The first time Chef Mariana Campos D’Almeida visited a wet market in Singapore, she felt immediately at home.
Although she was amazed by the spices, herbs, and fruits of the produce before her, she was instantly drawn to the tapioca roots. “In Brazil, tapioca chips are found in every bar. It’s the most basic street food,” she says, calling it her favourite ingredient that features repeatedly in the menu.
Now at the helm of gluten-free restaurant The Butcher’s wife, the Brazil-born and Paris-trained chef draws poignant similarities between her birthplace and her current home, particularly having just arrived from the French capital.
“While I loved the cheese, Paris is the opposite of Brazil. In Singapore, you have the tropicals, the fresh, the herbs, and the spices. It’s so much like Brazil,” she says. “There are similar flavours.”
D’Almeida harnesses those similarities for explosive flavours that courses through the gluten-free menu.
They make an immediate introduction with the Dadinhos de Sago, served with a dragonfruit chutney. Sago, a familiar dessert ingredient for Singaporeans, is combined with Brazilian cheese and deep fried for a serious bite. Smother it in the dragonfruit chutney that contains garam masala and cardamom for some heat.
In a Brazilian homage, the Mini Corn on Fire takes the sweetness of locally-grown baby corn, and chars it for a smoky grilled flavour. It’s glazed with smoked paprika and a fermented black garlic sauce. Pecorino cheese grated atop lends the corn a salty tanginess. These rich flavours are further enhanced with the roundness and intensity of the 2018 Laurent Cazottes Adele white we had, recommended and introduced to us by Drunken Farmer Eduardo Bayo himself.
And then there was the classic combination of goat’s cheese with honey. Fresh goats’ milk from Hay Dairies is made into a creamy cheese with kefir grains, a type of mesophilic symbiotic culture that D’Almeida confesses to carrying in her luggage from Brazil. The extreme sourness of the cheese is offset with sweet honey from 13 Honey, and eaten in tiny chunks with gluten-free walnut and buckwheat bread from Oh My Goodness.
Then came the unanimous favourite of the table: The Tucupi Tiradito
Cassava root is deep fried and thinly sliced, topping her spin on the Tiradito ceviche. Here, sashimi-style local barramundi is served with Tucupi, a Brazilian staple of a yellow starchy juice made with Asian cassava root. Any fishiness is mediated by Sichuan pepper, pickled wing beans, and laksa leaf oil. It’s a dish that demands your attention, and for you to polish off every last morsel.
To wash it all down, we sipped on the Camin Larredya Part Davant 2018. Its dry, honeyed taste and mineral finish cuts through the sourness of the cheese and complements the ceviche’s acidity.
For D’Almeida, gluten-free cooking was a challenge at first as her main concern was finding the right flour. But she nailed it on its head with a buckwheat variety, folding it into sweet potatoes for her take on gnocchi. Fluffy on the inside, these purple pillows have a crisp exterior that goes down well with the accompanying sauce of rosemary butter, shiitake, king oyster, and enoki mushrooms. We have the gluten-free naan bread next, in a falafel that merges D’Almeida’s native influences with Middle Eastern food. The naan blankets a patty of fermented black beans, commonly used in Brazil, red lentil hummus, roasted carrots, coriander, house-made yoghurt and green mango chilli sauce. It’s light, fresh, and perfect for a bloat-free lunch. We knock it back with our first red wine, the Tete Red 2018 from Les Tetes. Juicy, acidic, and with a hint of spice, it contains no added sulfites for easy day drinking.
D’Almeida’s main takeaway for her diners is for them to be surprised by her dishes. And we are — over and over again. The Wagyu Pincha, a popular cut in Brazil, is served with a burnt cauliflower puree, reminiscent of the charred meats of a churrascaria. The salsa is kept fresh with a light burst of acidity from the Thai green papaya with dehydrated banana powder for sweetness.
The grilled octopus, left charred but unseasoned, is served with house made white kimchi, manioc puree, and broccoli. “I want those who visit the restaurant to discover different flavours, combinations, and realise that they match,” she enthuses. Her favourite Brazilian ingredient of tapioca puree here is buttery, delicate and brings out the sourness of white kimchi. The fruity and juicy Dominique Andiran Magnus 2018 to end our mains combines the aromas of blackberries, leather, and smoke, with a long finish.
Desserts are reassuring classics. A warm chocolate cake gratifyingly oozes out 72 percent Ecuadorian chocolate next to a scoop of miso ice cream. We finish with a lemongrass panna cotta, an updated take on the restaurant classic, with ginger, lime kaffir leaves and a calamansi curd with a butternut tuile for crunch. By now, we’re utterly sold. D’Almeida has mastered the art of entwining the two parallel worlds in one delicious, gluten-free package.
The Butcher’s Wife, 19 Yong Siak Street, Singapore 168650
All images are courtesy of The Butcher’s Wife