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Kilo packs a punch in flavour and fun
97 Duxton Road
Open for dinner only Tues to Sat: 5.30pm to 12am (6pm to 12am on Sat)
KILO Kitchen doesn't just serve food, it dishes up large quantities of conviviality. It sits on the corner of Duxton Road and Duxton Hill like a beacon of hospitality with its French windows thrown wide open and its cosy, Mediterranean-inspired interiors beckoning you to come in, rest your weary feet and be revived by its innate cheeriness and shared platters of goodness. It just needs a welcoming golden retriever to complete the picture, but close enough.
The restaurant is new in premises but not in existence, as it started out as an indie eatery in Kallang in 2011. The name comes from a nautical flag that ships use to communicate with one another, and Kilo represents the "K" in the maritime alphabet. It's a bit of a mental stretch to go from ships saying: "I want to communicate with you", to a bistro that fosters social interaction and communal eating but never mind. Just because ships can't go out for a beer after a cruise doesn't mean you can't go along with the analogy.
The food at Kilo Kitchen is all about comfort and robust cooking that alternates between a gentle hug and a vigorous shake of the shoulders.
The menu is spearheaded by Spanish executive chef Manel Valero who first made a splash in Singapore with Foodbar Dada, one of the first tapas bars in town. He went on to Moosehead which also earned good buzz for its punchy Spanish-accented Mediterranean plates.
He still works along the same lines at Kilo, although he's picked up a lot more cooking accents from Latin American to Thai, with inconsistent results.
He's not cooking on the evening that we're there, so we don't know if it would have made a difference if he were. We start off with avocados (S$16) so heavily charred that its next-of-kin would have trouble identifying it. But the blackened exterior quickly gives way to the creamy pale flesh of a perfectly ripened specimen, sitting in a bath of lively dashi-ponzu sauce that perks it up, along with the slippery yuba or beancurd skin that is an unexpectedly good match. Puffed buckwheat gives an added toastiness and something to chew.
Crab croquettes (S$8 for 2) are also successful - bechamel-coated crabmeat mixture encased in a worthy breadcrumb crust that shatters on impact. Bits of green chilli in the crab cut the monotony of the bechamel. While a basil vinaigrette is on hand, you don't really need this otherwise slightly sweet and citrusy condiment.
After the promising snacks, ebiko pasta (S$26) leaves a dead weight in your stomach with its twirls of cappelini clumped together in a cloying cream/mentaiko/mayo sauce studded with tobiko roe and a shower of chives. For good measure, chunks of firm broiled shrimps skirt the perimeter. They could hold the cream and let a nugget of nduja do its thing - a cliche is still better than overkill in our eyes. We're leaning more in favour of the squid ink rice (S$29) - midnight-hued grains that are shiny, firm and chewy after absorbing its intense briny broth. We're advised to squeeze a wedge of lime into the rice and mix it up with the blob of aioli and a topping of ikura, but we suggest doing it in stages so you get to control the level of salt you want. Otherwise, you get what we get - inextricable pearls of roe that shoot salinity through the already well-seasoned rice, which the lime and creamy aioli cannot undo. When you tire of picking out the little orange roe, you can distract yourself with the very good deep-fried baby squid garnish.
We were recommended the whole rainbow trout (S$46) but it's been left on the fire too long. It comes to us with all moisture leached out of it and replaced by a lingering muddiness that betrays its freshwater origins. Little pockets of moist flesh around the cheeks hint at what could have been; while jammy confit cherry tomatoes make you wish you had something better to eat it with.
If the fish is underwhelming, the grilled Spanish octopus (S$40) is what happens when one tries to over-assimilate into Asian culture, ending up as a caricature. In a Thai context, the garlicky, salty-sweet-sour nam jim sauce is served separately as a seafood dipping sauce for a reason, but that reason is thrown out of the window when a competently broiled tentacle is completely drenched in it.
There's no escape no matter how you try to cut it, because the sauce is determined to dominate both the octopus and the crisp-edged smashed grenaille potatoes. We find a bit of solace in the side dish of charred kale (S$14) with cool ricotta and sweet plum slices.
The intensity continues into dessert, where it belongs. Chocolate terrine (S$14) is a sticky chewy mass of deep-dark chocolate that digs deep into its cocoa psyche, and is topped with a large shard of tissue-thin tuile, and a drizzle of smoked salted caramel.
Kilo Kitchen doesn't believe in pussy-footing around with the cooking, and for the most part, it's created a fitting environment for enjoying a night out with friends. The staff are friendly without being ingratiating, and the relaxed vibe and punchy music set the right tone. We may be on a different culinary frequency, but for most of its fans, it's pretty clear that the food here speaks volumes.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times 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.