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The little restaurant that grew up
The Naked Finn
Block 39 Malan Road
Tel: 6694-0807 (Call after 12pm)
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Sat: 12pm to 3pm;6pm to 10pm
TECHNICALLY, this is not a new restaurant. The Naked Finn started out in 2013 as a plastic shack with more guts than resources, founded upon co-owner Tan Ken Loon's conviction that one must serve only the best ingredients possible first, and then figure out how to make it financially viable second - not the other way around.
So he and his like-minded partners did just that - serving perfectly cooked exquisite seafood in bare-bones (read seriously uncomfortable) surroundings that were tolerable in the evenings but insufferable in the midday heat of arty enclave Gillman Barracks. Not even its decadent prawn noodles - made with stock requiring tedious cooking methods and hours of simmering - could lure us out of our safe air-conditioned haven to sample this lunch-only delight.
Last week, that outlook changed. A mere 50 metres from the original shack, a bigger and better Naked Finn has emerged - in a brand new purpose-built structure with a greenhouse/conservatory look thanks to the climbing vines outside and a massive indoor vertical garden. There isn't a plastic sheet to be seen.
No patio furniture or tables and chairs that might have come from a kiddie Playskool warehouse sale. While that was part of the old Naked Finn's eclectic, bohemian charm, the new place looks more like a grown-up restaurant - where adults can go without feeling like they're intruding on their hipster children's stomping ground.
The cheerful young staff are both friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, which remains largely the same but is expected to expand once the chefs settle into their new surroundings and kitchen. Lunch is a streamlined affair with the likes of hae mee tng (S$25), lobster roll (S$29), grilled baby squid (S$8) and littleneck clams in soup (S$20), although they're happy for you to order from the dinner menu as well. The restaurant now caters to carnivores with Spanish iberico pork and Japanese Hida wagyu as new additions.
Here, the key cooking method isn't so much grilling, frying or sous vide but precision timing. When you spend so much time sourcing the right ingredients, you need to know exactly how long to cook it to serve it at the perfect texture, with no room for variation.
This almost anal fixation with timing means that a scallop ceviche (S$26) - a single, hand-dived specimen - is "cooked" in a citrus marinade for exactly 50 seconds, sliced and served drizzled in olive oil and garnished with lemon "caviar" segments from fingerling lemons.
For ceviche haters like us, this one converts us with an easygoing lemon kick so you have zest without the sharp acid kick in the palate. You get the full taste of the briny, fleshy scallop and palate-cleansing dressing.
Barely cooked littleneck clams (S$20) are also perfect - plump and juicy with nothing but fried shallots and flavoured oil for garnish. Grilled line-caught ling cod (S$38) looks deceptively dry until you cut into it and the barely cooked, melt-in-the-mouth flesh belies the fact that this is frozen fish - albeit flash-frozen at sea.
Of course, the piece de resistance is the prawn noodle soup - where an entire paragraph in the menu is devoted to explaining the cooking process. It involves frying shrimp, blending it and cooking it in pork stock for seven hours. No seasoning is added to the stock except for just a little salt, so what you taste is the natural briny sweetness of the thick reduced broth that you can season yourself with the shrimp oil, homemade chilli paste and iberico pork lard crisps.
The intense broth (with just a bare hint of bitter aftertaste) comes with your choice of somen or vermicelli and three fat, farmed tiger prawns. The only quibble is the fridgey-tasting pork slices. But as far as prawn noodles go, it's hard to find better.
The Secreto Iberico pork collar (S$20) comes as a lunch set which includes the house special chilled vermicelli that's tossed in garlic oil and shallots. Spanish pork has extra marbling over its local counterpart and tends to hold up better when grilled - but in this case, a minor miscalculation in the cooking time means our pork ends up on the chewy rather than tender side.
To end off, the coconut sherbet is always a winner, but the newly introduced chendol and red ruby make the dessert decision a little harder. The chendol "worms" are made in-house with hand-extracted pandan juice, and shaved ice is replaced with frozen coconut water churned into a sweet refreshing slush generously laced with coconut milk and gula melaka.
Meanwhile, jackfruit bits jazz up the Thai favourite of red-hued "rubies" - water chestnut cubes coated in a skin of slinky tapioca starch. The icy coconut slush tends to harden the rubies but the overall enjoyment is not at all affected.
The Naked Finn is one of those rare eateries that doesn't seek out the limelight or play the hipster card. It simply sticks to its ethos of simple good food - and that's a truism that never goes out of style.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good