It is key to emotional health, I think, to understand that most things in life will turn out pretty badly. Things will come too early or too late. People will be maddening ciphers, their motivations inscrutable, their signals garbled, their best intentions catastrophic. We must convince ourselves of the ubiquity of unsuccess, so that when we happen upon a place like Char, every now and then, it feels all the better.
(Note: Now that I have your agreement on this, you will not mind that I was unable to take a picture of the char siew at Char. I know, I know. Such is life!)
I’ve heard about Char a while now, from friends and their friends who spoke in hyperbolic terms of the char siew. But they also told me it was ‘modern’. That, and a look at the location, curbed my enthusiasm. Great, I think. I’ll be eating lovely char siew in some half-arsed imitation warehouse.
Humans are visual creatures, and so many shops and restaurants set themselves up around the sense of sight. Supermarkets always put flowers and fresh vegetables at their entrance, and you associate the rest of the shop with freshness. Patisseries and cafes have cabinets showcasing their cakes. Eyes this way, it says, look at the lovely things we’re selling.
Red Eye Smokehouse doesn’t seem to have gotten this particular memo, though. Looking in from the glass front, all you see is a long row of blonde wood tables, each topped with equipment – steak knives, enamel plates, two bottles of nondescript brown sauce – running parallel to the service counter. Big, square windows to let the light in. A blackboard on the wall, above wall-mounted shelves of drinks. It’s austerely good looking, fitting cleanly into the high-ceilinged former warehouse space.
But of the food, nothing. Well, nothing except for the smell. The first time I drop by I was told that they were taking an afternoon break, and so I ducked into another place to have a coffee and a snack; just an hour later, entering the well-lit and empty space, the smell is enough to rouse the appetite again. A whisper of smoke, rounded spice and meat, it begins as a whisper outside the door and starts nuzzling you once you are inside, amid the simple decor.