We tried out a new opening for a dinner with friends last Thursday night. Having read some cracking reviews, and intrigued by the concept of French-Japanese fusion, we were looking forward to checking out Le Binchotan and enjoying a great evening of fine food, wine & company. The latter 2 delivered, the former sadly not.
It promises so much; tucked away on the now very trendy Gemmill Lane, it is a great space. A long narrow dining room with bar-side, high stool seating, it’s small, dark, and with curved wood-panelled walls and a huge mirror at the end it oozes cool.
We were given ‘the chefs table’. I’m not sure it quite warrants that label but it was certainly much more sociable than the bar; we were sat at the far end of the long space, where we could comfortably sit as a 6 with 3 on each side. For me facing into the kitchen, I could see the chefs at work though a small window. With an equally cool, very tactile cork-covered menu and amazing drinks list it seemed to be living up to expectations.
We ordered a bottle of white wine and settled into scouring the menu. Everyone placed their requests for anything they particularly fancied, in amongst what I was otherwise designated to order for us all to share. It really is quite a strange combination; Japanese ingredients with French cooking techniques, and some with a quick finish over the restaurant’s namesake charcoal grills. Oh and Tapas (which essentially means sharing plates). So the menu makes for pretty eclectic reading – I am not entirely sure I followed the concept all the way through.
There were a few things we had read about; a foie gras starter, the wagyu skewer, and pork jowl, so they all made into onto the order pad, and for the rest I took the waiter’s very forthcoming recommendations. He was certain we were going to love it. So,when the first few dishes came out, and we didn’t, I thought perhaps we had just chosen/been recommended badly, but as the evening went on, there wasn’t actually a single dish which was more than ‘quite nice’,’not bad’ or at best ‘fairly tasty, I suppose’.
So, in more detail. The foie gras starter, was in fact less foie gras and more gelatinous vegetable. We actually had to ask what it was and were told it was daikon radish, with shitake and daishi jelly, with an inadequate amount of the foie gras in shavings on the top. I love foie gras, I hated this. Only Kiwi Greg went back for another try. I will stick with the French on this one and sidestep the Japanese ingredients. Fusion failure .
We continued to be served the cold items first, so next out were a tomato salad and a beetroot salad. The tomatoes were so doused in a strong, sweet vinegar dressing that they lost any flavour resembling a tomato at all. And the beetroot whilst fine, was pretty uninspiring, just thin discs barely concealing a mountain of lettuce. To add insult to injured taste buds, the small plate of vinegary tomatoes was $19 – a little on the steep side.
Next was one of the dishes claimed to be an absolute winner; clams. They were ok, tasting of salty clam and with soft mushrooms. But the broth was pretty watery and the pieces of bread to dunk in it just sort of disintegrated.
The skewers fared slightly better but were just hugely lacking in seasoning. We asked for salt and pepper and then they were simply OK meat on a stick, the wagyu better than the lamb. The chicken tsukune (Japanese meatball) I thought was ‘fairly tasty I suppose’ but French Benji claimed it was too dry, and Northern Lou just thought all the meat tasted a bit ‘old’.
On to the larger plates, and a couple of fairly scruffy meat dishes arrived. One was the pork jowl we had read about which was quite nice flavour wise, but just too fatty, and served alongside ‘charcoal pumpkin’ which from what I could tell was just deep fried pumpkin in a black batter, which only added to the greasy feel of the dish. No idea where the promised ‘katsu curry’ was, since it just had an apple sauce, which was good to add a little tartness, but there was not enough of it.
The other meaty plate was the angus short rib which came awkwardly placed on 4 small pieces of pale limp potato. Tender beef, but again coated the mouth with a greasy feel, and was crying out for something fresh on the side. Lucky we ordered the broccoli…half a bite each given the measly portion which arrived.
The only large plate which I thought was worth going in for a second helping was the risotto, which was the first thing on the menu which was properly seasoned. The rice was still al dente, and the flavour was rich and earthy from mushrooms and truffle.
Despite being thoroughly disappointed by the food we were having a good night; the company was jovial helped by a few bottles of delicious red wine from the great wine list; actually the highlight of what Binchotan had to offer. So we thought, ‘in for a penny…’ and ordered the smoked chocolate dessert which every review of this place mentions. We wish we hadn’t bothered. To quote French Benji (or Forrest Gump for any movie buffs out there) “this tastes like cigarettes”. The chocolate cake was hard like it had not been taken out of the freezer early enough, and the dark chocolate taste immediately got totally whacked out of the way by the hit of ‘cigarette’. The blueberries were frozen so didn’t taste of anything, and the frozen yoghurt was bland. Oh dear.
We left this very slick-looking joint feeling as though we should have enjoyed the space only via the bar, with a wonderful bottle of wine and some cool cocktails, but gone somewhere else for our dinner. I’ll go for Japanese in Singapore, French Benji has many recommendations for great French food to be found in Singapore, but I wouldn’t recommend to fuse the two, if that is what this was.