It was not the most auspicious of beginnings. First, I was perplexed when I heard about Le Binchotan. Was this yet another joint adopting a pretentious name that diners would struggle to recall?
As it turned out, my bewilderment only reflected my lack of cultural capital—the owners behind this trendy 38-seater restaurant and tapas bar had simply referenced the restaurant’s main cooking style; at Le Binchotan, meats and seafood are smoked over bincho-tan, or white charcoal.
Next, it was not easy finding my way there. As seemingly accessible as Le Binchotan is on the map, getting there requires a keen eye, since the joint does not announce its presence very well along a narrow side street.
Finally, the constant background chatter during dinnertime means that this is probably not the place for a romantic evening date, nor somewhere to quietly unwind after a hard day’s work.
Yet Le Binchotan will make a great place for people or groups looking to socialise with the bartenders and other patrons; it is also perfect for anyone wishing to soak in the buzz and energy that the night scene can provide.
Now, none of these observations detract from Le Binchotan’s merits. Let me say this: this restaurant and bar serves great food and inventive drinks. And for these two reasons alone, it is worth a return visit.
The Gin, The Flower and the Bowtie ($23)—gin, hand-pressed lemon juice, coconut and roselle water
The drinks are worth their high prices. Le Binchotan’s Head Bartender Sugar Ray Ruban has created a series of house cocktails, including a cheekily named Sake My Cucumber ($21). I was not feeling particularly naughty that evening, so I went instead for The Gin, The Flower and the Bowtie ($23), inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia. Not only did this cocktail look good (it came knitted out in a black bowtie), it was pleasantly sweet, too.
Leon Tea Professional ($21)—a classic whisky sour with an earl grey twist.
Le Binchotan’s homage to Luc Besson’s 1994 film Léon: The Professional is akin to the skilled hitman in the film. Like a good assassin, The Leon Tea Professional ($21) kept its best move for last: it dominated with its whisky sour flavour until the final notes, when it revealed its earl grey tea profile. This drink will surely thrill tea lovers.
Amela Tomatoes ($19)—Raspberry Meringue, Pickled Hijiki, Cherry Tomatoes, Lime
It would almost be a travesty to not have a small plate or two with your drinks at Le Binchotan. The restaurant serves more than 20 small and large dishes, and not only are they perfectly sized to fit every appetite and group size; Le Binchotan’s range shows too.
Take for example its vegetable dishes. As simply prepared as the Amela Tomatoes ($19) were, Le Binchotan’s inclusion of what some call the “world’s sweetest tomatoes” on the menu was a credit to the team’s savviness. The tomatoes were amazingly tart, juicy, and savoury.
Shishito ($9)— Furikake and sea salt
The Shishito ($9) was also a delight. The sweet Japanese pepper was tangy and crunchy; its sweetness offset by the sea salt. The dish looked and tasted like okra, only better.
Tenkasu ($15)—deep fried enoki, mushroom ragout and pickled daikon
The Tenkasu ($15) was well done. Essentially deep-fried enoki, the dish had a perfect ratio of batter to mushroom, while the accompanying mushroom ragout and pickled daikon were served at just the right quantities as complements to the enoki. The tenkasu was very addictive, so it was fortunate that I could comfort myself that it was technically a vegetarian dish.
Gizzard ($9)—Pommery Mustard, Tare
Chicken Liver ($15) with Bonito, Ponzu Dressing, Shallots, and Chives
I have never been a fan of offal, but I had to try the gizzard ($19) and chicken liver ($15) because of how aromatic they were. While these dishes did not change my culinary position on animal organs, the accompanying dips and sauces were delicious; I noted that the organs were also cooked to the right firmness.
Madai ($25)— smoked sea bream, eggplant, radish and sherry vinaigrette
The seafood is a winner at Le Binchotan. Although I did not have a chance to sample their well-reviewed clams ($19), I tried two of its other seafood dishes.
First, I appraised their signature Madai ($25). The smoked Japanese sea beam was a beautifully presented cold dish that was lifted by piquant sherry vinaigrette and refreshing radish.
Emperor Snapper “En Papillote” ($33)—Sudachi Fumet, Tofu, Cherry Tomato
The second seafood dish left one of the deepest impressions on me that evening—it is a pity that Emperor Snapper “En Papillote” ($33) will soon be discontinued. Not only was the snapper juicy, substantial, and flavourful, it was also accompanied by an umami broth that had hints of citrus, and sweet cherry tomatoes that lent pop to both the gravy and the fish. If I didn’t have a comfort dish previously, I have one now—albeit one that I must persuade Le Binchotan to continue carrying.
Lamb with Miso and Tapenade ($13)
Le Binchotan’s meat dishes were, for the most part, stellar as well. The Lamb with Miso and Tapenade ($13) was impeccably grilled, with none of the gaminess that I sometimes expect from poor-quality cuts.
Angus Short Rib ($39)—Leek, Nagaimo, Kurosu Jus
The Angus Short Rib ($39) reflected the long hours that went into it—slow-cooked over 16 hours, the meat was succulent and delicious. It was also portioned nicely—I dislike it when short ribs have more bone than meat.
Ibérico pork jowl ($35)— Katsu Curry, Green Apple, “Charcoal” Pumpkin
The Ibérico pork jowl with Green Apple and Charcoal Pumpkin ($35) was even more praiseworthy, both in taste and in terms of the effort expended in preparing it. Braised for 18 hours, then smoked over bincho-tan, the meat was tender, fragrant, and went well with the deep-fried charcoal pumpkin and green apple puree.
Wagyu Striploin with ume sauce and port reduction ($15)
The only two meat dishes that fell short were the Wagyu Striploin ($15) and the Foie Gras ($21). While the Australian striploin was tasty, I have perhaps been spoilt by melt-in-the-mouth wagyu. I was therefore unimpressed by the meat’s tougher-than-usual texture.
Foie Gras ($21)—Shaven Foie Gras, Daikon, Dashi Gelée, Shitake
The shaved foie gras ($21) did not meet my criteria of both taste and texture. Taste is usually a function of texture, and in this case, the foie gras melted too quickly in the mouth to showcase the complex flavours that generally characterise goose liver. While I could identify the unique saltiness of foie gras with each initial bite, the shaved foie gras too often melted before I could decide if it went well with the accompanying daikon, dashi gelée, and shitake mushrooms.
Capellini ($19)—Sakura Ebi, Shio Kombu, Chives
My last main of the night was a fascinating Capellini ($19). The sakura ebi was the star of this dish, lifting it up with its savouriness and fragrance. It helps that capellini is among the thinnest of Italian pasta, which meant that I didn’t feel overloaded with starch.
Smoked Chocolate ($15) with Frozen Blueberry and Yogurt
Coconut ($15)—Cremeux, Matcha and Raspberry Bits
There are only two desserts on the menu, and while both are good, one is discernibly better than the other. The Smoked Chocolate ($15) is exactly as its name suggests—the chocolate cake has somehow been smoked, giving it a unique flavour. However, I find it a little dry, and that is why I prefer the Coconut ($15), which is a very delectable coconut cremeux topped with frozen matcha powder and raspberry bits.
Le Binchotan might not be very affordable, but it deserves consideration if you’re looking for a fun night out. There is no service charge, so wait staff depend on the occasional tip. This could be part of the reason why I observed that service levels were relatively higher than other restaurants of a similar price bracket.
I might not have fallen in love with this joint at first acquaintance, but its excellent food, imaginative drinks, and stylish interiors mean Le Binchotan is now on my list of edgy and good bars and restaurants in Singapore. Here’s to more auspicious moments at this up-and-coming bar and restaurant.
Thank you Le Binchotan for the invitation.
|115 Amoy Street #01-04
(entrance from Gemmill Lane]
Reservations: 6221 6065
Mondays to Saturdays