Culture

Clayton Wells opens Blackwattle in Singapore

Blackwattle, the Singaporean sister to Sydney restaurant Automata, is open. We spoke to chef Clayton Wells about how Blackwattle has developed and what diners can expect.

Blackwattle, the Singaporean sister to Sydney restaurant Automata, is open.

While there’s certainly a dialogue between the two restaurants, Automata chef Clayton Wells has made the most of Singapore’s produce when designing Blackwattle’s menu, with nods to the island’s cuisine popping up in some dishes, like the white pepper broth with king crab.

We spoke to Wells about how Blackwattle has developed and what diners can expect.

Story by Emma Breheny

Photography by Nikki To

Clayton Wells opens Blackwattle In Singapore

Clayton Wells opens Blackwattle In Singapore

Blackwattle, the Singaporean sister to Sydney restaurant Automata, is open. The 50-seater on Chinatown’s Amoy Street occupies a former shop-house and is split over two levels with an outdoor terrace upstairs to enjoy the city’s balmy nights.

While there’s certainly a dialogue between the two restaurants, Automata chef Clayton Wells has made the most of Singapore’s produce when designing Blackwattle’s menu, with nods to the island’s cuisine popping up in dishes, like the white pepper broth with king crab. Wells’ partner in Automata, Singaporean hotelier Loh Lik Peng, is again his backer, and the kitchen and floor teams are a mix of locals and Sydneysiders.

We spoke to Wells about how Blackwattle has developed and what diners can expect.

Blackwattle, 97 Amoy Street, Telok Ayer, Singapore, blackwattle.com.sg

_Story by Emma Breheny, p__hotography by Nikki To_

The Blackwattle team (l-r): Sous chef Lilia McCabe, executive chef Clayton Wells, restaurant manager Antonia Reusser, head chef Joeri Timmermans.

Stracciatella

Stracciatella

A play on burrata with shellfish oil, one of the few dishes allowed to stay on the Automata menu for any length of time, Wells’ Blackwattle version keeps the umami notes of kombu gel and the oil but swaps out the burrata for stracciatella imported from Italy. Fresh and dried tomatoes add sweetness and acid, while wholemeal rolls are served on the side for swiping.

Wells has been visiting Tekka Market in Little India as well as markets in Chinatown to plan his menus.

“We’re excited about the different produce that’s available and what we can do with it,” Wells says. “In the coming months that’s really going to come into full effect. That’s one of the most exciting things about this – we can carry on a similar style of cooking but with new ingredients.”

The dining room

The dining room

The fit-out by Singapore firm Akira Kita Architecture is understated yet comfortable, with leather banquette seating in half the restaurant and timber louvres lining one wall in the main dining area downstairs. Dark concrete floors, soft lighting and walnut-finish chairs with woven cord bases add to the moodiness.

“It feels very comfortable in there and it’s actually quite spacious considering how narrow the building is,” Wells says.

Upstairs a small bar seats eight, designed for those who want to stop by for a drink and small bites.

The name

The name

“The smell of wattle to me is a really wonderful thing that reminds me of home,” Wells says. “If I’m driving through the country, I always wind the windows down to get that smell.”

“The name is also a little connection to Sydney: Blackwattle Bay is near Chippendale, where Automata is, and near where I live.”

Ibérico pork belly and grilled greens

Ibérico pork belly and grilled greens

Wells slow-roasts Ibérico pork belly before dressing it with XO sauce seasoned with Chinese red vinegar.

“There’s lots of dried seafood in the markets here so we’re playing around with that in our XO sauce,” Wells says.

“The greens change daily, based on what we find. Currently we’re using morning glory, gai lan, mustard greens and garlic chive flowers.”

King crab

King crab

“This is a spin-off of the mud crab dish at Automata, which itself was inspired by a trip I did to Singapore a year and a half ago where I tried bak kut teh – pork in a white pepper broth – which is quite spicy and delicious.

“I decided to give the dish a run here using really nice king crab, served with braised pumpkin seeds. Underneath is an egg yolk jam seasoned with sherry vinegar, which enriches the broth without making it go cloudy.”

The light fitting

The light fitting

Lighting designer Paul Firbank (known as The Rag and Bone Man), who uses old machinery and scrap metal to create one-off pieces and created the light fittings at Automata, is also responsible for the futuristic addition to Blackwattle’s dining room.

“We found out he was building another chandelier over in London and we jumped on that straight away,” Wells says. “It’s another aircraft engine chandelier, like the one we’ve got at Automata. This one is the engine from a 1930s Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah.”

Dessert and the durian question

Dessert and the durian question

“This is a pumpkin-seed sorbet with freeze-dried plum crumbled on top,” Wells says. “Underneath is burnt meringue made with Angostura bitters and there’s a plum paste on top of the meringue.”

“We’re also working on a yoghurt sorbet, based on something we did a while ago in Sydney. It’s one of those nice fresh dishes that I thought would work well in the heat of Singapore.”

As for pungent durian, which can be divisive even in Singapore, Wells is hesitant to put it on the menu from the word go.

“I haven’t decided yet. I might start with jackfruit. It’s a love-or-hate thing, so we might put it on the à la carte menu rather than the set menu.”

The team

The team

Joining Wells in the kitchen are Joeri Timmermans (pictured), previously Automata’s sous chef, and Lillia McCabe, who comes fresh from Acme.

“With two restaurants and two teams, there’s always going to be different ideas flowing. I can go back to Sydney and say ‘hey we tried this in Singapore the other day and it worked really well. Let’s give it our own spin here.'”

Bar snacks

Bar snacks

While the full menu is available at the bar, there’s also a selection of cured meats and pickles on offer to go with your cocktail or some Australian natural wine. The aim with the 90-bottle list is to find balance, so bottles of Shobbrook and Ochota Barrels sit alongside those from Bass Phillip and Torbreck, for example.

“We’re doing a whole bunch of pickles, including kohlrabi in a wakame liquid, daikons in turmeric, some celery with tamari and ginger and purple turnips,” Wells says.

“There’s also a king fish tartare on our à la carte menu, served with capers, crème fraîche, sansho pepper and plum.”

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