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Review: Butcher Boy’s simple fare and strong drinks make for a boisterous affair

Keong Saik Road — home to some of Singapore’s hottest bars and restaurants is being shaken up. First there was the opening of Bistro November — a pop-up concept helmed by chef John-Paul Fiechtner and sommelier Sally Humble. Then in June, the entire bloc of 10 shophouses that was Naumi Liora Hotel was sold off. What will take its place remains to be seen but The Library — one of Singapore’s sexiest speakeasies operating on its ground floor has closed in its wake.

Amidst this change, a new restaurant has arisen. Enter Butcher Boy, which features smokey grilled meats and sharing plates with heavy Southeast Asian influences. The space is opened by chef Andrew Walsh of Cure, a polished restaurant just a few doors down. Where Cure is refined, Butcher Boy is casual. It is here that chef Walsh and his team let their apron strings loose just a little, serving up plate after plate of uncomplicated food meant for sharing.

Butcher Boy
The interiors of Butcher Boy

At dinner, the space is warm and cosy with a decidedly masculine character. The 51-seater restaurant is kissed by the orange incandescence of Edison lightbulbs while furnishings come in sexy hues of brass and walnut softened by distressed leather. Up at the back, there’s a bar that seats 11 if you’re just here to knock back a few post-dinner cocktails.

The menu is thoughtfully divided into seven sections. The portions for small plates and sides make for perfect starters, while snacks would be more suitable if you’re seated at the bar.

Butcher Boy
The aubergine satay might sound strange, but its essentially a vegetarian dish where the Malay and Indonesian peanut sauce meets Thai mango salad.

The aubergine satay (S$18) is a standout for its melange of flavours. Here, aubergine is grilled in the Josper oven for a smokey depth reminiscent of baba ganoush (roasted eggplant dip) and is slit lengthwise. It is placed on a bed of satay sauce and topped with julienned carrots, cucumbers and chopped peanuts with a slice of lime on the side. Purists would baulk – for why would anyone squeeze lime over satay sauce that’s topped with a medley of vegetables resembling a Thai mango salad?

Yet the flavours work, for the satay sauce itself is a shade different from what we have locally. It’s far more savoury, which is exactly what’s needed in the absence of meat.

Over at the sides, the burnt lettuce (S$8) is a complex take on your otherwise pedestrian Caesar salad. By charring parts of the lettuce, the kitchen has introduced a bitter note into the mix, while still keeping it crispy. This is lifted by the familiar flavours of Caesar salad dressing, given an umami dimension of bonito flakes, and finished off with crispy bites of puffed rice.

Butcher Boy
The rib eye has been marinated in miso, sous vide and then grilled to succulent perfection.

These two dishes can certainly stand on its own but lest you leave hungry, order up the star of the menu: Grilled meats. These are simple, uncomplicated mains ranging from the rib eye to lamb rump and whole fresh fish fired up in a Josper oven.

Of these, the rib eye (S$84 for 500g) will do you no wrong. It’s lightly seasoned and then grilled to keep the integrity and purity of the cut. The insides are kept succulent and moist even as the outside is beautifully charred with bitter bits to nibble on.

Another highlight is the market fish (S$38) – a selection which rotates each day. The team buys fresh fish from Chinatown’s wet market and slaps on the rambunctious flavours of Vietnamese cooking. When we visited, it was snapper impaled with two sticks of lemongrass and lathered with a generous spice mix of shallots, garlic and coriander.

Butcher Boy
The fish at Butcher Boy is incredibly fresh, purchased daily from Chinatown’s wet market.

These selections were delicious, but not everything was a hit. The buns used for the duck banh mi (S$18), for instance, were dry even though the flavours were on point. Repeated visits showed that this section of the menu was the weakest, as even the mantou meant to be eaten with the chilli crab dip (S$18) was tough – unlike the soft moist buns we all grew up eating.

Where the restaurant missed on the bun front, it delivered at the bar. It’s quite unlike many restaurants that try to clobber cocktails with food and fail at it. Drinks here are robust and well-balanced, with just enough theatre to keep your evening interesting.

The Thai Basil Tini (S$16) for instance, is perfect to kickstart your evening. Its strong lemon flavour is given a herbal note from the inclusion of basil, while the combo of Colombian gin and smoothness of sake gives it that lethal kick. The Smoking Carriage (S$22) is just as good and comes served in a box that opens up to wisps of smoke. Flavour-wise, it’s a pleasing balance of bitters with salted caramel syrup, orange and a good dose of Dictador 20 rum.

Butcher Boy
The cocktail might be placed in a plastic bag but fear not as the dimensions are just right so it won’t spill over.

Yet our favourite — at least conceptually — has to be the Street Side Milk Punch (S$18). Here, cachaça is mixed with Thai milk tea and salted caramel syrup served in a plastic bag. The proportions are just right but there’s one caveat: The Thai milk tea needs to be stronger. The idea behind the cocktail is sound, but there’s no getting around the fact that that the Thai milk tea sold everywhere else in Singapore is robust. Any barman who wishes to whip up a good version needs to measure up. Still, it’s a small pitfall, and one that can easily be fixed.

If you’re looking for a hip spot where the atmosphere is social and the food is meant for sharing, Butcher Boy is a good bet. Things aren’t at 100 percent yet, but give this restaurant time and it will eventually find itself. The spot is by no means a polished fine dining temple unlike chef Walsh’s Cure restaurant, but those looking for honest food, strong drinks and an all-round boisterous affair will find themselves right at home.

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 5.00pm –12.00am
Friday to Sunday: 12.00pm –3.00pm

Recommended Dishes: Grilled ribeye, aubergine satay, burnt lettuce

Price: Approximately S$80 per person.

Noise Level: Moderately noisy

Service: Helpful with recommendations and always on hand to explain each dish.