Led by hot, young chefs, this BBQ joint's smoking up Southeast Asian barbecue with an attitude. But does their #NoBurnNoTaste credo pack a real punch?
“F*** fine dining,” declares Sam, one-half of the unlikely duo fronting mod-Southeast Asian barbecue and dessert bar, Fat Lulu’s. This brash young chef and his stoic partner-in-crime, (dessert man) Song, are two of Singapore’s newest culinary talents – and ones to have on your radar. Just six months into its launch, and this restaurant is still drawing a crowd to its River Valley locale. Sure, you get the usual “I’m just cooking what I love” spiel here, but what makes them different from some of the other hip, ‘fun-dining’ joints is the absence of overused PR jargon like “market (insert ingredient here)” or “farm-to-table” on their menu. Because really, the boys here just want to cook real, good food.
Now, I’m not big fan of barbecue (charred meats? I’d rather have ants in my cocktail), but having heard solid reviews from friends and colleagues who have dined there – our food writer, Dinesh, won’t quit raving about them – my curiosity was piqued. Chablani may have worked at respected fine dining establishments in New York, and at Halia, Lolla and the now-defunct Raven in Singapore, but he remains ambivalent about Fat Lulu’s being just another trendy, small-plates resto. In fact, “tapas” is a dirty word here, and the term “zi char” is very much preferred (albeit a fancier version of roadside dining.) The place itself is furnished with fuss-free seats and a cluttered dessert bar, making it crystal clear that the focus is solely on the food – and it damn well should be.
The burnt asparagus ($16) may seem basic on paper, but don’t be fooled. Garnished with a dash of salt, it comes dripping in tangy, homemade bernaise sauce that complements the asparagus’ smokey flavour. Another deceptively simplistic highlight, the burnt porn corn ($12) is an explosion of flavours that are all at once sweet, tart and oh-so-orgasmic. Ask for an extra serving of sour cream; you’ll be glad you did.
But enough about vegetables. Order the spicy BBQ pork ribs ($20 for half rack; $28 for full rack), which has fall-off-the-bone flesh cooked in a glistening kechap manis sauce, and then served with lime and coriander. A word of caution: those who are venturing into virgin territory with strong Asian spices may find the bold notes of star anise something of an anomaly. If you’ve been to a Southeast Asian grill, you’ll know that any respectable joint features ikan bakar on the menu. Here, the parrot fish is marinated in tumeric, garlic chilli butter and kashmiri chilli powder that apparently gives it a “kiss of Nicki Minaj”. While the spice lingers on your taste buds, there is a lack of Chablani’s signature #noburnnotaste aroma. Perhaps, it would have been more apt to call it “a kiss of Nicki Minaj… on valium”. But all is not lost – the dish’s saving grace is its refreshing achar, a pickled salad tossed with ulam raja, cucumber, rice wine and vinegar.
You can’t leave without sampling one of Song’s soothing desserts. The pineapple ice kachang ($16) – a wonderfully messy mix of coconut ice cream, pineapple granita, coconut foam and chendol – is worth every calorie (not that you’ll be counting them, anyway.) Likewise, the “atas” Kinder Bueno ($16) is a much-needed respite from the grill. A combination of Baileys hazelnut cream, chocolate sponge, milk chocolate and bitter chocolate sherbet, this indulgent concoction calls for seconds.
Why I’ll be back
Fat Lulu’s strives to serve up irreverence on a plate. However, are the boys truly the free-spirited rebels of the stuffy culinary institution? Perhaps. But the presentation and execution are still pretty much polished and on point, so maybe the old habits of their fine dining training do die hard – not that I’m complaining. Still, the yin-yang, Sam-Song dynamic works, and any place that revisits good ol’ street food gets a big “hell yes!” in my book.
In five words
(As Sam Chablani would say) Get yo’ punk a** here!
Fat Lulu’s, 297 River Valley Road, Singapore 238338. Open Tue-Fri 6pm-11pm, weekends 11am-4pm 6pm-11pm. Closed on Mon.