The Naked Finn
41 Malan Road Gillman Barracks Singapore 109454
Tel: 6694 0807 (please call after 4pm)
Open Monday to Saturday from 6pm. Closed on Sunday.
ONCE upon a time, in a bid to expand one's knowledge about food provenance, one ventured to ask a wet-market fishmonger, "Where is your salmon from?". Without looking up from the ikan kurau he was filleting, he grunted, "Jurong".
Most restaurants would be able to tell you about their Canadian geoducks, Alaskan king crabs or lobsters fished off the coast of Brittany. But they can't beat the guys at The Naked Finn who literally give you the co-ordinates of their locations, the depths at which they live, how they were harvested, and the precise temperature and time they were cooked to achieve that sweet spot where the seafood makes that transition from raw to just cooked - a precious moment easily lost with each extra second on the pan.
Such devotion to product is rare in the local dining scene, and even more surprising considering that The Naked Finn is not some high-end, modernist cuisine-leaning restaurant. It's more like a makeshift plastic shack tucked into the periphery of Gillman Barracks, run by a bunch of bohemian guys who look more like grungy art school students working to pay for their tuition than passionate restaurateurs.
The leader of the pack is Ken Loon, the man behind the short-lived Klee in Portsdown - the cult cocktail bar that was possibly the first to introduce the art of mixology in Singapore. After a spell as a pop-up spot in the now defunct A Curious Teepee store at *Scape, the seafood enthusiast has found permanent digs at the quiet enclave of art galleries.
The arty environment seems to suit the low-key outpost of The Naked Finn - its minimalist decor not so much a design statement but a case of no-money syndrome where most of the capital went into the kitchen and cooking equipment. The tiny dining room of just three tables and a bar counter is a bare-bones metal structure that holds plastic sheet "walls" in place, offering air-conditioned comfort to the few diners who succeed in scoring one of the tables. Otherwise, you eat outside with the mosquitoes that are kept at bay by burning mosquito coils.
But the no-frills ambience grows on you after a while, especially when you see the effort that's put into the food, and the quality of the ingredients. In fact, the restaurant's mantra is centred around sourcing the best-quality ingredients, minimally cooked to highlight the natural sweetness and flavours, and priced favourably - and it certainly lives up to its promise.
The Estelle's Set for Two ($128) offers extremely good value given the almost non-stop flow of freshly cooked seafood items that keep landing on your table. Sweet, bouncy razor clams are lightly cooked in shallot oil and topped with crunchy fried onions, followed by a clear broth of Japanese littleneck clams - its tender briny flesh still intact and clean tasting. Large crunchy tiger prawns grilled in their shells give off a lovely fragrance of wine and garlic and the panfried barramundi fillets are skilfully prepared to achieve a crisp skin and melting soft flesh. Baby squid get a distinctive "wok hei" fragrance from their brief dance on a cast-iron grill, releasing delicate juices and smoky inky goodness. The highlight would be the African lobsters - a bit of a misnomer for the large grilled langoustines at their peak of freshness, again simply grilled with a bit of butter so you don't miss out on nature's flavour.
Although you do harbour some temptation to kidnap the kitchen team and seafood and spirit them to a Geylang zhi char place for some wok-fried or chilli-fied variety, you do understand the "naked" philosophy of not hiding the quality of the raw product under a blanket of sauce. Besides, it offers you four different dips to add some interest to the seafood - kicap manis, sambal belacan, a fragrant Thai sauce and simple salt and lime. The belacan is the best of the lot, giving a lift to everything, including the plain cold bee hoon that's dressed in garlic oil and chives that is the only carb available. A bit of variety on that point would be welcome - say some garlic or egg fried rice - and something besides the cold kangkong tossed in oil and lime juice would be nice too. Make that anything warm, for that matter.
If you want to take your seafood expedition a little further (price-wise as well), the hand-dived Norwegian scallops are in season now ($20 for one) and they're fat and juicy, offering you a generously mouthful of deep sea flavour. Spanish gambas (red prawns) are a sheer indulgence at $30 a pop, but considering how far they've travelled and how sweet the rich coral is, you don't quibble too much.
Like its name suggests, The Naked Finn has nothing to hide. What you see is what you get - straightforward food at a fair price. You can't ask for more, unless you have a thing for Scandinavians au naturel. Then again - maybe Jurong has some.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good