Le Binchotan – Dining in a Wine Cellar
Tucked away in a hidden alley in the heart of the central business district, Le Binchotan is a quaint little restaurant with a decor which plays heavily on the theme of a wine cellar and a menu to match its name – the French “Le” and “Binchotan” (a rare Japanese white charcoal) sums up the essence of this chic eatery.
Although just a stone’s throw from busy Amoy Street, the main entrance of the restaurant is almost concealed in an alleyway located off of Gemmill Lane and it took us a few wrong turns before the glowing sign and welcoming interior of the restaurant came into view.
The restaurant seats 35 diners and the inside of the restaurant feels cosy and intimate once you get used to the dimly-lit date night setting and the cavern-like design. The dining area is divided into two sections, a private dining space with individual tables and a bar area overlooking the kitchen for a first hand view of the food (and the drinks) being prepared by the chefs.
As the name suggests, many of dishes here involves a contemporary spin on French cuisine with traditional Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques. Once we were seated, Jeremmy, the chef-owner, welcomed us and gave a brief introduction on the restaurant and offered us some drinks to start the dinner. Jeremmy explained that all the dishes served at Le Binchotan follows the three compass points – French, Japanese and Binchotan charcoal, and each item is related to at least one of the three.
For the drinks, we went with a cocktail, the Floral Enchantment and the signature whiskey, Le Binchotan. The cocktail, made with botanist gin with a hint of citrus is a sweet and floral drink which is flavoursome and garnished with beautiful foraged elderflowers. In contrast, the Le Binchotan is a more masculine drink and is blended with a tinge of Japanese flavour. Concocted with togarashi (a Japanese spice containing seven ingredients) and the restaurant’s characteristic charcoal which gives it an onyx dark appearance, this is a strong drink which is best paired with food.
With the drinks the host brought us some complimentary bread rolls with little plates of lovely bi-coloured butter, in the middle of which was a ring of soft black butter (blended with salt and edible bamboo charcoal) that melts into the outer orange butter upon contact with the bread. I am normally not a fan of pre-meal bread baskets but the charcoal butter added a nice touch to the dish; the butter was incredibly creamy and the charcoal gave out a fragrant and slightly smoky flavour which balanced out the richness of the butter.
For the food, the restaurant offers an a-la carte menu with many of the meat, fish and even desserts smoked over its charcoal oven and grill. The selection was categorised into small plates, sumiyaki (charcoal grilled) and large plates and we were provided with some helpful recommendations from Jeremmy. As a benchmark, we were advised to order three small plates, two sumiyaki and a big plate for two pax.
We started off with two small plates of Binchotan Burnt Aubergine and the Edible Charcoal, both of which came in relatively large portions for starters. The Binchotan Burnt Aubergine is a unique dish prepared by burning Australian aubergine over the binchotan charcoal and served cold with yoghurt. This dish is garnished with deep fried rice grains which complements the aubergine perfectly by adding a crunch to the vegetable.
The Edible Charcoal is a signature dish of the chef and an all time favourite at Le Binchotan. This swanky dish came in what looks like little logs of charcoal dressed with golden flakes. But don’t let looks deceive you, this dish is actually hearty angus beef short ribs wrapped in popiah skin and coated in fine bamboo charcoal – the chef’s take on traditional spring rolls with a Japanese twist and a deep dark exterior which echoed the theme of the food: charcoal. The dish is served with a generous sprinkle of shichimi togarashi, and the combination of the ingredients and spices really brought out the flavour of the short ribs.
In addition to the starters we ordered, Jeremmy also good-naturedly offered us some “Uni and Caviar”, a small starter which is inherently like a chawanmushi with a touch of French inspiration. Most of the raw ingredients for this dish such as the corn mousse and the shoyu pearls were prepared in-house. Together with the strong ocean-like flavor of the uni, this dish is a combination of wholesome flavours which was comforting to tuck into after a long day.
Having sampled the small plates, next up were the sumiyaki dishes which were skewers of meat grilled over the binchotan charcoal. These grilled dishes were served in sticks of two or three bite size chunks and came across as a light and no-frills nibble. Yet like so many simple dishes, getting it right can be hit-and-miss. We ordered the Australian Wagyu and Hokkaido Scallop sumiyaki and both dishes were definitely a hit with the Australian Wagyu served with delicious red plum puree and Hokkaido Scallop tossed with a dressing made of Japanese mayonnaise.
Despite the small serving, the sumiyaki is very good for sharing, especially if you are not in the mood for food and just want to have some nibbles to go with your drinks at the bar.
For the main course, the restaurant offers five choices from the large plate section of the menu, each prepared with either a French or Japanese undertone. As we were quite full from the starters and sumiyaki dishes, we decided to share a Confit De Canard which was prepared with a classic French recipe served with potato lyonnaise and watercress salad.
You can’t go wrong with duck, especially one which was marinated and confit in duck fat for over four hours so that the meat feels almost fluffy in your mouth. This is definitely one of my favourites at the restaurant and makes a healthy and no fuss meal any time of the day.
To end off the night, we were presented with two very vibrant and sweet looking desserts – Matcha Lover and Smoked Chocolate. The Matcha Lover is very aesthetically pleasing, with the centrepiece being white chocolate moulded into the shape of an apple, served with red bean ice cream, and garnished with crushed feuilletine – this is definitely one of the most memorable dishes to look at, and to eat.
The Smoked Chocolate on the other hand is a flourless smoked chocolate cake audaciously twinned with yoghurt sherbet which was too heavy for my taste. However, do try it if you like a bit of bitter, roasted taste in your chocolate.
Overall, Le Binchotan has a quality and exciting menu with friendly and well-informed staff. The drinks are cleverly original and by all means save room for the desserts. But in my opinion it is the starters and charcoal grilled sumiyaki which ultimately seals the deal.
Le Binchotan is offering Law Society members a special discount as follows. Simply show your business card stating that you are an advocate and solicitor.
- 10% off all items on the a-la-carte food and drink menus
- Valid until 31 July
- Valid every day that Le Binchotan is open, including Saturday and eve of Public Holidays
Mondays – Fridays:
Lunch: 11.30am – 3.00pm
Dinner: 6.00pm – 12.00am
Saturdays: Lunch: Closed; Dinner: 6.00pm – 12.00am