The cuisine at Le Binchotan, as its name suggests, is a collaborative melding of Japanese and French influences by head chef Jeremmy Chiam and his Tokyo-based counterpart, chef Atsuhiko Hagiwara of en.terrible, a French restaurant in the bustling Ginza district. But while its name is straightforward, the entrance to the restaurant is not. Co-founder Jessica Lim and her three business partners wanted to recreate the mysterious vibe of the underground restaurant scene in Paris, and found the perfect location in Chinatown. Although its address lists Amoy Street as its location—a place once filled with opium smoking dens during the British colonial era—the main way into this cosy tapas bar and restaurant is via an entrance tucked away in a back alley facing Gemmill Lane.
If you’re hoping to relive history here and immerse yourself languidly in smoke-filled colonial-era shophouses, you’ll be disappointed. Binchotan, or white charcoal in Japanese, with its almost pure carbon density (above 95 per cent purity) gives off virtually no smoke. Instead, it cooks evenly with infrared heat. However, inside the restaurant’s sexy interiors of curved wood panels, clever mirrors and walls of glowing binchotan, there’s a palpable energetic buzz.
An order of Myoban uni is a good way to start the meal. It comprises creamy corn mousse, grilled Japanese corn and the piece de resistance—a firm and sweet Murasaki uni—that completes the interesting blend of flavours. Despite the menu being designed such that all the dishes are to be shared, it was not referring to this. This dish is strictly for one.
A favourite of chef Chiam, an Iggy’s alumnus, is the foie gras. The frozen terrine, thinly shaved using a mandolin, served with daikon and dashi jelly belies its appearance. It is reminiscent of New York-based restaurant Momofuku Ko’s signature dish. Resembling a plate of bonito, the frozen foie gras tantalises the palate with its cool temperature, which incidentally cuts the fatty taste, and a buttery‑smooth texture that resembles finely shaved ice.
From the charcoal skewers section of the menu, expect staples such as chicken tsukune and innards. The tsukune, or meatball, has a nice QQ bite similar to a bouncy fishball, sprinkled with soft bone bits. In a demonstration of binchotan mastery, sticks of Australian A5 Wagyu striploin that has been glazed with port reduction and dusted with plum powder display robust flavours with the succulence of the beef.
An interesting large plate option is the Australian Angus short rib, which is marinated for a day in Japanese kurozo (black vinegar) before being sous vide for another 14 hours. The result is a masterful balance of savoury, citrusy and tenderness. On its side are thick-cut nagaimo that resemble French fries. The iberico pork jowl is great, too. This other personal favourite of chef Chiam has been sous vide for 16 hours, before it is finished on the charcoal. Seasoned with aromatic Japanese curry powder, the tender flesh of the pork hides under a crispy layer of skin—don’t worry, the chef assures us that the fat has been rendered out during the long hours of sous vide. Accompanied by green apple puree, each bite is a hedonistic delight.
Dessert options are limited, but chocolate enthusiasts searching for the path less travelled can opt for smoked chocolate: a full-bodied French dark chocolate infused with a heady hickory smoke and doused with yoghurt snow and blueberries.
Finally, special mention must be given to the cocktails. Created by mixologist Sugar Ray Ruban, the delicious concoctions is a display of confidence and skill. Judging from the post-dinner patrons streaming in, the word is already out.