Chef Tim Butler ties a black apron over his army camouflage trousers to match his black T-shirt and gets down to business. He runs his eye over three pieces of Iberico pork: “Off-cuts called secreto – kind of like the shoulderblade muscle, but because Iberico is so heavily marbled it’s a really nice cut. We serve it medium rare.”
He sprinkles the pork with salt and pepper and leaves it to sit while he prepares the accompanying roasted corn and bacon hash. Tim – schooled in New York and Los Angeles alongside masters like Daniel Boulud, at Daniel and Marcus Samuelsson, at Aquavit – grabbed 37th spot recently for his restaurant Eat Me in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. He’s giving me a close-up view of working life inside his narrow kitchen.
Into a sauté pan of hot olive oil, he tosses a handful of wild hedgehog mushrooms from France: “Any mushrooms will do. We’re just using these because they’re in season.”
There’s an immediate sizzle and brief leaping flames, and after five minutes they’re beautifully golden brown.
“Without that colour, you don’t get the same flavour,” he says, turning down the heat and adding diced onion, Parma ham, tomatoes and capsicum, which was pre-grilled to char before the skin was peeled off. Corn kernels follow, also pregrilled in the husk until black.
Tim gives a chefly pan-flip, and the ingredients cascade through the air. Then he adds “a lot” of melted butter and whole cherry tomatoes ripped apart by hand.
Meanwhile, the pork goes on the grill, filling the room immediately with a mouthwatering smell of scorching meat. Garlic puréed with paprika, covering the well of a small metal side dish, also hits the grill, and when it’s cooked through, Tim lays the pork in to coat on both sides – “a quick marinade”. He finishes the hash with a dash of tabasco and fresh lime.
To serve, the pork lays on top of the salad with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and smoked olive oil to intensify the charcoal.
Everything is glistening – the hash from lashings of butter, the pork from melted fat and marinade. Appetising grill lines enhance the powerful smoky flavour of grilling, paprika and olive oil; the tabasco and lime give a lift against the sweet corn in the hash.
This is a good hearty plate, sporting 220 grams of rich meat: “A southern States kind of dish.”
It’s a pleasure in these days of ubiquitous tasting menus to get an old-school dinner experience. It’s a pleasure, too, to dine at Eat Me, as your eye runs around their latest art exhibition. And it’s one of the few places in town you can drop into and still order at 1am. Maybe that’s why they don’t open for lunch.