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Bright ideas on the right track
53 Craig Road
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Fri: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 12am. Dinner only on Sat and Sun: 6pm to 12am. Closed on Mon.
Red Eye Smokehouse
1 Cavan Road
Tel: 6291 0218
Open for lunch and dinner Wed to Sun: 12pm to 3pm; 5pm onwards. Closed on Mon and Tues.
AT first glance, Kite and Red Eye Smokehouse seem to have nothing in common. One does things to lap cheong that would contravene the International Sausage Act. The other is a place you bring your vegetarian friends to if you want them to never speak to you again.
What the two share is a youthful insouciance - the kind that thinks the hardware hinterland of Jalan Besar is a perfect place for an American-style smokehouse, or who tosses recipes out the window because they interfere with his own free-style cooking language.
At Kite, the chef - who used to work at Bacchanalia - has a lot of cooking ideas. He has so many that the only way to eat them all is in very small portions (hence the small plates concept) while sitting in very uncomfortable kopitiam chairs. It is his idea, for one, to slowly render the oil out of Chinese sausages to create a flavourful dressing with garlic bits that is tossed with cold somen and topped with warm, bouncy shrimp (S$12). It's an interesting adaptation of the now-familiar angel hair pasta with sakura ebi, except that the floury texture of the noodles and the skinny beans get in the way of our enjoyment.
In fact, our meal is filled with little killjoys which conspire to trip up each dish in small but distracting ways. A creamy corn and polenta soup (S$12) gets a tangy contrast with sour cream and interesting bits to chew like mushroom cubes, corn niblets and candied walnuts, but some of the walnuts seem disgruntled enough to let loose a hit of sappiness to spoil the flow.
Slow-cooked 42 degree salmon (S$15) is no match for Tetsuya Wakuda's salmon confit, with a too-soft texture that barely flakes, sitting on a bed of seaweed salad in a sesame dressing and a welcome contrast of compressed apple cubes.
An unassuming barley risotto (S$16) tries not to steal the attention from Uncle Williams' quail (as named on the menu) although it could well be Auntie Rosie's frog's legs for all we know, given how similar the tiny little legs look and taste. Minced mushroom paste helps with the seasoning but all else remains bland.
Meanwhile, meaty and pink Spanish pork (S$18) delivers on taste and deft cooking, but instead of stopping at apple puree, the chef throws in walnuts, chestnuts and even prune paste which behave like the party poopers that they are.
Avoid the sugee cake (S$10) which is served in dry and hard torn chunks unless you are trained in the Heimlich manoeuvre. Better still, wade into the evening's best idea - silky panna cotta with crunchy cookie crumbs, raspberry sauce and a hint of spice, to which the chef cleverly adds unsweetened coriander and coconut sorbet for its balancing effect.
From a surfeit of ideas to just one: Red Eye Smokehouse serves smoked meats and nothing else in a cafeteria-style outpost in Jalan Besar, just across the road from a metal workshop. A young, friendly staff member tends a display of whatever meats they have, displayed in utilitarian surgical steel trays. You pick what you want, they charge you by the weight and you eat it with coleslaw, potato salad or sweet potato fries.The star attraction is the US Angus beef brisket (S$15/100gm) - whose burnt carcass reveals some pretty good fork-tender flesh that you can pile into one of their hot sweet bread rolls with the coleslaw to make a mighty tasty sandwich. The beef rib (S$11/100gm) is a distant second with its thick charred exterior giving way to meat that literally dries up upon eye contact. And unless your hair follicles are strong enough to hold on to your roots, skip the chopped pork (S$12/100gm) which tastes like it was cooked in vinegar in a hazardous material treatment facility.
Interestingly, it's the simple (and cheapest) meats that are the tastiest. Don't miss the smoked chicken thighs (S$3/100gm) which are the fattest and pinkest legs with the succulence and tenderness that can beat any sous vide appliance. The smoked sausages (S$8 per link) are huge bolsters of meat and fillers that give it pillowy substance. The gammon ham (S$9/100gm), apart from a sweet pineapple glaze, is strongly salted. And don't be fooled by the enticingly-worded "home-made apple pie". It really does taste home-made, which is not necessarily a compliment.
Kite and Red Eye are examples of bright, youthful ideas that are on the right track but lack the sophistication and experience of their more established peers. Nobody said growing up was easy, but if these two works-in-progress keep at it, they'll get there soon enough.
Red Eye Smokehouse: 6.5
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.