Restaurant André | Singapore | 31/07/13 and 10/08/13 | “octaphilosophy”

13 Aug
  • Address: 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089855
  • Phone: +65 6534 8880
  •  Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $350
  • Courses: (11-12 main/18-19 total) 3 amuse / 1 bread / 8 main / 3-4 desserts / 3 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $29-32
  • Rating: 16/20 or 19.5/20
  • Value: 1/5 or 2/5
  • Dining Time: 200 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
  • Chef: Andre Chiang (ex. Pierre Gagnaire, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, L’Astrance, La Maison Troisgros, Le Jardin des Sens)
  • Style: Avant-garde French

This was my 2nd and 3rd time at Andre. My 1st time at Andre in 2011 was when I really discovered the fine dining scene in general. I was very eager to revisit the scene of a dinner that made a big impression on me, for its creativity and whimsy. There has also been a subtle shift in his philosophy. When I went in 2011, Chef Andre said he did not believe in molecularising food, and forcing produce into predefined pigeonholes. While Andre is all about letting the produce speak for itself, Andre seems to have co-opted some molecular tricks in his cooking, judging by my two meals in 2013.

Restaurant Andre gets a box of ingredients every morning, with the ingredients sourcers given only the instruction to get what is freshest in the market. Chef Andre and his team then decide what meal to serve based on the ingredients in the mystery box, but always structured according to the Octaphilosophy – “Pure Salt Artisan South Texture Unique Memory Terroir”. Therefore dining at Andre is like jazz, the kitchen will always hit the 8 notes of octaphilosophy, but what specific form it takes may only be finalised at the last minute. What this means is that Andre can be hit or miss. My meal on Wednesday was very good, but somehow seemed a bit tired, as if the same dishes were being served by the kitchen for a while now. And indeed the same menu has been served for a while now: check out Julian Teoh’s meal from October 2012, which is exactly the same except for Main #8 Terroir, where he was served rabbit. Julian Teoh, BTW, is a very fine writer and food blogger. The same menu (again, except Main #8 Terroir) was given a mixed review in April 2013 by a couple of Singapore food bloggers.

(Caveat: Evelyn Chen of Bibikgourmand seem to have had a different Summer 2012 menu.)

So the same menu was served to me on Wednesday. While I thought it was technically excellent cooking, I wanted to see a different side of the kitchen. For my second 2013 outing at Andre, I expressed my desire to see the kitchen change it up. What followed was a whirlwind of creativity, one of the best meals I have ever had. The same food had an ineffable pizazz, a vibrant creativity that captures the magic of Andre’s octaphilosophy. As a diner who indulges in meals to experience the creativity of chefs, the second dinner was simply stunning.

Chef Andre always has a post-prandial chat with his diners. Apparently the restaurant has no recipe bank at all, no database of dishes. It’s all in Andre’s memory, or in the memory of his sous-chef who’s been with him for 10 years. Since Andre doesn’t have a recipe, he draws pictures, and the staff will try to figure out from the drawings how to create the dish.

Chef Andre’s favorite restaurants on his nights out are: Burnt Ends (chef Andre’s other restaurant), inspired by Extebarri in San Sebastian, also in the World’s Top 50 restaurant list. The two restaurants close on different days. [Andre closes Monday; Burnt Ends closes Sunday]; Teppei, an izakaya. Few can get in right now, since it’s fully-booked until the end of the year. The chef at Teppei does an omakase menu for $40, $60, $80; and Red Star, an old Chinese dim sum place, which looks like it comes from the 70s. (also one of the few remaining places in Singapore for paper wrapped chicken)

I was really impressed with was Andre’s book collection, starring such tomes from Herve This (father of molecular gastronomy), and international chefs such as Charlie Trotter‘s. In his spare time, Andre confesses not to reading much cooking books, preferring to read books on design, or doing pottery (he makes over half of the restaurants Andre dishes, and has designed an extremely chic coffee cup, which you can see on Julian Teoh’s post)

_______________

Octaphilosophy Menu 31/07/2013

  1. Lobster Sandwich
  2. Chicken Masala
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy
  6. Pure: Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis (Dehydrated Olives)
  7. Salt: “Undersea forest” (salt without salt) Gillardeau Oyster/ Sea Corals/ Granny Smith Apple Mousse/ Caviar
  8. Artisan: Mais/ Salsify/ Sesame Salt/ Smoked Eggplant
  9. South: Heirloom Tomato/ Tomate – Ananas / Sea Urchin Risotto
  10. Texture: Homard Bleu/ “Airy” Gnocchi/ St Jacques Creme Anglaise
  11. Unique: Barigoule Artichokes/ Granny Smith Apple Kisu/ Olives/ Tomato Confit
  12. Memory: Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis
  13. Terroir: Canard de Challan/ Braised Mustard Seeds/ Charcoaled Baby Leeks.
  14. Pre-dessert #1: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Eucalyptus
  15. Pre-dessert #2: Wild Berry Shaved Ice/ Honey/ Fig
  16. Dessert: Snickers 2013
  17. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  18. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  19. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups
  20. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow
  21. French Earl Grey Crystalline

2013-07-31 08.19.47 2013-07-31 08.19.52 2013-07-31 08.19.59 2013-07-31 08.20.05

  1. Lobster Sandwich
  2. Chicken Masala
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy

2013-07-31 08.26.22

Main #1 Pure: Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis (5/5)

Clockwise from 6 o’clock: Homard Bleu Lobster, cucumber hat, abalone (?) + pickled onion (?), red cabbage puree (?),

cucumber core cylinder, the rest of the amaebi prawn + Japanese chive, smoked rock fish??? + herb???, smoked mussel

Centre: Kelp coulis with hay-smoked bouchot mussel

A great combination of textures. Andre’s wife Pam told us that we should discover our own version of the dish by mixing the ingredients together at our own whimsy. Great pure flavors.

2013-07-31 08.39.42

Main #2 Salt: “Undersea forest” (salt without salt) Gillardeau Oyster/ Sea Corals/ Granny Smith Apple Mousse/ Caviar  (4.5/5)

A very pretty dish, reminiscent of an undersea forest. The theme was getting the natural salty flavors of the sea, without using actual salt. Oyster, seaweed, and green apples has been a mainstay of Andre’s cooking of Salt since the beginning of the restaurant.

(The Summer 2011 Salt dish I had was “Black Label Oyster, Seaweed, Sea Grapes, Granny Smith Foam”)

What I felt this Salt dish lacked was that the foam did not mix strongly with the oyster tartare; my hypothesis is that the green apple foam goes down the throat much faster than the oyster tartare, which is slowly chewed, so the ingredients didn’t a chance to mix.

As one might expect, the eye-candy decorations don’t taste very strongly, and the seaweed foams also didn’t get to interact much.

2013-07-31 09.08.13 2013-07-31 09.08.32

Main #3 Artisan: Mais/ Salsify/ Sesame Salt/ Smoked Corn (4.5/5)

Smoked corn, which tasted like a fairly sweet but ordinary young corn, was placed before us. At the side, corn cream and deep fried gobo, which is Japanese for burdock root. The right side was spectacular in taste, featuring individually roasted and crinkly brown, salty, ears of corn. The left was a boiled corn. And beforehand, Pam let us taste the sweetness of the corn leaf, which was as sweet as sugarcane.

(If they feed that to grass-fed cows, I can only imagine the delightful results. According to Mark Schatzker’s book on steak, grass-fed steak is delicious proportional to the amount of sugar in the grass).

2013-07-31 09.29.28 2013-07-31 09.30.20 2013-07-31 09.30.24

Main #4 South: Heirloom Tomato/ Tomate – Ananas / Sea Urchin Risotto (4.75/5)

The risotto was well-prepared, and (the vinegared rice + green oil “caviar” + the raw uni + smoked fruits de la mer) that made up the risotto gave it the appearance of deconstructed sushi. The sorbet of sour plum (the coral plate of South) was paired with a bitter pear (which made things interesting) and tart cutting tomatoes (which I didn’t quite like).

2013-07-31 09.48.34

Main #5 Texture: Homard Bleu/ “Airy” Gnocchi/ St Jacques Creme Anglaise (5/5)

For me, the first 5/5 cooked dish of the night. St Jacques Creme Anglaise, which is a “creme anglaise” made from scallop and olive oil, was paired with one-ingredient potato gnocchi, 100% made of potato (no flour, no egg), with blue lobster lightly roasted, that had a great crunchiness. Technically excellent cooking. The gnocchi melting in the mouth and was on the verge of disintegration. This was superb.

How did chef cook his 1-ingredient gnocchi?

2013-07-31 10.04.37Main #6 Unique: Barigoule Artichokes/ Granny Smith Apple Kisu/ Olives/ Tomato Confit (4.75/5)

Technically excellent crisped Kisu (a Japanese fish) rolls, in an extra-acidic wine sauce. This is a barigoule, “a traditional Provençal dish of artichokes braised with onions, garlic and carrots in a seasoned broth of wine and water”. The Japanese needlefish was seared on the outside, and then stuffed with its own tartare.

2013-07-31 10.19.38

Main #7 Memory: Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis (5/5)

Andre manages to make the foie gras jelly with a skin on top, which a wooden spoon gently pierces. Very rustic, and incredible dish. Julian Teoh has a great paragraph on this dish -

Chiang invented this dish back in the 1990s with the Pourcels, and it has been on his menus ever since in some shape or form (see the foie gras photo above).  I had it many times at Jaan and loved it always.  The gelée seems warmer than from what I recall of the Jaan version, and the coulis seemed more runny and there’s more of it; presumably the old thicker version was meant to envelope the morels.  This version is lighter and more pared back and, I think, works better as part of a multi-course tasting as a result.  Truffles are from Perigord, Marhoul tells me, and is a very rare (perhaps the only?) exception to Chiang’s obsession with seasonality.  As a signature dish, it needs to be on the menu all year, so during the off-season (like now), they are made from frozen specimens.”

2013-07-31 10.39.38

Main #8 Terroir: Canard de Challans/ Braised Mustard Seeds/ Charcoaled Baby Leeks. (5/5)

A marvelous crisp croquette with a meaty interior, accompanying the famous (and perfectly roasted Challans duck). Leek ash added an interesting burnt sweetness to the dish. Presented in the traditional Andre yin-yang style, the jus from the meat completing the shape of mousse below.

2013-07-31 10.57.32

Pre-dessert #1: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Eucalyptus

A refreshing dessert. Pam told us that eucalyptus represented the spa, but I’m pretty sure she was joking.

2013-07-31 11.06.45

Pre-dessert #2: Wild Berry Shaved Ice/ Honey/ Fig

Another refreshing dessert. This was my first indication that chef Andre had picked up some molecular techniques between 2011 and 2013. Perhaps this is down to Japanese chef pâtissier Makito Hiratsuka who has worked at the avant-garde El Bulli, and El Celler de Can Roca

For comparison, the pre-dessert in 2011 was Wild Strawberries with Marshmallow in Ice.

2013-07-31 11.21.34

Dessert: Snickers 2013 (4.5/5)

While a very good dessert and rendition of the Snickers taste, this 2013 edition of Snickers has the soil-syndrome, where the soil-texture can sometimes make eating a spoonful of Snickers seem like anonymous sweetness. The kitchen has a much more powerful rendition of this dish called “Crystal Snickers” (see next meal).

2013-07-31 11.31.442013-07-31 11.31.58

  1. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  2. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  3. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups
  4. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow (not pictured, but will be shown in next meal)
  5. French Earl Grey Crystalline

A lovely bunch of mignardises to end the meal. The white chocolate sangria chupa chups are very, very good.

A technically excellent meal. There are about seven main variables to a restaurant Andre meal (the six Octaphilosophy elements besides Pure, which depends on the seasonal incredients, and Memory, which is always foie gras chawanmushi, plus dessert). In those seven main variables, I felt that two (Texture: one-ingredient gnocchi with blue lobster, and Terroir: Challans duck) really hit the heights.

_______________

Octaphilosophy Menu 10/08/2013

  1. Popcorn & Vanilla
  2. Lobster Sandwich
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy
  6. Pure: Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis
  7. Salt: “Conch” (salt without salt) Oyster Ice Cream/ Granny Smith Apple Espuma/ Seaweed Salad/ Sea Coral
  8. Artisan: Braised Aubergine/ Cockscomb/ Crispy Duck Tongues
  9. Texture: Kelp risotto/ Seafood on Arrival/ Swiss Chard Crispy
  10. South: Smoked basil cappellini with bottarga/ Warm Toro Vinaigrette/ Toasted Baby Eel Persillade
  11. Unique: Potato Salad/ Scallop Ravioli/ Sea Urchin/ Truffle Apple Chiffonade
  12. Memory: Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis
  13. Terroir: Pork Belly cooked in Butter/ Spelt/ Apricot Ragout/ Broccoli Mousse.
  14. Pre-dessert #1: “Ispahan” Lychee Nata de Coco Jelly/ Rose Espuma/ Freeze-dried raspberries
  15. Pre-dessert #2: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Lychee Shots
  16. Pre-dessert #3: (what you see is what you get) Melon Soup/ Muscat Grapes/ Bitter Almond
  17. Dessert: Crystal Snickers
  18. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  19. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  20. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups
  21. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow
  22. French Earl Grey Crystalline

2013-08-10 07.52.39

  1. Popcorn & Vanilla
  2. Lobster Sandwich
  3. Potato Bravas
  4. “Fish and Chips”
  5. Porcini Crispy

I felt similarly about this as a week earlier. I appreciated the still-crunchy texture of the lobster roll (literal roll), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the amaebi prawn head (all crisped up and ready to go) served well as a spoon for Chef’s delicious chocolate garlic soil (5/5).

2013-08-10 08.02.19

Main #1 “Pure” – Seafood on Arrival/Wild Herbs/Kelp Coulis (5/5)

Clockwise from 6 o’clock: Homard Bleu Lobster, cucumber hat, abalone (?) + pickled onion (?), red cabbage puree (?),

cucumber core cylinder, the rest of the amaebi prawn + Japanese chive, smoked rock fish??? + herb???, smoked mussel

Centre: Kelp coulis with hay-smoked bouchot mussel

Pure is Andre’s unseasoned and uncooked dish. The textures went perfectly with each other, and the quenelle of cream in the centre was great.

2013-08-10 08.18.01

Main #2 “Salt” – “Conch” (salt without salt) Oyster Ice Cream/ Granny Smith Apple Espuma/ Seaweed Salad/ Sea Coral (5/5)

This is one of Restaurant Andre’s great dishes. It was introduced by Stepan Marhoul, restaurant Andre’s manager. Oyster ice cream, which has to be made with the flesh of firmer oysters and not the creamier ones, was perfectly cold and tasted of the cold, salty sea. Underneath the oyster ice cream, which had a firm texture, was a small oyster. Green apple, which seems to be one of the kitchen’s favorite ingredients, is here a foam, set beside the ice cream. Served on an oyster shell in a bed of coral salt. A very tricky and technically perfect dish.

Comparison: It had one major advantage over the oyster tartare version of Salt (“Salt A”) on my previous meal. I felt that since  the foam and the ice cream (“Salt B”) were of similar textures, they mixed better together and had the flavor combination that the kitchen was aiming for. With the oyster tartare, the foam did not taste as strongly, and my hypothesis is that it was because the green apple foam goes down the throat much faster than the oyster tartare, which is slowly chewed, so the ingredients didn’t a chance to mix flavours too much.

2013-08-10 08.27.14Main #3 “Artisan” - Braised Aubergine/ Cockscomb/ Crispy Duck Tongues (5/5)

An eggplant terrine which my knife went through like melted butter, and yet preserved structural right-angled integrity, with crisp roasted duck tongues that had internal taste of foie gras, and a crisp roasted texture that formed a salty, fatty skin around melt-in-the-mouth tongues, sandwiching chopped cockscomb. Impressive cooking technique for the eggplant, and the duck tongues. I loved this dish.

On the right: Deep fried burdock root on a smoked eggplant root. A great accompaniment.

Where does Chef Andre get these duck tongues?

2013-08-10 08.43.58

Main #4 “Texture” - Kelp risotto/ Seafood on Arrival/ Swiss Chard Crispy (5/5)

Dehydrated sea kelp, risotto at a right and hearty warm-hot temperature. Citrus coulis?. Seared seabass and dehydrated kelp. An inviting dish which I’ll confess to wolfing down.

2013-08-10 09.03.25 2013-08-10 09.03.18 2013-08-10 09.03.22Main #5 “South” –  Smoked basil cappellini with bottarga/ Warm Toro Vinaigrette/ Toasted Baby Eel Persillade 

(5/5 for cappellini)

Andre consistently takes a two-dish approach to South, representing Acidity, Colour and Generosity. I’ve talked about the coral plate, so I’ll mention that the smoked basil capellini had a texture like QQ-wonton mee. It went deliciously with bottarga, which I was told is similar to bonito shavings in Japan. The vinaigrette was made from tuna belly drippings. A hearty noodle.

Left: Lychee yuzu sorbet with tomato and hamachi; Right: Cappellini broccoli sauce, oil drippings from roasting toro made into a vinaigrette

2013-08-10 09.27.19 2013-08-10 09.28.45Main #6 “Unique” – Potato Salad/ Scallop Ravioli/ Sea Urchin/ Truffle Apple Chiffonade (5/5)

Served on a hot stone, this dish was newly created by the kitchen. A warm ball of potato topped with shaved scallop and sea urchin. Contrasted well with green apple matchsticks (chiffonade) and St Jacques Creme Anglais (a scallop sauce). Served on a warm hearty stone.

I accidentally didn’t take photos of the full-dish (it looked too delicious), but this dish tasted and looked masterful. You’ll just have to imagine four risotto balls orbiting a pool of St Jacques creme Anglaise. The cloud of potato melted in my mouth with the shaved scallop remaining, the sourness of green apple complementing the uni and scallop.

2013-08-10 09.34.31

Main #7 “Memory” – Warm Foie Gras Jelly with Perigord Black Truffle Coulis (5/5)

As always, incredible. Love the film on the foie gras jelly.

2013-08-10 09.47.34Main #8 “Terroir” – Pork Belly cooked in Butter/ Spelt/ Apricot Ragout/ Broccoli Mousse. (4.75/5)

This course was the sledge-hammer of the meal. I began to feel really full from this point onwards. The pork, was perfectly roasted, but was a bit tasteless in the middle (the white bit). The broccoli mousse makes a reprise from the smoked basil cappellini. What was most fascinating was the spelt + red quinoa + apricot granola in the middle. It was an inspired mix of cooked and roasted spelt, and roasted red quinoa. It looked and tasted like an ancient cereal gruel.

2013-08-10 09.59.26Pre-dessert #1: “Ispahan” Lychee Nata de Coco Jelly/ Rose Espuma/ Freeze-dried raspberries (5/5)

Andre’s tribute to Pierre Herme’s famous Ispahan pastry. Three different textures – crunchy freeze dried raspberries (simulating the macaron layer), rose foam (simulating the rose cream) and lychee nata de coco (simulating the lychee fruit) combined. Whimsical and imaginative.

2013-08-10 10.07.03 Pre-dessert #2: (to refresh) Apple/ Fennel/ Cucumber Sorbet/ Lychee Shots 

A pre-dessert to refresh – very light and palate cleansing.

2013-08-10 10.13.15Pre-dessert #3: (what you see is what you get) Melon Soup/ Muscat Grapes/ Bitter Almond (4.5/5)

A dish that doesn’t hide its flavors from you. A technically well executed dish, especially the pretty jelly of sliced muscat grapes.

2013-08-10 10.23.43Dessert: Crystal Snickers (5/5)

A thin, hard sugar containing all elements of the snickers bar. Brought to life by Makito Hiratsuka. It was the concentrated essence of a snickers bar in a crystal ball.

Food: André’s cooking is an expression of his skills and his training.  His much-vaunted Octaphilosophy is not so much a statement of intent as a statement of who he is as a person and a chef, and there rests the fine distinction between hubris and sincerity (I hurry to add that Chiang falls on the right side of that line).  The eight spokes of Octaphilosophy each represent a savoury course, but with the addition of Japanese chef pâtissier Makito Hiratsuka, whose CV is almost as star-studded as his boss’ (El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, Paco Torreblanca), desserts are now given an ­avant-garde twist. – Julian Teoh

 

2013-08-10 10.34.07 2013-08-10 10.34.10

  1. Mignardises: “Popcorn” Chocolate
  2. Amarena Cherry Madeleine
  3. Strawberry Sangria Chupa Chups (not pictured)
  4. Coffee Licorice Marshmallow
  5. French Earl Grey Crystalline

Same as Wednesday, except the Earl Grey Crystalline was warm and crisp on both sides of the candy, which made it better. Strawberry Sangria chupa chups was as delicious as before. If the kitchen ever decides to sell the white chocolate strawberry sangria Chupa Chups, I know I would buy them.

One of the best meals I have ever eaten, this meal featured the kitchen at the height of its powers. Of the seven main variables to a restaurant Andre meal I talked about (the six Octaphilosophy elements besides Pure, which depends on the seasonal incredients, and Memory, which is always foie gras chawanmushi, plus dessert), all of them were amazing and memorable in some way or other.

_______________

Conclusion: Andre can be a hit-or-slightly-miss affair, but when it is a hit, it is a jackpot. You’ll always get a technically excellent meal, but subject yourself to Chef Andre’s whims and magic can happen.

Verdict (31/07/13): 16/20

Verdict (10/08/13): 19.5/20

Memory: Challans Duck, Blue Lobster with 1-ingredient gnocchi, Undersea Forest Oyster Tartare, Oyster Ice Cream, Eggplant Terrine and Crisp Duck Tongue, Dehydrated Kelp Risotto, Potato Salad with Scallop, Andre’s tribute to Ispahan, Crystal Snickers

6 Responses to “Restaurant André | Singapore | 31/07/13 and 10/08/13 | “octaphilosophy””

  1. Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow August 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    If you read carefully, the postmodern unphotographable plating was one of the reasons we liked the place–plus the sentence is a reference to TS Eliot and Chet Baker. :) The reason we didn’t like it was because of the taste of the food.

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