SINGAPORE – I can’t be the only one who thinks that the whole New York Times Singapore Curry kerfuffle that unfolded previously was wholly unnecessary. Surely time could be better spent getting angry over other more pertinent issues like why we’re still wearing masks in 2022, and must the government increase the GST now?
Honestly, the only curry all you lot should get mad about is the curry that landlords cite as a reason for not leasing their units to Indian tenants.
But this whole episode speaks more broadly about our disdain for creative interpretations of familiar dishes, especially if they are ones we’ve grown up eating as a child. We berate any attempts at modern spins of local favorites, yet not bat an eyelid when we find Ondeh-Ondeh in anything but a fragrant glutinous rice ball. Or salted egg on anything and everything we can conjure.
It’s why what Chef Bjorn Shen does at Small’s is nothing short of impressive. Small’s started as a tiny 2m by 2m space in Artichoke, taking up the space that used to be Chef Bjorn’s office. When it first launched, Small’s was a pizza Omakase joint that seats four and doesn’t cater to any dietary requirements. You eat what Bjorn says you eat — no ifs and buts.
“If I was gonna do something new and risky, I wanted to do it in a tiny space where only hardcore foodies would get in, and I could properly explain myself and my intentions,” Chef Bjorn shares.
Now, two years on, Small’s has expanded from a tiny office to a small flat on level two of an industrial-chic building at 115 King George’s Avenue. Here, he extends the idea of the ‘Room of Bad Ideas’ and embraces the poetic bastardisation of the traditional. “It would be a space of creativity, where I would eventually move on from pizza and start omakase-ing other things that had never been omakase-d before.”
For V2 of Small’s Chef, Bjorn takes on Sushi, giving it a pearl-clutching, jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing twist by swopping out sushi rice with bread.
“The bread that sits underneath those pieces of fish will be made from high hydration, long-aged doughs just like that which we’ve been making all this time,” he explains in a press release. “The bread will be given textures and tastes with different cooking methods — high-temperature baking, low-temperature baking, binchotan grilling, deep-frying, steaming — and each type of fish or seafood showcased will be paired with a style of bread that best complements it. “
It’s a highly unusual proposition, but one that hardly looks out of place in this shop unit decked out like a cool Tokyo bar with neon light installations that gives the space a colorful glow, posters pasted on every empty wall, and lanterns that hang across the 12-seater dining bar. It’s all very casual, chaotic, and, in every sense of the word, charming.
Charming too are the bread sushi that makes up the menu for this season. Priced at a reasonable S $ 175 ++ for a 15-course Omakase, including snacks, it’s a menu that will scare off sushi puritans, though admittedly, Small’s is not the place for prudes who baulk at Singaporeans who mix their wasabi with soy sauce or denigrate people who eat Prata with sugar. Well. Small’s is for the brave, the wildly experimental, and a diner whose soul is lit with the courage to try something painfully new.
“V2 takes inspiration from Danish smørrebrød, Basque pintxos and Italian crostini,” Chef Bjorn helpfully explains. “Diners can expect more than just fish on bread — condiments and other preparations join the party to give diners that riot of flavors.”
And what a true poetic riot it is. Every sushi has been meticulously curated for a careful balance of flavors and textures. The Otoro comes with Tuna Belly, Sesame, and thin juliennes of pear. It’s sweeter than I imagined it would be, though, unsurprisingly, the pear makes for breast friends with this fatty tuna hello.
There’s also the California Roll which the chef will hand over to you — literally. This takes inspiration from an ice-cream cornetto complete with a surprising seaweed mayo languishing at the bottom for a moreish finish. On top, fat chunks of Crab come mixed with cucumber strips and Tobiko, and the whole thing is then wrapped in a cone of deep-fried dough. It’s all so satisfying.
Elsewhere, the Tenshi No Ebi is served with raw angel prawns on a pool of Ajo Blanco with fragrant rojak flower, which gives it an intoxicatingly heady nuance of flavor. The Engaw also gives me pause with an intensely buttery flounder that I initially thought was either mayo or cream. There are also thin slices of green papaya in this which adds a subtle touch of acidity to the whole thing. It comes dramatically served table-side with frozen ankimo, also known as the foie gras of the sea, grated all over this bad boy. It’s such an indulgence.
Of the two desserts, I am more partial towards the Strawberry, Yoghurt, and Shiso simply because the fruit has a noticeable fizz which makes for a surprising mouthfeel. Paired with the creamy frozen yoghurt, this ticks all the boxes I have for a grand denouement to dinner.
Although, don’t hold your breath for the DOUGHmakase menu on your visit to be the same as mine. Chef Bjorn prides Small’s on using fresh ingredients that are made available on the week, day, or perhaps even the hour of your dinner. The unpredictability of the menu is just par for the course for a brave, new concept of food. Best you fall in line and embrace the madness for everything that it is.
115 King George’s Ave, # 02-02, S208561
Opening times vary. Please refer to Small’s Instagram page for updates.