How hard can it be?
— Jeremy Clarkson
Ambition is a great thing. Careers, companies and empires are founded on it. It is also hugely entertaining, especially when it is misplaced, or completely mismatched with actual ability. The Republican primaries come to mind; so does Jeremy Clarkson, who’s made a career out of this schtick with his wild schemes and projects.
This is all very well on TV; it is a less well in a restaurant, which is why FYR Cycene ond Drinc leaves me so conflicted. My companions are less conflicted; they only disagree on the size of the hatchet I should be using. But I don’t want to use a hatchet. Nothing – well, almost nothing – in FYR is bad. It’s just that it takes more than wild ambition, pulling in every direction, to make things come together into a good experience. And come together it doesn’t.
I was induced to ask the pals here because of several generally positive reviews, with photos aimed directly at the carnivorous lizard portion of the brain. It all looked very attractive, as did the server who brought us to our table, but the interior was already showing signs of schizoid personality disorder. Blonde wood on the benches and tables is a nice touch, aligned with the beach shack/caveman idea. But the back wall is painted with a hipsterish mural of cosmic history and our Paleolithic forebears, explaining the idiosyncratic name. (It’s Anglisc, or Old English, for Fire Kitchen and Drink.) The companions complain about the mural endlessly. I’m more accommodating, but then I’m sitting with my back to it.
Less easy to escape is the music, obnoxiously loud, with a tracklist that may have been accidentally swapped with a nearby dance establishment. Somewhere else along Boon Tat Street, teenagers are getting bored by a light but deep-bassed jazz soundtrack, or at least I hope they are; meanwhile, at FYR, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jessie J, Ed bloody Sheeran and other luminaries take turns to roundhouse our eardrums. We beg the staff to turn the music down a little. No luck; she says it’s the softest it can be. We’re worried before we’ve even touched food.
But then the starter arrives – three plump, cherubic scallops each seated on a slice of fennel, sauces and seasonings scattered around them like confetti, crowned with ikura. It tastes beautiful. The scallops are lightly kissed with fire outside, still rare inside, capsules of seawater and umami and fresh sweetness, with the salmon roe in precise harmony. Around them is a pesto with a meadow’s worth of herbs and the crunch of walnut and pine seeds, and a sneaky and surprisingly strong mayonnaise mix. Horseradish, maybe? Mustard? It’s good. The fennel slices retain a hint of liquorice, sweet and mellow. I could eat this all day.
I could also, technically speaking, eat their steak all day, though my kidneys would probably keel over by dinner. The pal orders his medium, and medium it is, with a sliver of pink in the centre, even though the steak is cut perilously thin. They’ve also managed to keep both its chewiness and tenderness, and the wood grill has done its magic to the meat’s surface, all smoke and light char. But it is heavily seasoned, and comes with a ‘foie gras sauce’ with no discernible liver. Désolé, mesdames et messieurs, mais le canard s’est envolé. We are left with gravy into which someone has tipped a jar of salt, so piercing is its saltiness.
In comparison, the Maine lobster is a lot more balanced. Béchamel sauce is cleverly lightened with shallots and lemongrass as a subtle lingering note; it’s good that it’s light, too, because there’s plenty of it glopped on the lobster and nicely browned. As for the crustacean itself, this time they’ve slipped on the timing – the claw meat is dry, and the lobster is just a little on the tough side. Nonetheless it is properly treated, the fibres still retaining plenty of marine flavour complemented by the creamy sauce.
The lamb chops, too, look the part, properly charred on the outside, but are a lot less consistent on the inside. But bone being a quick conductor of heat, and chops being relatively small, it is a little more difficult to gauge the doneness of several chops compared to one steak, and it certainly shows – alarming burgundy in one chop, staid brownness in another. Hunks of fat hinder navigation. The salsa this time is an immense improvement over the foie gras, in that it will not confit anyone’s kidneys.
All the dishes come with a lovely salad that remind us of the first, wondrous scallop arrangement – it looks haphazard but fits nicely together, the strong cumin scent in the curry dressing melding with the tang and jab of turnips and raw shallots. The buttery mash, though, is less successful – they have taken the effort to produce a smooth mash, and then covered the thing with olive oil, which pools on the mash’s surface. It’s a waste of good mash, and perfectly adequate olive oil, and I don’t know why.
Well, no, I do know why – it’s the ambition, the Clarksonian spirit, embodied in the kitchen. It’s what happens when you take a good idea, then floor the accelerator and drive into a ditch. They decided to get the most powerful grill… in the world. It’s going to cook big, huge dishes with raw power, and it will be manly and ambitious. It works as well as you would expect – generally good, but with overshoot after overshoot. Salt is good on steak! Therefore put more salt. Generous butter, or generous olive oil, is good with mash! Therefore using both will be awesome.
This thinking extends to the ill-fitting mural, the conversation-slaying music. It shows up in the name – I get that they want an old language to evoke the days when men were men and slabs of meat hung over big fyrs, but it still sounds pretentious. It even shows up in the overconfident labeling of the steaks. Labelling pork ‘Iberico’ makes it special. Labeling beef ‘Holstein’ is the exact opposite of special – the Holstein is literally the stereotypical black-and-white cow, and it isn’t even a meat breed. But labels are good, so label away!
Still, it is a good enough experience we opt for desserts, and that is when our luck finally runs out. Pistachio lava cake – much vaunted, much reviewed – has a batter redolent of pancake rather than fondant, and there is enough excess starch in the goop to give it a sheen which would be deeply welcome on a har gau skin. Not so much here. Pandan ice cream is pleasant enough, and pistachios are crunchy – of course they are. Instead of standing out it falls flat. In any case, layering green with a lighter shade of green, the fullness of pistachio with the fullness of pandan (not to mention the fullness of plenty of sugar) sounds like a dubious plan. A dusting of cinnamon has little effect. When cinnamon fails to light up a dish, it’s a call to repentance, or at least re-planning.
FYR is ambitious, but its wild-eyed drive, its lack of forethought on the nitty-gritty, sends it off course. And that’s a pity, because there’s great potential here. Even the pal who recommends the big hatchet says later that plenty of Singaporean restaurants do very well with cooking that’s far worse, and I agree. And the tweaks they need to make are so small, too. I think I will come back – sit away from the speakers, and lay off that Hulk-hued dessert.
FYR Cycene ond Drinc
19 Boon Tat Street
Hours: Daily, 11.30am – 11pm