Two months, hundreds of turns on its 18 seats, and a spattering of ambivalent media reviews later. How has Burnt Ends held up against the massive expectation pothole it has dug itself since its opening – with excavators Andre Chiang, Loh Lik Peng and Mavis Oei guilty as charged?
Alright, let’s forget one or two curious entrants to the one-page menu updated daily. Smoked quail eggs ($6 each) are bound to draw fawns for their runny yolks, but the gimmick is one-note, with a smokiness that’s so polite it’s barely a whisper. Someone summon the grilled leek ($20) back to life, please – copious black truffles and a hopefully accidental oil spill have drowned the crisp green, even when a sprinkling of hazelnuts resuscitates the dish briefly with a lingering, welcome nuttiness.
For the most part, Burnt Ends’ respect for the integrity of its ingredients deserves plaudits. Aussie chef David Pynt is a surly, bearded orchestrator, whose image is quite befitting the macho machinery he wields – pulley-controlled grills, a 800-degree beast of an oven and a slow-roasting hot cavern are his weapons. But within the dimly-lit, longitudinal space peppered with industrial gruff, there’s a certain gentleness in an au naturel oyster ($7 each) that is merely warmed with a dash of soy and mirin, and sardines ($16) that retain their fishy flavour in their entirety, smeared lightly – only lightly – with a pesto-like persillade. Duck hearts ($16) are so fresh and tender they’ve almost got a pulse, with a bite that lies somewhere between melting and wrenching.
The envelope is pushed a little further in some dishes, yet it doesn’t fall into overwrought territory. A roasted diver scallop is doused generously with a house-made XO sauce, and the gravitas of dried scallop in the sauce works well with the juicy sweetness of the wonderfully cooked whole scallop ($20 each). The poor man’s cut of onglet ($18 per 100gm) gets a chi-chi makeover. The steak’s incredible smokiness and succulence are like an underdog’s surprise victory – a thick brown sauce enriched with burnt onion, nobs of bone marrow and a tangy watercress side salad are all jewels on the crown.
A pulled pork sandwich ($20) is, truth be told, one of the best in town. Apple and almond wood impart a toasty character to the pork, enlivened by rings of jalapeno and a crunchy slaw. The construction is completed by a chipotle aioli and a thin layer of cheddar seemingly melded onto the buttery brioche buns. It’s a monstrosity that seems out of place amongst its bite-sized menu picks, but we’re not about to gripe about finger-lickin’ goodness.
Dessert might seem almost a steep descent thereafter. Grilled bananas, warm apples, cinnamon and caramel ice cream are commonplace ingredients with even more commonplace preparation and plating. The financiers are decent afterthoughts, with a dense crumb injected with burnt orange.
Still, the embers are glowing, even if reviews aren’t. We particularly have all the trust in Chef Pynt, who clutches onto a cote du boeuf with such paternal pride as he waxes lyrical about the hunk of meat to his guests, and who seems to hold a strict but civil rein over his respectful underlings. The merging of the prep table and the dining table is the most progressive we’ve seen so far, and there’s a certain allure to being presented creations crafted by the chef himself. After the fanfare over its opening has faded, we’re sure Burnt Ends will finally stake a claim in the local culinary scene – it’s got the goods and the fire to prove it.