New Ubin Seafood has a knack for choosing the most unusual locations. Over the last 30 years or so, the restaurant has moved from one remote spot to another. Its newest home is no different. It is adjacent to IKEA Tampines, but you’d never find it unless you knew where to look. It occupies a nondescript canteen, hidden among a cluster of industrial buildings; the kind of place where food is sustenance.
In other words, it’s very on-brand. "The location serves as a talking point, but also allows them to use high-quality ingredients while keeping prices affordable," said SM Pang, the group’s co-founder. The Tampines location centralises all of the group’s concepts. One is for flagship tze char eatery. The other is its offshoot, Garang Grill. We are here for the latter.
The concept is simple: quality meat grilled over charcoal. Their centrepiece is the Mibrasa charcoal oven. Made in Spain and built like a truck, it reaches temperatures upwards of 400 degrees Celsius. Few items leave the kitchen without making a stop there. To get the meat just right, they use two types of charcoal. One is heavy and hard. It provides an even, predictable and long-burning heat. The second is smaller and craggy. It burns hotter and imparts the distinctive smokiness of grilled meat.
We began with the Crispy Pork Jowl (SGD12/~USD9), a deceptively simple-looking dish. The jowl is first cooked sous vide and then deep-fried to get a crispy exterior while remaining tender. Once fried, it is finished in the oven and served with a miso-infused gula Melaka dipping sauce.
Another Garang speciality is the Chili Crab Rillette (SGD12/~USD9). For some people, half the joy of eating chilli crab is mopping up the sauce with deep-fried mantou. This dish skips straight to the point, concentrating the sauce — a rich blend of tomato paste, sambal rempah and butter — into a thick spread ideal for slathering onto the bun.
The mains were where the oven really shined. Most meat dishes are cooked simply. When you have quality meat cooked over charcoal, all it needs is a little salt.
We first had the BBQ Pork Belly (SGD21/~USD15). Seasoned with Cajun spices, the pork is cooked sous vide and finished in the Mibrasa oven. It produced a charred exterior while keeping the pork juicy.
Next, we had the LA Galbi Beef (SGD18/~USD13), generous slivers of barbecued Korean-style short ribs piled on a wooden board. The beef had a pleasant sweetness from the caramelised sugars in the marinade. It also went well with the iceberg lettuce and sliced green chilli to lighten up the dish.
However, our favourite beef item was the Argentinian Striploin (SGD38/~USD28). It is prepared in the same tradition as asado in South America, a technique that espouses minimalist cooking. Grill, fire and meat are the only components. Because with beef this tender and rich, any other seasoning would be a distraction from the quality. That said, I couldn’t resist heaping spoonfuls of their chilli crisps on the side. It was seriously addictive, similar to Lao Gan Ma with a garlicky kick.
Apart from the Mibrasa oven, Garang Grill also owns a custom-built smoker, a stainless steel box the size of two refrigerators. They use it to make smoked salt and house-cured bacon.
The bacon is used for the Classic Carbonara (SGD12/~USD9). The pasta is made the traditional way — with spaghetti, egg and bacon — but served in a clay pot. It was a heady combination, the carbonara was imbued with a wonderfully complex woodsmoked aroma. It was a dish that neatly encapsulates their tagline: “Fierce, bold charcoal flavours that are truly Singaporean.”
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