Pass under the strange UFO-looking chandelier that casts a dim glow over the chic-yet- unpolished restaurant and sink deep into one of its dark green leather banquettes – it might be hard to ever get up as Blackwattle is one of those places you wouldn’t mind spending the whole evening at. It serves modern Australian cuisine but before you start dreaming of vegemite spheres or deconstructed lamingtons, stop right there. Instead, think of an amalgamation of different flavours from immigrant settlers and indigenous produce. Some dishes might taste quite Asian, others Mediterranean, but it’s all tied together in a neat Aussie package delivered by chef Clayton Wells and his team in Singapore.
Take for example the Fremantle octopus ($36) that’s served on a bed of ink and fennel purée that’s drizzled with a mildly spicy XO sauce. Lest you think the XO is there as a ploy to win over finicky local diners, Wells maintains that it’s one of his favourite sauces to work with and has long been on the menu at Automata, his award-winning restaurant in Sydney. The combination works. The XO sauce amplifies the smokiness of the octopus and the purée spiked with red vinegar provides a punch of acidity to brighten up the dish. Everything that hits the table is different to anything we’ve ever seen yet thoroughly enjoyable. The steamed red bass ($52) that’s served with lardo, roasted lettuce and green sauce plays with texture, juxtaposing the soft fish against the crunchy lettuce and pickled onions. It’s a winner, even if the entire plate is the same shade of unappetising green.
And, of course, there’s that Black Angus short rib ($85). Served on the bone, the short rib cuts like butter, revealing rosy pink meat dripping with fat beneath a dark charred crust. The sight alone makes us want to pick it up with our bare hands and tear through the flesh – but this is still a restaurant and some decorum must be maintained. Dip it in the tangy tamari sauce that’s almost like soy sauce but less harsh and more balanced. It also comes with a carrot and kelp purée but the meat is such a thing of beauty, it doesn’t need any accompaniments.
When the waiter comes around asking which dish is your favourite, you best keep mum or lie. Word is, Wells takes these dishes off the menu and replaces them with new creations. Experimentation is part of what makes Blackwattle exciting – and with a whole continent of flavours to explore, we can see why the innovation never stops.
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