I have fond memories of the now-defunct Azhang restaurant that was at Mohamed Sultan Road. What stood out most was their corn salsa and their expertly grilled dishes and I was incredibly disappointed when they closed. Tym clued me in that the people behind Azhang opened a new restaurant, called Brinj, and it was as good as before. She assured me that yes, they still serve that corn salsa. The only problem was finding an opportunity to go, because Upper Bukit Timah is rather a distance away from my usual stomping grounds. Luckily Tricia and Eugene (and DC of course) were happy to indulge my little food obsession. I had a hard time describing the food to them – it’s not local, yet not quite western, and definitely not fusion. Let me just launch into the experience and you’ll know what it’s all about.
When we got there, Patrick, the chef-owner told us there was no menu. He rattled off what he had that evening: there was a spare pork knuckle because he was roasting a piglet for another group and tossed in the knuckle for the heck of it, there were lamb ribs, there was salmon belly and (yes, yes, yes!) grilled calamari, and corn salad. We thought we had to choose, but he just said “Don’t worry, I’ll let you have a bit of each to try”. Then he started talking about making Hokkien mee after, but that would be a bit later at 9pm. So not quite knowing what would hit us, we launched into dinner. The corn salad ($19.80 for a double portion) came first and it was quite similar to what I remember: freshly grilled corn well-seasoned and tossed with romaine lettuce, onion, tomato and green chilli. I liked the tart olive oil dressing and the cumin-coriander flavours. It’s one of these strange dishes that somehow works!
The pork knuckle ($16) came next. It was cooked till rather dark, and I was afraid that it had been over done. Sure, the skin was on the verge of charred, but the flavour was good and the skin was nicely crispy, though in some places a bit on the hard side. Having had deep-fried pork knuckle done till very tender, this roasted version isn’t as tender, but there’s something very satisfying about chewing the savoury meat. Have it with the sambal belachan that the staff (actually Patrick’s teenage children) very cheerfully topped up as we ate. The carrots on the side were good too, surprisingly sweet. We were so distracted by the pork knuckle that we didn’t see the roast piglet come out to the group next to us.
We sat at a long table that dominated the room, separated by one place setting and the clever use of a table runner. The other group had oysters, which Patrick freshly shucked at the counter, and champagne. Later, they had what looked like a stuffed roast duck and angel hair pasta that DC claims was done Iggy’s style with haebee hiam. (Not knowing what Iggy’s style angel hair pasta is like, I defer to DC’s assessment and sigh at the lack of opportunity for such food experiences. Big hint here.) But all food envy disappeared when the lamb ribs ($45) appeared. This was probably the star dish. It was very simply done with hardly any discernable marinade aside from salt and maybe pepper. But the flavour of the lamb was astounding – it was a sort of delicately meaty flavour (!) and without any of the gamey lamb flavour that I know a lot of people don’t fancy. The ribs were cooked till still pink and were hence really tender and perfect to chew directly off the bone while holding it with fingers. Don’t bother being all chi-chi here, it felt just like being at someone’s home.
The lamb went very well with a bottle of 2003 Château de Malleret Haut-Medoc ($45) that DC picked out. It was a very soft red wine, rather juicy and with the right balance of tannins to stand up against the lamb. Patrick said that the chilli would bring out the spiciness of the wine. I simply enjoyed the velvety texture and the fact that I wouldn’t get a headache from the wine. (New World wines somehow don’t agree with me, I tend to only drink wines from the Old World these days.) There’s also a good selection of single malts here, we were very impressed by the many bottles of Islay malts available.
We were already pretty much full from the meat, but the salmon belly ($21) and grilled calamari ($21) turned up. I’m not normally a big fan of salmon, but this version was surprisingly good. It was masterfully grilled so that it was lightly charred on the outside, and succulently rare on the inside. Same way for the calamari: just cooked inside and charred on the oustide. The best bit of the calamari was the tentacles, perfectly done so there were bits of crunchy char yet not overcooked. The basmati rice beneath was another epiphany. It was incredibly aromatic with plenty of bite, despite the soak in the seafood juices and olive oil dressing. This is a definite re-order.
By the time we finished our mains, Patrick strolled round and announced that he was ready to cook the Hokkien mee. We were groaning with the idea of putting more food down our gullets, no matter how good. Patrick quipped that it was OK if we didn’t order it as he was sure another table would be happy to have it. This activated my fear of losing out and I asked for the smallest possible portion so that we could each have a taste. “Of course,” he exclaimed, and off he disappeared to the kitchen. When our plate ($20) arrived, the group of six on the other side asked if we could swap with their bigger portion. Notwithstanding how good we later found the Hokkien mee to be, we were very glad for once that we only had tasting portions. The yellow noodles were fried with what appeared to be ordinary ingredients like beansprouts, chye sim, prawns, squid and fatty pork… until Eugene saw the bits of bacon inside and we overheard Patrick telling the other group that he used duck fat in it. He then came round bearing a little saucer of balsamic vinegar with cut chilli inside, exhorting us to try it this way because it tasted like lor mee that way. Oh boy, it was yummy – rich and good, and the tang of balsamic vinegar somehow made it even better.
Coming to Brinj is like having a very enthusiastic gourmet friend invite you over to his home and try his hand at new dishes. It’s very honest food with absolutely no pretension. Sure, it’s slightly rough about the edges, but this is what home-style food is like. And the damage was minimal, at $50 per head including a rather good bottle of wine. Halfway through the dinner, we were already talking about when to return with a big group so we could have the duck and the oysters and maybe a roast pig too. After we got the bill, we know that this has to happen soon!
P.S. Thanks Eugene for taking the photos!
15 Cheong Chin Nam Road
Tel: +65 6469 9093