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On a roll with a handle on taste receptors
43 North Canal Road
Open Mon to Sat: 5pm to 12am. Closed on Sun
Online reservations only via Chope or email email@example.com
YOU know what they say: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Not if that man is Tim Ross-Watson, who could take that one fish and potentially feed and clothe himself for a bit, using every last scrap of it. Well, maybe fish scale shoelaces on garoupa skin trainers will take a while, but the chef's waste-not-want-not approach is already in full swing in his latest venture, Pyxie Moss.
The last time the British import made a dent on the dining scene was with the short-lived Garden of Eden in Neil Road in 2011, where he delivered his own brand of "progressive" fine dining with a side of punk rock attitude. Almost four years later, he's staging a comeback in the equally grungy North Canal Road, although the hardcore rocker vibe is now restricted to a mean-looking motorbike parked outside, and his own walking-mural body decor and skull rings. The restaurant itself is smartly outfitted and the food is grown-up, inventive and sustainable. But like the teddy bears that literally sprout from his gold Adidas sneakers, chef Ross-Watson doesn't let go of that sense of fun and whimsy - where food can be intellectual, but you don't have to get all prissy about it.
That means he is not uptight about finding some artisanal farmer in France who harvests his tomatoes only during the full moon - chef Ross-Watson's approach is to just use the best he can find from as close by as possible, and use every bit of it. That's what makes him salvage the cutoffs of celeriac root that would have gone into the bin, and ferment them in a rice cooker on the "keep warm" function for six weeks till he gets dehydrated black, musky strips that he adds to his palate-twister of a waldorf salad, aka Not Just The Tip (S$14).
Here, all international conventions of Waldorf are broken as warm barley risotto melts the heart of stilton cheese, has a tryst with crisp green apples and celery and just when you think that's all there is to it, candied walnuts pop up like crunchy busybodies. The fermented celeriac root cutoffs, looking like the compressed antlers of really tiny reindeer, don't really have much flavour or fragrance per se but add a kind of black truffle-like earthiness. Put everything together and it's a wild ride in the mouth as your brain registers all kinds of different tastes and textures pinging off each other.
Chef Ross-Watson sure has a handle on the way your taste receptors work, the way he orchestrates smooth, crunchy, salty, spicy, and other adjectives together in all the right proportions. We're at first not impressed with the vague description of Seaviche (S$8) which mentions sea coconut and smoked chips. But what we get is a magical mixture of slippery sea coconut - the jelly-like blobs in Chinese restaurant desserts - given a good oil and herb massage, crispy fried dough crumbs, chilli, onion, coriander and spring onions and who knows what else. It tastes like a raw squid salad with Asian-inspired condiments, eaten with flat rounds of smoky tortilla chips that come in a brown paper bag.
But lest you think his food is all the result of some far-out, free-association mind sessions, chef Ross-Watson does regular food too. Like the Tongue in Cheek (S$14) - a hearty chunk of rich pig head terrine in all its gelatinous glory, paired with mild sweet-sour pickled cauliflower and wafer thin slices of rye toast. Except that it's served on a misshapen metal plate that looks like the dinner dish of an angry dog with very strong teeth who didn't like his kibble. Infuriatingly wobbly, but apparently a case of the chef deliberately jerking the chain of conservative diners used to eating off flat white plates.
We especially enjoy Mother's Lamb (S$18): a sloppy presentation of lamb "bacon", heart and neck which the chef explains is how his mother - a terrible cook - prepared his meals when he was a child. But now that he cooks it himself, you get to enjoy a beautiful tribute to both meat and Mum - an amazingly tender-chewy offal that cuts like resilient butter; pink juicy neck and salty crispy lamb belly, adorned with sliced and whole grapes. And we're hooked on the simplest, yet most lovingly executed dish of soft-cooked egg (S$18) covered in a shower of top quality jamon iberico bellota shavings, hiding a mound of crackling crisp fried julienned potatoes and home made tomato ketchup. If you want to die and go to brunch heaven, you know where to go.
Dessert is where you might find yourself in a clash of sweet ideals with chef Ross-Watson. As he doesn't have a sweet tooth, his desserts are more restrained than you might like. The Cheese (S$15) features a hunk of St Felicien cheese - that creamy soft cheese which is covered in breadcrumbs to soak up extra moisture so it achieves a firmer texture that you eat with honey ice cream, malted bread, grapes and a little cup of very sweet port. The Pina Colada (S$10) features pineapple ice cream with pretty sour compressed pineapply cubes, granola and a sticky cake. The sugar-averse will have a field day while the pro-sugar camp might sulk a bit.
Still, it doesn't detract from the fact that Pyxie Moss is one of the most refreshing, innovative concepts to open this year. With prices that rarely go over S$20, it makes you want to take its menu and shove it in the faces of people who charge S$18 for waffles. Pyxie Moss is on a roll, and we hope it gathers a lot of credit along the way.
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.