Tucked away in the corner of a coffee shop at Geylang Lor 29 is Char Sticks & Grill, a Kushiyaki Bar Concept decorated with Japanese carp streamers and bunting.
Steps lead up to the store front where you can watch all the action of grilling and barbecuing happen right before your eyes.
A couple of high tables and chairs create a stark contrast from the regular red plastic chairs typically used in Singapore’s coffeeshops, and momentarily it felt like we were at a bar enjoying our skewers.
When you’ve found yourself a table, an order form that doubles up as a menu will be given to you to place your orders. Simply fill it up with the number of skewers you want beside each item available; there are currently 50 items on the menu!
Because we were there at an off-peak hour, our orders were fired up on the grill immediately. If you intend to head down in the evenings or weekends, do allow time for your skewers to be cooked and served.
Emphasising affordable but quality food, you’ll find that every detail of the preparation and sourcing of the ingredients have been taken into careful consideration.
The owner explained that the teriyaki glaze is concocted according to Singaporean’s taste buds, resulting in a balanced taste that isn’t too sweet or salty. The shichimi (chilli and spice powder) is also made in-house, and these form two of the main seasonings used here.
Served in weaved baskets, the Pork Belly ($1.50 per stick) and Pork Cheek Jowl ($1.50 per stick) were tender and soft.
Both meats had pockets of fats that coated our mouths in rich juiciness. Alternating layers of fat and meat in the pork cheek jowl felt almost like having a slice of suckling pig.
We were recommended to have Pineapple ($1.50 per stick) in between our meaty skewers, which cleansed our palate and refreshed our taste buds with its tangy sweetness. I loved how they were grilled adequately, resulting in a caramelised coating.
A wide selection of vegetables are also available, including Lady’s Fingers ($1.10 per stick) and French Beans ($1 per stick).
If you’re someone who enjoys eating every part of the chicken, the Spicy Chicken Tails (3 pcs, $1.80 per stick) is juicy and filled with collagen. Unlike others that I’ve tried before, these chicken tails have soft bones that can be chowed down easily.
For added variety, you can also order the Chicken Skin ($1.50 per stick, subject to availability), Chicken Heart (4 pcs, $1.30 per stick), and Chicken Gizzard (4 pcs, $1.40).
The Handmade Chicken Pork Balls ($2.20 per stick) are definitely one of the highlights of the menu – the ones at Char Sticks & Grill reminded me of homemade ngoh hiang (five-spice pork rolls) sans the beancurd skin.
Comprising minced chicken and minced pork that’s been marinated with spices, these meat balls are painstakingly made and shaped individually by hand.
The Shishamo Fish ($1.50 per stick) is sourced from a supplier that ensures that they are packed full of roe. The fish was perfectly grilled and seasoned minimally, bursting in natural flavours when we bit into it.
The Teriyaki Baby Octopus ($2.50 per stick) is slightly pricey, but you’ll get a whole baby octopus that’s plump and nicely grilled, without the slightest hint of rubbery meat.
Psst, we were told that these octopus are given a good 10-minute massage to tenderise their flesh.
Where else can you get a Whole Grilled Sanma Fish for only $4.90? That’s insanely cheap! The meat was fresh and fragrant with a slight natural sweetness. A squeeze of lime is all it took to bring out the flavour.
Don’t leave the place without trying the Cheesy Scallops (2 pcs, $7.90) and Fresh Oysters, Cheese (3 pcs, $10.90) — they are made with three types of cheeses to create those melted cheese strings, and most importantly to add flavour.
While the outward presentation may look exactly the same, you’ll be thrilled to taste the different flavours.
The Cheesy Scallops were sweet and briny, alternating with saltiness from the cheese.
The Fresh Oysters with Cheese on the other hand, surprises your palate with its garlicky punch. I suggest having this after you’ve had the cheesy scallops, so that its taste doesn’t overpower the former.
The owner specially requests his suppliers to slice the beef thicker so that when it’s grilled, you’ll get a better mouth feel in each bite.
The Beef Angus Short Ribs ($9.90) is extremely value for money and what you’ll get is a juicy, medium-rare slab cut into bite-sized portions. It had a buttery aftertaste, proving that you’re getting premium grades.
The Premium Australian Lamb Rib (2 pcs, $9.90) fell off the bone, yet retained a slight chewiness in texture. The spices used to marinate the lamb masked its gamey flavour.
Is it sheer coincidence that there are bamboo trees in front of the stall? We asked the owner if he purposefully planted them for ambience, but he told us that they just happened to be there.
Lucky him as it definitely helps add to the authentic Japanese bar concept that he’s trying to achieve.
Pro-tip: If you’re intending to order more, do so when you’re halfway through your meal so that you won’t be left waiting for your next batch of skewers with a disgruntled tummy and an empty table.
Char Sticks & Grill superseded my expectations in every possible way, and I’ll surely be returning for its quality skewers to go with some ice cold beers. With premium ingredients priced affordably, there’s really nothing to complain about — this has got to be one of the best skewered meat places I’ve visited.
Expected damage: $10 – $20 per person (avg. $1.50 per stick)