Nothing says “Vegans, don’t come in here” like a big glass cage of meat. Some hang garlic to ward off vampires, others dangle prized cuts of dry-aging beef like a talisman against any lurking plant-based burger hoping to score a few more converts with its pretend pattie.
With a name like Butcher’s Block, there’s little reason to think it would be anything but primal in its outlook. Why else put its prime meat specimens in a chiller right at the front of the restaurant?
Just one look and you see how far man has evolved – from spear-wielding caveman cooking his ragged kill over a bonfire, to bon vivant searing a tomahawk over charcoal, stabbing it with an infra-red meat probe.
As the final restaurant to open in Raffles Hotel after a string of high-profile names, Butcher’s Block is no afterthought. It’s suitably dark and gentlemen’s club-like, where men can look macho and try not to squint at the menu. Which may not be a bad thing because it’s going to be a pricey meal.
Butcher’s Block concentrates so much on its meat – which they say is sourced only from sustainable farmers dedicated to raising stress-free animals – that it doesn’t offer all that much on its limited menu.
And because we visit during its early days of opening, teething issues are par for the course, from its unsteady service and hiccups in the food. For one, we’re served bread that’s pulled out of the oven before its time, leaving a streak of sodden dough in each slice.
We can also think of other, less glitzy ways of serving a perfectly good soft-cooked egg than to cover it in gold leaf and dunk it in a mushroom sauce so intense it’s almost bitter from the amount of dried chanterelles cooked in chicken jus, and charging S$38 for it. Mushrooms and eggs are a no-brainer combination – but it’s no fun when it’s taken too seriously.
When there’s less manipulation to the food, it gets to shine better. Cecina de León (S$25) is cured beef that can easily stand against the best jamon iberico bellotta with its tender, yielding texture and very mild salt level, meeting its match with crisp Cristal bread dripping with crushed fresh tomatoes. For non-salami fans, this may convert you.
If anything, these are all minor distractions before the main attraction – the meat. You’ve got the ubiquitous A5 Kagoshima wagyu (priced from S$150 for 120gm for fillet mignon or a relative bargain at S$98 for 150gm of leaner striploin), porterhouse and tomahawk for the hardcore carnivores.
We take the middle-ground in terms of price, since 450gm for a bone-in Club Steak at S$118 seems like more meat for our buck. It’s Australian Black Angus, grass fed and grain finished, and served so plain you would think there wasn’t enough budget to splash on a roasted cherry tomato. But if they want us to focus just on the steak in front of us, they sure got our full attention. Poke and prod, check the doneness, measure the level of cooked surface – oh if you must have sauce there is a rather nice smoky onion chilli condiment and a thick, mushroomy bechamel-like Sauce Diane.
But we’re happy with the steak, which is properly medium-rare, without the cloying oiliness of wagyu and clean-tasting enough to polish off the whole thing.
Mottainai sustainable lamb chops (S$45) are just as good, perfectly executed right down to the last plump pink bite. We do regret not going with the more familiar sides of macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, though. We’re not so convinced by the earthiness of roasted celeriac which tastes like a shotgun marriage of cauliflower and potato, roasted to baby food blandness. An XO sauce-infused gravy helps to perk it up, but not enough.
To end off, a spiral-shaped apple tart wakes you up with its tart fruitiness piled on top of a cookie base and served with berry sorbet (S$20), while bitter lemon sorbet and chewy candied peel sit in a cloud of zabaglione that’s lightly torched to comply with creme brulee regulations. It’s really just a very refreshing combo of custard and sorbet.
And in case you still haven’t had enough sugar, you get a little surprise petit fours of baby madeleines and intense peanut-shaped chocolate truffles.
Meat-wise, Butcher’s Block makes the cut. It’s the other parts of the menu that don’t match up quite as well but once they iron that out, it will be the restaurant it should be.
#02-02 to #02-07 Raffles Arcade, 328 North Bridge Road. Tel: 6337 1886
This article was originally published in The Business Times.