Last Updated: October 14, 2020
Having called South Korea home for a good six months back in 2018, Korean cuisine has safely made it to my list of comfort food. On a rough, cold day, a piping hot bowl of soondubu (tofu stew) or the familiar kick of extra spicy jjamppong (spicy seafood noodle soup) is my idea of relief.
But today, we’re not talking feel-good, calming fare. We’re delving straight into the classic chimaek (a term literally coined from a fusion of the words ‘chicken’ and ‘maekju’ (beer), in Korean). Anyone familiar with the life of a young adult in Korea would fathom the goodness of crispy, juicy fried chicken washed down by gulps of beer or soju—a typical pre-club activity for many in the +82.
Firewood Chicken & Bagel comes as a pleasant welcome to the Katong ‘hood, for you don’t typically see many Korean eateries in the area. Despite the unlikely pairing of bagels and Korean fried chicken, owner, Jensen, explains that their intention was to cater to the fancy, brunch-loving crowd down in the East Coast, while keeping to their Korean roots by honouring their chef’s concoctions.
Its exterior unassuming, Firewood’s signboard is nothing more than bold, fiery red letters against a black background. It’s important for me to point out that they’re still in the experimental phase, however, and so everything that’s currently available might be subject to change and upgrading. This sets the tone for the rest of the food I’m about to try as well.
Minimally furnished, the restaurant’s walls are peppered with wood logs, and the tables have tree stumps for legs—keeping with their woodland theme, and alluding to the authentic way in which their chicken is prepared.
From 11.30am to 3pm, you’ll find a spread of five bagel flavours on the lunch menu. As it is, the bagel scene in Singapore leaves little to be coveted, so if proven toothsome, Firewood’s sure to be added to my go-to list.
The Chickey Bagel (S$10) came over-the-top, bursting with a generous portion of tender chicken, iceberg lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, cheese, cucumber, and chilli mayo. Albeit simple-sounding, the chicken was smothered in a brilliant, flavourful sauce that was truly delicious when eaten in a whole bite.
Stuffed with arugula, smoked salmon, raw red onion, capers, mayo, tomato, avocado, and cream cheese, the Nova Lox Bagel (S$13) embodies your typical smoked salmon-and-respective-toppings pairing, but sometimes familiarity is just what you need.
Again, the serving of salmon is nothing short of lavish, which is great because it’s essentially what diners pay good money for. My fellow companion laments that the onions would be better caramelised, but my barbaric, bestial self would rather crunch on onions in all their raw, tear-jerking glory. If an onion doesn’t send me crying in one bite, then I don’t want it.
Two things that we could agree on, however, are that the bagels would’ve been perfect if toasted just a little more for an extra crunch, and that the fries to accompany could use a dipping sauce or two to counter their lack of seasoning. I’d very much have preferred if they had served us the fries found in the Shake It Shake It Chips (S$8), which is essentially their take on Lotteria’s shaker fries.
From 5pm onwards is when the main event starts. By a stroke of generosity on Jensen’s part, we got to try all three chicken dishes—each delightfully different and delectable in their own right.
If you’re coming down for the authentic chimaek experience, then the Nude Chicken (S$18) is what you’re looking for. Though in about a couple of weeks’ time, this dish will be renamed to Myeongdong Chicken, to pay homage to the traditional fried chicken one can easily find along the shopping streets of Myeongdong—Korea’s Bugis street, so to speak.
The whole chicken is deep-fried in vegetable oil which supposedly keeps the chicken moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. Familiar savoury juiciness immediately fills my palate, which reminds me almost of the fried chicken offered on nasi lemak menus—compliment or insult, you decide.
The Firewood Chicken (S$28), which will eventually be rebranded to Roasted Ginseng Chicken, is what I personally term as a dry samgyetang. Just like how bak chor mee is sometimes best enjoyed tossed in sauce, perhaps Firewood might be onto something with this iteration of the traditional Korean dish.
Just like samgyetang, you’ll find a blend of heukmi bap (Korean purple rice) and chapssal (Korean sweet rice) in the mix as well, albeit forming a bed of charred rice at the bottom of the hotplate, rather than stuffed into the chicken like its time-honoured counterpart.
The highlight for me was scraping the golden-brown rice strips off the plate base because that’s where all the flavour is trapped. If Firewood could find a way to retain the nuances and juiciness of the dish in the chicken itself, that would elevate the current offering—which is quite frankly a tad dry—by leaps and bounds.
Our favourite of the three probably has to be the Charcoal BBQ Chicken (S$20 for half, S$35 for whole), which features bite-sized marinated bone-in chicken paired with tteokbokki (Korean cheese rice cakes). Reminding me heavily of jjimdak (Korean soy-braised chicken)—one of my favourite Korean dishes to date—the Charcoal BBQ Chicken sits in a pool of amazing hot and spicy sauce that’s guaranteed to jolt you into sobriety.
Coming from someone who savours Samyang Spicy Hot Chicken Noodles for breakfast, trust me when I say that the heat from the Hot Spicy sauce is passable. If your body isn’t up for the challenge just yet (don’t worry, I understand that mastery takes time), there are also Sweet Spicy and Garlic Soy options in case you weren’t planning on taking an extra trip to the bathroom tonight.
All chicken dishes come served with a side of white pickled radish and two dipping sauces—Sweet Chilli and Mustard. Like what you’d typically find in a Korean restaurant, a girl can only wish for some dipping salt to complete the veracious Korean fried chicken experience. Here’s hoping that we will soon see that on the menu, too.
All this while I’ve been keeping mum about the second half of the chimaek experience—the maekju (beer), of course. Avid beer chuggers like myself would probably agree that Korean beers such as Cass or Hite just don’t hit the spot. They’re far too light and much too gassy to even satisfy the malty-loving behemoth in me.
So when Jensen busts out various cans of Korean craft beers, my interest is needless to say, piqued. We’re told that the assorted Korean ales from the Kabrew brand are not easily available in Singapore just yet, so this adds one more reason to flock down to Firewood.
The Namsan Mountain brew (S$10) is light, while the Jeju Baengnokdam brew (S$10) is perhaps the closest to authentic Jeju beer one can find in Singapore. You have fervently been warned, however, the blend of bitterness and perfumed floral notes is not something that most Singaporean palates are used to.
But the finest of them all, as unanimously decided, is the Gyeongbokgung brew (S$10). Apart from the fact that the Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul is a beautiful spot, and that I may or may not have visited it too many times during my stay, the IPA is smooth, hoppy, and rich with fruity notes—making it the easiest to drink and most enjoyable.
Korean cuisine also has its own rendition of the signature onigiris (rice balls) and gimbaps (seaweed rice rolls). Jumeokbap, which literally translates to ‘fist rice’ is a delicious mishmash of rice, seaweed, mayonnaise, fish roe, and tuna.
My companion slaps on her gloves and prepares the DIY Rice Ball (S$8) in the only way we know how—getting down and dirty by mixing in all the ingredients in unrestrained, fistfuls of melding. The end result is a glorious umami harmony, with the tobiko adding a splendid bite to each mouthful. Apart from the fact that it’s absolutely scrumptious, its affordable price point and plenteous portion really leaves you with no reason to complain.
I have made it my personal mission to award a Vera-approved, chef’s kiss to only one dish everywhere I visit, so long as it warrants one. You have been reminded, a chef’s kiss doesn’t come easy, and is sometimes not honoured at all. In a bold but necessary move, I give the DIY Rice Ball a glowing, chef’s kiss.
As I reflect upon all we’ve tried today, I bear in mind that the hits and misses—as with all restaurants—aren’t a permanent reflection of Firewood’s full potential. Just as I’ve mentioned before, tweaks are still being made to the dishes and even the interior.
It’s nice to know that the team at Firewood isn’t resting on their laurels, and is working hard to better the menu and space. After all, a gastronomic journey is never really finished; it is constantly evolving, improving, and developing, as all things in life should.
Expected Damage: S$10 – S$27.50 per pax
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 4 / 5
Firewood Chicken & Bagel
43 East Coast Road, Singapore 428764
43 East Coast Road, Singapore 428764