Barracuda Tuna tartare

Contrary to its name, Barracuda isn’t the restaurant equivalent of a fighting fish. It may have the logo of a fearsome predator on its door, but there’s nothing arrogant or painfully posturing about the people or food behind it. In fact, demeanour-wise, it’s closer to a koi – placid, genial, and not above asking for a pat of affection on the head.

Consider it petted. What Barracuda lacks in cooking sophistication it makes up for with a genuine, almost shy, sincerity. The food is still a work in progress, but the ingredients are good and the hard work they put into the presentation and recipes is very much evident.

It sits on Craig Road, just a couple of doors away from Pasta Brava – the granddaddy of Italian eateries in Singapore that shows no sign of slowing down from the perennial party that seems to be going on inside.

A quiet place

Barracuda is quiet in comparison, in its low-key, white-washed shophouse. Blink and you’ll think you’ve walked past an insurance company or alcohol distributor – its too-discreet signage is no help in drawing walk-ins. But Barracuda comes with a good reputation. It’s actually a transplant from Koh Samui, where the original seafood-centric eatery run by a German-born chef and his wife was consistently voted best restaurant on the island.

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The couple have since relocated to Singapore and brought Barracuda with them, but instead of serving sun-tanned surfer dudes and bikini babes, they have the unenviable task of winning over fully clothed urbanites who are not in a holiday mood.

But it’s hard not to chill out in the presence of Ferdinand Dienst, the affable chef-owner who now runs the front of house because he just can’t find enough staff. The dining room is cosy, with dim lighting from a string of orange-glow lamps.

The warm welcome extends to the temperature as well, thanks to the air-conditioning escaping through the door that’s left open for guests to walk in. Looks like you can take a German out of an island but you can’t take the island out of him. He’s cool as a cucumber but we’re almost sweltering on that muggy evening.

Concise menu

The menu is small – just a one-pager with three columns for starters, mains and desserts. We get the sense that they’re still getting the hang of the local palate, with dishes that are interesting but with slightly off-kilter combinations.

Warm tomato confit in olive oil and a roasted head of garlic are thoughtful condiments for the complimentary bread, but the garlic isn’t squishy enough and the thin slices of toasted baguette are cool and dry.

We’re quite happy with the recommended seared scallops (S$19), with three adequately plump nuggets snuggling in a blanket of cauliflower puree and a sweet-savoury accent of caper-raisin vinaigrette. Parmesan tuilles and a quail egg fried sunny side up that decorates one of the scallops are welcome touches.

While we’ve been to restaurants where a slow night is an excuse to do the bare minimum, it’s the opposite here as we can see the chefs in the kitchen agonising over every dish they send out to us.

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The homemade ravioli (S$14) gets it right with a spinach, ricotta and pine nut stuffing, but is overwhelmed by the overly thick disc of pasta it’s moulded into. If it had just been a thinner, floppy pocket of pasta, it would have been perfect.

Enjoyable mains

This misstep is mitigated by the tuna tartare (S$14) – a chunky timbale of raw bluefin tuna massaged generously in olive oil and topped with tangy Bloody Mary (read tomato) granita and a smear of avocado puree. It’s refreshing and clean, with a twist that works.

A main course of duck breast (S$39) hasn’t got the pinkish hue or tender resilience that’s a dead giveaway for the sous vide treatment. The slices of meat are almost chewy but still enjoyable, especially for its natural, unmanipulated texture and flavour. Creamy mashed potato and a dried cherry sauce complete it for us.

We can’t say the same for the lamb rack (S$52) which we picked over the recommended fillet of sea bass. The lamb, while perfectly tender despite being served very rare, is a harder sell for its pungent mustard-herb crust, puy lentils and Jerusalem artichoke puree. The lentils and artichoke don’t rank that highly on our list of coveted accompaniments, although it’s credibly done.

Restrained desserts

We’re also somewhat prejudiced against desserts made with vegetables such as the white chocolate and carrot fondant (S$13) which resembles a blond lava cake (albeit with nice crisp edges) spewing a creamy carrot sabayon. Vegetable dessert is too much of an oxymoron for us, even though the bitter chocolate sorbet works very well at pulling it together.

The semi-frozen pistachio-studded chocolate semifreddo (S$11), in turn, is straightforward, nutty and satisfying.

The food may not be quite all there yet, but it’s a promising meal that deserves a bigger audience than it currently has. It’s still new to the neighbourhood so we reckon it will build up a following soon. There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but this is one Barracuda that calls out to us.

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Barracuda Restaurant
9 Craig Road
Tel: 6260 4119
Open for dinner only Mon to Sat: 6pm to 10pm. Closed on Sunday

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photo: Barracuda Restaurant