Review: Backyard Kitchen - 'A brave new world of haute cuisine"
Who would dare open up a restaurant touting itself as halal fine dining right smack in the neighbourhood of Jalan Kayu, more well known for their prata then their paella? And for whom do such noble aspirations come to serve? Is it for the fickle diner who arrives at Jalan Kayu seeking Mee Goreng but is duly distracted by the shiny trappings of this fine dining establishment? Is it for the halal consumer, curious to know what the fuss about fine dining is all about? So many questions, so little paragraphs.
The Backyard Kitchen is a misnomer, probably a pun on the obvious of a backyard kitchen being this casual thing of an experience where hearty and flavourful grub is fancied over experimentative ingredient pairing, clever textural degustation, or attention to presentation. Yet, Backyard Kitchen defies all overt references to the comforting nature of its name and instead presents a gilded front, wrapped up in a neat little bow of scrutinies that frames their version of fine dining repertoire.
I, for one, will admit to approaching this dinner with the cautious and healthy skepticism of someone who doubts this restaurant's ability to correctly define what fine dining is. It becomes almost a sacred duty of Backyard Kitchen to properly present the fine dining gest to a niche community who has probably never eaten at an establishment as such. My reticence is also the result of there being no discernible chatter or excitement over Backyard's offerings. Are people not talking about it because there's nothing of worth to say or are they just at a loss for words with the newness of such a novel dining concept?
Regardless, I find myself having to reel in my excitement at the breathtaking sight of the blinding shine reflected off the glassware and overhead lights that basked in the glow of the setting evening sun. The decor plays to a very luxurious nod to modern Scandinavia with a colour palette of turquoise and gray - which happens to be my favourite and most pleasing colour combination yet. Service was almost entirely intimate, with the wait staff more than capable of listing down the ingredients, cooking methods and thought-provoking questions: 'What does carrot powder do for the dish?'
The table d'hôte menu is at an affordable price of $58+ and comes as a 3 course set dinner with choices aplenty for each course. The gratis amuse-bouche was delivered with nary a fanfare: a deep-fried chicken skin festooned with edible flowers on top. This was followed by the most fragrant, tender house-made tomato focaccia I've ever had the joy of eating this part of town (which says a lot since here, Prata has been crafted with absolute perfection). Dipped in chilli oil, it would probably signal the direction tonight's dinner might take. Or it could just be really amazing bread.
Lest we are lulled into a coma by their exquisite Tate Modern-esque plating, let's not forget how amazing their food actually tastes. Words cannot fully capture how enamored I am by the Swimmer Crab soup, served with a rotund island of crispy fried potatoes and topped with extremely and finely shaved parmesan, edible flowers, and pea cress. The soup acts as a moat around this petite island and the rich flavour of the crab makes me want to close my eyes in religious observance while my insides burst with the technicolor brilliance of a gastronomical rainbow. Hands down the second best crab soup I've had in my mere mortal existence (the best was only because it came mixed with corn).
The Lamb rack was succulent, tender, and gives way to the bite so easily it's like eating cake. Here, the plating is the most obvious show of a Michelin-star chef and takes inspiration from the style of Geometric Abstraction; each colour nestled within a space of its own, never interfering nor mixing with its neighbour. Carrots, orange like the setting sun, are cooked to pert perfection and laid casually beside the dollop of garlic cream which, if I were to be so generous, was a creamy and aromatic delight. The tamarind sauce was a matter of much debate with a friend who thought it felt out of place but for me, the sweet and sour glaze was a wonderful compliment to the lamb's meatiness and could, in fact, soften the gaminess of lamb for those who keep it at bay for that reason. I don't get the carrot powder though, but like Art, I won't complain of commonsensical justification of things on a plate, choosing instead to believe that it is what it is.
My dessert was an exercise in fresh flavours brought forth by the very creative combination of sweet, sour, and creamy. Panna cotta, smooth as your high school crush, hides deceptively under a pile of fresh lychee granita that is prepared with absolute respect to the balance of sweetness and lychee-ness. A quenelle of coconut gelato is the perfect compliment to the tart granita, best enjoyed with the brilliantly prepared calamansi cracker and candied almond. All in all, the most perfect exercise of taste, balance of flavour, and texture I've ever had the pleasure of eating in a dessert.
Although Backyard Kitchen prides itself as a fine dining establishment, I would take such proclivity with a pinch of salt; a balanced pinch I'm certain Backyard Kitchen will take pride in. Absent the academic expectations of fine dining, Backyard Kitchen is a brave new world of haute cuisine that promises to challenge the palettes of the customers to whom it is aimed at and a proud addition to the sleepy town of Jalan Kayu.