Last Updated: September 19, 2019
We Singaporeans sure love our zi char, but we usually get stir-fried or steamed dishes. I have never tried charcoal-grilled zi char before, so I wanted to experience how cooking over coal adds a layer of smokiness to my favourite dishes.
F1RST GRILL, which opened back in June 2019, is one such stall which cooks your favourite zi char dishes in a charcoal-grilled oven.
If you’re trying to do a bit of online research about F1RST GRILL, don’t make the same mistake I did and spell the stall name without the ‘1’, because you wouldn’t find anything. The stall is tucked away in a coffee shop located at Block 155 Bukit Batok Street 11.
The restaurant has multiple storefronts which can get a bit confusing, but for your reference, this is the front of the restaurant (not the dessert stall).
F1RST GRILL was opened by Jay, William and Jeff, and the trio used to work at a Spanish restaurant. They experienced first-hand how the Josper charcoal oven from Spain helped to elevate the way food tastes by adding a smoky depth to it.
Even though the three initially wanted to open their own Western stall, they decided to stick to their Asian roots with the idea of incorporating the charcoal oven into their cooking methods.
But to really understand how charcoal-grilling my favourite zi char dishes makes a difference in flavour, I had to try it for myself.
We started off with the must-order dish at every zi char feast, and ordered their Josper Grilled Sambal Stingray (S$14/small, S$18/big).
We ordered the small portion of stingray, which was already pretty generous. And while it was slathered in sambal, the spice was fairly manageable.
There was plenty of flesh, which was soft and flaked nicely with each bite. The sambal added a spicy kick, with a hint of sweetness.
Since sambal stingray is usually served barbecued, cooking it in the charcoal oven provided a similar smoky flavour.
The next dish, however, was probably the star of our charcoal-grilled zi char experience. While the Josper Grilled Iberico Spareribs (S$14) seemed un-appealing and tough to me at first, I was glad to be proven wrong.
The meat was so tender, it took little effort to slide it off the bone. There was a good meat-to-fat ratio, and each bite melted in my mouth. The meat was so soft, I almost could not differentiate it from the fat. The skin also had a nice, sweet glaze which provided a layer of greasiness on the palate.
The smoky flavour was evident in this dish, and made the pork much more delectable. A dish I would definitely recommend if you want to have that distinct charcoal-grilled flavour.
We moved on to the Charcoal Grilled Tiger Prawns (S$20/small) next, which featured six huge prawns drenched in sambal. If you are sharing with more than three people, you could go for the big portion at S$26.
The prawns were fresh and juicy, but still had a nice firm bite to them.
While the chilli gave the prawns a nice spicy kick, the prawns came with their shells on so the meat wasn’t really that spicy. To give the prawns a spicier flavour, deshell them first then add more chilli.
We had the Grilled Mussels (S$16) next. It came in a pretty generous portion and seemed like an appetising dish.
However, I soon realised that the mussels dish used a little sauce as I found it a little dry.
The mussels were chewy, but not overly tough. While the garlic added an aromatic flavour to it, I thought that some type of sauce base would have made the mussels juicier.
Among the dishes we tried, the Charcoal Grilled Squid (S$18) was one I did not particularly enjoy. Presentation-wise, it was pretty simple, featuring a whole squid topped with sweet chilli sauce and chilli padi.
I felt that the chilli sauce was a pretty simple choice of dressing, and would have preferred a more rich and savoury sauce to compliment the squid better. The chilli added some spice and sweetness to it, though not much of the flavour was absorbed by the meat, which was a pity.
The squid was chewy, but slightly rubbery. Perhaps if the meat was marinated with some kind of richer sauce, that could compensate for the lack of tenderness. It would also have been nice if the squid was sliced up into pieces so that it’s easier to consume.
I thought that the Josper Grilled Iberico Spareribs and Josper Grilled Sambal Stingray best showcased the smoky flavours from using the charcoal oven, and they would be my go-to orders if I visited the stall again.
Since the other dishes tasted pretty similar to the ones at other zi char places, I would probably try the charcoal-grilled lobsters, chilli crab or chicken wings from their menu next time.
If you’re having an upcoming dinner gathering with your friends or family, why not give some charcoal-grilled dishes from F1RST GRILL a go?
Expected Damage: S$27 – S$31 per pax
Our Rating: 3 / 5
Block 155 Bukit Batok Street 11, Singapore 650155
Block 155 Bukit Batok Street 11, Singapore 650155