Let’s do a little activity: imagine one of your favourite vacations – the sites which made for the best selfies, the places you slept (or didn’t get any sleep), the things you tasted and the times you got lost and found something better than you were looking for. Then dig deeper and make note of scents and flavours that, even now, still rocket the trip to the front of your mind: a sooty waft of charcoal, the saline nip of fresh coastal catches, the thwack to the throat from that locally distilled booze. Now, the real challenge – condense these memories into a single dish.
It’s a tough feat, but that’s what’s happening at STYX World of Skewers, where chef and owner Pascal Ballot carries home each global experience in a knapsack and unpacks the little bundle onto a plate. Having spent his life making homes all over the world – France, Singapore, China and beyond – Ballot shares the marks left by global cuisines via fired skewers and ‘elevated street food souvenirs’, each dish serving as a travel story to be consumed by from plate rather than page. And while these palatable tales aren’t perfect, STYX does sticks with vigour and verve.
The menu offers diners snapshots of meals in Europe, Asia, and the Americas with a ‘stories of the moment’. Each dish recalls a specific memory via two skewers, a side and a sauce: Promenade Landes from France’s South Bordeaux region shares lush duck aiguillettes (tenderloins) with potatoes cooked in duck fat and a creamy mustard sauce that you’ll start pairing with everything on the table. Jakarta’s chicken satay, served with a zesty curried peanut sauce, is amply coated in exotic spices, perhaps too heavily – the flavours verge on bitter, and need brightening. But the fabulously fragrant STYX rice blend that comes with it is worth eating on its own.
On the other side of the world, the Costa Rican Escape uses the smoky char-flavoured chunks of beef and fresh, garlicky chimichurri to revive a sunset wedding at Tamarindo Beach, though oddly served with those same duck fat-fried potatoes, which don’t seem to have a place in this Central American story. A trek down to Peru takes you to El Barrio Latino, where grandmas tend street-side planchas sizzling with anticucho de corazon (beef heart, these ones tender but under-seasoned) with onion relish and ears of coal-kissed barbecued corn.
Move away from the land mammals and head for the beaches of Southeast Asia with tender, barbecued shrimp basted in a simple soy and garlic sauce and paired with tangy Southeast Asian slaw. Or plunge headfirst into the crystal-clear rivers of Japan's mountains with flaky salmon teriyaki on a bed of cold soba noodles and crisp vegetables, topped off with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
Some creatures do escape the skewer: from the Mediterranean there’s a charred sumac octopus that cuts like butter, and China finally gets some love on the menu in the form of a whole barbecued mackerel with spring onions, coriander and sesame.
Something that wants for growth at STYX is the number of vegetarian stories on offer – there’s only one, a balsamic-basted portobello cap served with ribbons of zucchini ‘pasta’. There's a veggie-friendly trio of hummus, cilantro-green pepper and spicy red pepper dips with pita bread, but all three are bland.
At the end of the road, STYX is a promising talent that needs practice. The bright palm leaf wallpaper is lively and sets the right tone, but the vibe doesn’t follow – it’s lacking that energetic ambiance that you want at a skewer haven, perhaps because of its corner location inside Hengshan Lu’s burgeoning Yong Ping Li complex. With the dishes, key plot points are there but the finished tales still require a bit of polishing. That aside, there’s something to love about budding, talented storytellers, whether they brandish a pen or a skewer: a zealousness for the mission, an eagerness to share, and the promise for future excellence – for STYX, that’s in the cards.