You’d expect a bar in the middle of a karaoke strip to be all fried chicken and spam fries. But away from the buzz of Circular Road, along the sedate walkways of South Bridge Road, an art-gallery-turned-sake-bar called Boruto has opened with a menu of inventive Asian-inspired tapas that is an outright rebellion to the notion of bar food.
Thoughtfully plated, refreshing in flavours and multifarious in techniques, the dishes at six-month-old Boruto reflect Executive Chef Angus Chow’s global culinary training. His stints at FOC and Foodbar Dada lend some Spanish tapas street cred; a Les Amis run imbues much classical French discipline; a stage at Tomo Izakaya translates to a cuisine accented with Japanese sensibilities.
If first impressions are deceiving, then Boruto is definitely one big hoax. It’s so sparsely furnished that it feels incomplete, clad in a tone of drab grey that even a hospital feels more inviting. Rock-hard bar seats are made with the sole purpose of ejecting their occupants, and hardly any action happens in front of you anyway, since the bulk of the cooking happens in a fluorescent-lit backroom behind plastic flaps.
However, there’s no shyness, no apologies and no shortcuts when it comes to the ambitious menu, classified broadly into small bites, salads, cold tapas, hot tapas, carbs, and sweets. Chef Angus started our meal with martini glasses of red gloop, which had the makings of a gimmicky starter, until you discover the surprise of a blood orange sherbet in the gazpacho ($10.80) packing a lovely smoky backbeat. Never mind that the cold strawberry-heavy soup feels heavier and sweeter than it’s refreshing.
A more confident delivery of beef tataki strips ($28.80) from Saga Prefecture means the meal is back on track – they are grill-kissed to just a light caramelisation outside, letting the streaks of fatty marbling do all the talking. Strands of fresh leek lend some good textural contrast.
Japan is also where the next two dishes get their key ingredients from, and Chef Angus explains that he even varies his food sources down to the city to ensure that what he imports is only the freshest. Don’t diss a crab sausage ($30.80) until you’ve tasted one at Boruto – 100% pure crab meat from Mie prefecture is packed tightly into a thin casing, sous-vide, and presented in a pool of classic crab bisque. The sweet crustacean flesh bursting in your mouth is a new sensation, and a welcome one at it. Think there’s nothing unique about uni pasta ($35.80)? Well, not when the uni from Hokkaido is harvested at the height of its sweetness, tossed lightly with al dente spaghetti (instead of cream-drenched pasta) that gives the sea urchin roe all the room to shine.
End the meal with a hearty Kuro Meshi ($20.80), a steamed Italian squid ink rice, sprinkled with spritely Spanish paprika, served in a traditional Japanese wooden rice bucket, conceptualised by a chef born and bred in Singapore. It’s a befitting worldly microcosm of Boruto – what it lacks in tweezer precision, it makes up with an imaginative, painterly flair.
If we had one gripe, it would be the insufficient seasoning – some extra salt may better draw out the flavours in many dishes, even for seafood ones. Of course, it also encourages more imbibing. Did we mention that Boruto serves 20 sakes by the glass and even makes its own plum wine? Ask for a tour of the bank vault (you heard right) on the second floor to get an inkling of the broad variety of libations available, mostly directly imported right from the source, instead of through a distributor.
There’s also some way to go before desserts hit the mark – Warabi Mochi ($6.80) is a diabetic’s nightmare and the confused Chocolate Surprise ($12.80) – allegedly a half cake and half soufflé paired with soupy vanilla ice-cream – is more shocking than surprising.
Nevertheless, Boruto is a solid opening that’s a breath of fresh air. If first impressions are indeed deceiving, then Boruto is worth a second, third and more.