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Voice of reason needed at Gake
36 Carpenter St, #01-01
Tel: 6781 3603
Mon to Sat: 5pm to midnight
LISTEN... Do you hear what I hear? No, not a little lamb singing to a shepherd boy. It sounds more like a gurgle. A soft hiss. A crackling, like light crisp batter shattering into smithereens.
Maybe you're not aware, but food speaks to us, and it says different things to different people. Some may hear sweet nothings uttered by a crab chawanmushi. Or a pan-fried hotate may engage you in a debate about why "Mickey Mouse is not an appropriate symbol of the Christmas season".
But mostly, it's about how it resonates with diners, and why some respond to it better than others. So if you wonder sometimes why you like a pulled pork burger better than your dining companions, well, maybe it was something the bun said.
It's this sense of ambiguity that we get from dining at Gake - a brand new sort-of izakaya; quasi-tapas/small plates eatery; and aspiring sake/all-purpose bar rolled into one.
On the surface, it has all the markings of a restaurant we should like - a promising Singaporean chef Angus Chow striking out on his own; cool, grey interiors and impressive display of sake bottles (and prices to match); a counter for interactive dining and a comprehensive menu of on-point Japanese-inspired small plates with a sprinkling of Spanish influences. And of course, being Singaporean, there are the little touches to give the whole package a sense of place.
Imagine the challenge he's set himself up for - juggling the many voices he's created and on top of that, creating an identity that's independent of Boruto, the izakaya that he was head chef at for three years.
With this kind of self-imposed pressure, something has to give, and that is a clear line of thought. Gake (Japanese for cliff) couldn't be more aptly named because all the good intentions have pushed it to the edge of predictability, with little room for spontaneity or fresh ideas.
The food is acceptable, but we're not sure that's the game plan. We kick off with kawaebi karaage (S$10.80) a bowl of crispy fried baby shrimp dusted with a good shower of salted egg yolk and curry leaves. Since Singaporeans are genetically engineered to devour anything coated with salted egg yolk, we do the same to these insidious cholesterol bombs.
Crustacean bisque (S$15.80) has none of the heady brininess of the original lobster version so you're literally sipping cream of nothing with some decent quality shellfish thrown in. It's the soup version of a diplomat - full of nice-sounding but meaningless rhetoric.
A brief exposure to Spanish cuisine is reflected in the Surume Ika No Kopa Yaki (S$18.80) - translated as "squid grilled in a Kopa oven" - the Japanese equivalent of the Josper grill -- sprinkled with paprika powder and a squid ink aioli to dip in. The squid is cooked a few seconds too long but the strips are still pliable enough and the aioli is really rather nice.
A butter-broiled scallop (S$20.80) is a fussy Japanese-French hybrid where two knobs of scallop are hidden in a dome of creamy and salty potato mousseline and butter, like secret agents in a foreign land trying to avoid detection.
We rather like the gyu-ho burger (S$15.80) for the melting soft discs of braised, gelatinous wagyu cheek, but the soggy Chinese-style steamed buns that they're sandwiched in do them no justice.
There is some promise in the squid ink donabe (S$18.80) aka paella in a Japanese pot with salty but rich ink-drenched chewy rice, and the cold truffle somen is slippery and refreshing (S$15.80) with its oil and konbu dressing topped with tobiko roe.
For some dramatic flourish, oven grilled chicken (S$28.80) is doused in whisky and flambed at your table for maximum effect. The chicken itself is tasty, although the whisky is a distraction with the raw taste of alcohol being a sharp jolt to the tastebuds.
Dessert is pleasing enough - a home-style orange-infused butter cake with yuzu sorbet (S$12.80) and an apple tart with crisp edges and custardy filling (S$12.80) with mediocre vanilla ice cream.
Gake is, by definition, a promising effort, but inundated by contradicting voices pulling it in different directions.
On top of an a la carte menu, there's an omakase option which we aren't told about until we see other diners having it - so there may yet be another level we haven't quite discovered.
But one pattern that's clear is that this is a chef trying to incorporate too many influences he hasn't had enough exposure to - a bit of dialling back and recalibration might be in order. Because right now, there are so many voices talking, we can barely hear a thing.
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.