There are several ways to measure restaurants, but there’s one quality I’m thinking about with Macellaio RC. It’s something like boldness – it’s the guts and gusto to unambiguously holler what you are about, from the moment a prospective diner so much as walks past your shop front. It’s a fine balance between looking anaemic and uncommitted, and becoming merely gimmicky.
Whatever we call it – boldness, chutzpah, candidness – it is clear that Macellaio scores 11/10 in this quality. Their shopfront is nothing short of spectacular – there’s a bright red sofa (real leather, I’m guessing) outside, and inside there is a whole curtain of meat – bone-in hulks, aged and carmine, hanging from hooks and piled one against the other. It’s a very clear message, in case you didn’t know that ‘macellaio’ means butcher in Italian. It says that if you don’t eat beef, you should turn around and walk away.
This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts, restaurant and fellow tasters.
Vuelvo al Sur,
como se vuelve siempre al amor…
I am returning to the South,
Like how love always returns…
— ‘Vuelvo al Sur’, Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992)
Argentina has always been seen as a land of riches. The first Europeans to arrive at the vast estuary of the Rio de la Plata dreamed of mountains of silver; the name ‘Argentina’ derives from the Latin for silver, argentum. And while the silver turned out to be elsewhere (Bolivia, mostly), the vast country has riches all of its own, many of them edible.
And Bochinche isn’t shy about its intention, which is to bring these pleasures to Singapore. The presence of this piece of the south in Singapore is the result, apparently, of a chance encounter in London involving Diego Jacquet, the chef who helms Zoilo there. Besides his attitude to sourcing the raw materials, he has also sent a longtime colleague, Fabrice Mergalet, to oversee the Singaporean operation. This Fabrice does in a manner that’s calm, almost languid, but still precise and prompt; voices are low, movements are measured, yet the dishes come out as and when they should.
One of my companions on the visit to Roots Kitchen Bar is very quick to nail the vibe of the place. ‘It’s very Shoreditch,’ he says. And he’s right, in several ways. The interior is ‘well-worn’ concrete, baring the brickwork beneath in places. The bar is concrete with Peranakan tiles. Even the location fits, reasonably; we are on the east stretch of Dickson Road, on the fringe of the tumult and noise and scents of a thriving Indian area.
And no doubt the vibe is completely intended by Roots, if their website is any indication. They salute the hungry, which is fair enough for a restaurateur. But they also salute ‘the verge hipsters’, which goes right over my unbearded head. (Is verge an adjective now? What does it mean?) Also, I heartily dislike Shoreditch and the aesthetic. I can only imagine the look on the face of the worker who laid all the concrete on two days ago, and is now being told to chip part of that concrete off the bricks. Let’s hope he wasn’t asked to do it in an ‘ironic, vintage way’.
But surely, you may ask, I already figured that much just by looking at the website. They’ve got photos of the interior and everything. Why go at all, then? At which I point to the pals, a lovely couple who are taking the place far more in its intended spirit, sipping Chardonnay while poring over the menu. They’re liking it. Dear Babette, after all, is for the benefit of readers like them (and you), not for me to be curmudgeonly and correct about everything. So it is incumbent on me to at least try it, and if need be to stand corrected.
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.