Fit for a duke, but not Harry. Andrew Leci gets stuck into a behemoth of a dish, but suggests that the Tomahawk Wellington at Bedrock may not be the restaurant’s bedrock
There can’t be many people in history who have had both a culinary dish and an item of footwear named after them. Take a bow, Arthur Wellesley (1769 to 1852), the 1st Duke of Wellington, whose eponymous boots we wear when sloshing around the countryside trying to keep our feet dry while massacring peasants (or pheasants, depending on your metier), and whose beef has graced some of the better carnivores’ choice restaurants for the last 200 years.
The boot story is interesting. Arthur needed something that would enable him to go from battlefield – he was renowned as one of the world’s great military strategists; hardly lost so much as a skirmish – to dinner venue without having to change his foot attire. With the help of his shoemaker, he adapted the common 18th-century hessian boot to something a tad more comfortable and fetching in appearance, and the rest, as they say is history. The invention of vulcanisation helped to turn the design into the rubbery Wellington boot with which we are all familiar today.
Whether beef Wellington is directly attributable to Arthur Wellesley is a matter for conjecture, with some suggesting that it was created for him to celebrate his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Others point to the fact that similar dishes existed and were well known in Europe prior to Napoleon’s biggest ever away defeat, and that a slight variation was given Wellington’s name just to make him feel even better about saving his home nation from a fate of having to eat snails and garlic.
Whatever the truth may be, it’s become a classic dish over the years and one that is notoriously difficult to make. For the amateur chef it can be a nightmare. For professionals, it can be problematic because there’s a crucial facet to the creation itself. Quite simply, you don’t know whether or not you’ve got it right, until it’s too late.
Beef Wellington is traditionally made from tenderloin, encased in foie gras, duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms) and bacon, and then encased again in puff pastry. It is a wonder to behold when properly cooked; arguably one of the most aesthetically pleasing meat dishes ever conceived, but so many things can go wrong, and at the final stage (baking the thing off) there’s no way of telling if the dish is just so; overcooked, undercooked, or almost totally ruined. There is even the possibility that the moister elements will cause the pastry to go soggy or worse, disintegrate completely.
And that’s with a tenderloin – a fairly malleable cut of meat that is delicate, yes, but reasonably easy to work with. So why anyone would want to give a tomahawk the Wellington treatment, is anyone’s guess, but it’s exactly what Isaac Tan has decided to do (for a while) at his Bedrock Bar and Grill in Singapore.
The tomahawk can be a massive cut of meat. It’s a ribeye, with the bone in, and it’s become terribly trendy in the last few years. It looks impressive, and when prepared à la Wellington, it looks magnificent. What is not to love about a gorgeous hunk of meat cloaked in puff pastry, baked to a perfection and resembling the world’s best pie?
The problem is that everything has to be absolutely spot on – not only the cooking process (there are almost innumerable stages and each one has to be on point) but also in the balance of the dish in terms of the inclusion of so many elements.
While Chef Isaac’s version looked perfect, the overall taste was not – at least for my buds. There’s a lot of meat, and the ancillary ingredients have to play their part in complementing what could be overkill in the protein department. The duxelles were not seasoned sufficiently for my taste – it needed greater salinity to cut through the foie gras which in turn was augmenting the taste of the ribeye, but it didn’t do its job well enough. Neither did the bacon, which was slightly bland and brought little to the ensemble.
However, the wonderful thing about tucking into a Wellington is the experimentation that a diner can embark upon. With myriad components, you can mix and match with different combinations to create the perfect mouthful, but it’s something I could not quite achieve at Bedrock. The meat is cooked beautifully – just the wrong side of ‘medium rare’ which is right for the dish – but my anticipation and excitement at tasting the dish, which again, looked superb, wasn’t met with the kind of taste explosions and savoury sensations that I had expected.
Others may well feel differently, and I would certainly encourage them to have a go. It’s a wonderful way to share a meal and Bedrock never fails in its convivial aesthetic designed for serious, carnivorous diners. Chef Isaac should be lauded for his culinary attempt at something other chefs might consider foolish, and no one’s going to leave the establishment feeling hungry or dissatisfied.
Except me, of course.
The Tomahawk Wellington set (S$258) is available at Bedrock for a limited period, ending 15 February 2020.
Bedrock Bar & Grill
96 Somerset Road
Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, 01-05
Tel: +65 6238 0054