Mauro Colagreco’s CARNE proves sustainable, semi-gourmet burgers can work
What little we know of Mauro Colagreco comes from whispers of how exclusive, how divine the delicacies at Mirazur, the Argentinian’s world #1 establishment in France, to which critic and aspiring gourmand make dutiful pilgrimage. Which is to say that for those little inclined to endure the production of securing a reservation plus an 25-hour pan-Eurasian flight, tearing into a humble stack on Amoy Street, a 40-minute train ride from most anywhere in Singapore, is as little trouble as one can hope for a taste of the three-Michelin-starred chef’s creations, even if only his burger concept.
For six years, the CARNE chain never left South America. But in February, Colagreco threw open the doors to its first international outpost, nestled in a winding web of alleys a street away from the republic’s financial district. Here, gentrified concepts saturate heritage lanes that once housed shophouses and opium dens, now an endless lineup of renovated restaurant-bar after bar-restauraunt, from which spill out an evening clientele of stressed, well-paid executives.
The famous chef’s 80-seater joint is surprisingly empty for dinner on a Thursday. One, because there are the usual – and strict – pandemic dine-in quotas. Two, a refusal to host tastings on Friday or Saturday hint that’s when when the real crowds descend. We enter curiously, and are immediately accosted by the interior: a cocktail of metal, concrete, tile, glass, black vinyl and wood with minimalist industrial aspirations, left wanting on the cosy and the cohesive.
But we’re not here to assess the fittings. The Singapore-exclusive beverages arrive quickly in regulation fast-food-chain plastic cups: one Grapefruit Maté Iced Tea ($5.50), one Salted Caramel Shake ($10).
The maté is a staple Argentinian gourd leaf brew: per CARNE’s “eco-conscious ethos”, it’s fresh, house-made, organic, and preservative-free. The promised grapefruit manifests as a fruity undertone to the bitter, sugar-free tea, a clever choice to lighten both the burger-and-fries combo you’ll inevitably order, and the guilt afterwards.
The milkshake is so sweet it awakens an unexplained compulsion to keep inhaling the sucre. Salted caramel, dulce de leche, praline, whipped cream: a laundry list designed to seduce those among us for whom waistline describes a body part and not a close-monitored obsession. So, is it nice? Heavens, it is: sweet, creamy, coconutty even, crunchy from the caramel, carefully engineered so you can keep going, even for seconds. Very dangerous.
Order the Triple Cooked Agria Fries ($8.90), possibly the world’s best rendition. Countless reviewers have, somewhat heartlessly, endorsed CARNE’s fries over its burgers; after today, we join their ranks, lost to fat wedges of clay-grown Dutch spuds with gloriously soft, starchy insides reminiscent of mash. The varietal’s characteristic floury texture is honed to sophistication in a thrice-cooked process of steaming, freezing, and deep frying that at once sounds indecently tedious, yet promises the sort of transcendent gourmet euphoria nearly never found at a burger joint.
Rare is the tater whose integrity holds after sitting 15 minutes while its picture gets taken. Colagreco’s resilient recipe keeps them crisp without, unbearably fluffy within. It’s a big portion, deliciously salty; for once, sweet-tangy ketchup – from local firm Yong Chuan – is pleasant but unnecessary.
Tonight’s star, the Singapore-exclusive Grilled Beef & Double Mushroom Burger ($23) is a new and improved assembly of natural umami. The press release explains the rework by Mirazur’s R&D team as necessary following careful “listening to the foodies of Singapore”. Whatever that means, from the initiative emerges a delightfully mushroom-ey stack enclosing four succulent organic Malaysian shiitake in their whole, glorious entirety, not the namby pamby slivers done elsewhere. Rendered a la plancha in garlic-parsley oil, the effect is similar to meaty mini portobello, elevated further with oyster and shiitake duxelles and the fungus’ classic associate: onions – chunky roasted ones, tangy pickled pearl ones.
Also upgraded is the Australian beef: now antibiotic and hormone-free, grass-fed, free-range. It’s fatty, drippy, and cooked to perfection, sandwiched alongside natural cheddar and confit garlic mayo between gentle butter buns courtesy local bakery Bread Yard. In the hand it’s a warm, weighty package, the pillowy, compressed bun yielding to juicy patty, creamy mayo, salty cheese. It’s not healthy – and why should it be? Flavourful, shamelessly heavy, yet neither soggy nor oily, hinting restraint despite the richness.
Available for a limited time, the Singapore-exclusive Crispy Fish Burger with Kimchi Slaw ($22) packs less punch and a somehow distinctly Thai profile, probably from the green mango. The 130 gram fresh snapper is a touch tough; the batter’s thin but dense, the corners crisp, a flavour not unlike breaded fishcakes sold with economic bee hoon. Plus points: like the beef, it’s not at all greasy, and the pairing of white fish with sour, herby notes from kimchi tartar, lime-coriander mayo, organic local arugula and Thai basil form an easily relatable Asian combo. It’s balanced, with grassy textures, creamy spiciness, and tang.
If only the sweets could perform a better closing act. New on the menu, Spanish classic Cinnamon Churros ($6.80) presents five sweet, fat dough fritters with crisp exteriors and dense, mushy insides crying for the inspired treatment of their deep fried potato cousins. Given the preservative-free, Singapore-exclusive offering is whipped up from scratch, a lighter fry and airier dough might well reverse the dull results. (Or perhaps it’s an off day for the kitchen.) Among the dips – two per order, we try all four – the milky caramel of the house-made dulce de leche lands best; the runner-up is the light vanilla chantilly cream. Skip the watery dark chocolate and saccharine lemon curd.
Billed an eco burger joint boasting “sustainable production in every ingredient”, Colagreco’s CARNE hopes Singaporeans can “eat without eating the world”, by buying responsibly from local bakers, organic farmers and sustainable makers of food, merchandise, uniforms and utensils. Yet for a nation as practical as this, the chef’s culinary chops weigh infinitely more than his burger chain’s focus on planet-friendly fare, though happily the food and its carbon footprint have found a delightful balance.
In a city where taste is king, who but CARNE could dish up quality, semi-gourmet burgers both solid enough to command respect and convincingly pull off an ESG mission? Better-for-you, better-for-Earth food comes with a bigger price tag, as cost-conscious locals will tell you at once. And is CARNE pricey? Yes, it is. But is it worth it? Absolutely.
88 Amoy Street, Singapore 069907
Open daily, 8am – 10.30pm
Delivery available here, free for orders above $50.