish lay. But the cubed potatoes and Chorizo are too similar in texture to be clearly differentiated.
The last thing I need over dinner is to guess what I’m eating. The Sea Bass is, of course, faultless though I reckon it could do with a bit more brightness. Perhaps from the Escabeche salad, an Achar-alternate, that, if more potently acidic, would have balanced everything much better. Yet, even with these misgivings, my dining partner and I finished everything, no thanks to a Sea Bass that has been expertly and adequately grilled.
Seeing as to how this is essentially a grilled meats outfit, I will forgive the slightly underwhelming Pandan Ice-Cream Sandwich (S$16++), which, if I were to stab a guess, has been pre-assembled and then fridged—the pastry was not as crispy as I’d like. The Pandan also tasted a tad too processed, which in all fairness, is entirely in line with the unnaturally bright green colouring on the Kaya.
It does further drive home the point that The Butcher Boy, like its moniker, is great at all things meat—desserts, at least the Asian iterations, not so much. It’s a perfectly reasonable compromise, though, because there’s always the safer route of the classic Fudge Brownie or Strawberry Pavlova to end the night on a sweet note. Plus, with sexy meats and appetisers like the ones I’ve tried today, a slight dessert misstep is hardly something to fault. I’ll be back for those lamb ribs and mantou buns in a heartbeat—trust and believe.
31 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089138
Wed to Sat: 12nn - 2.30pm
Sunday Roast: 12nn - 4pm
Tue to Sat: 5pm - 10.30pm
Sunday: 5pm - 9pm