Archive | August, 2013

Burnt Ends | Singapore | Aug ’13 | “850 degrees Celsius”

24 Aug
Address: 20 Teck Lim Road Singapore 088391

Number: 6224 3933

Cooking with fats is not the only way to maximize flavor. The Japanese intensify flavor by aging, cooking over a wood-burning fire, or using a pure umami-rich dashi broth. Adam Goldberg, A Life Worth Eating

Building on Pynt’s pop-up BBQ concept – Burnt Enz – at East London in the summer of 2012, the Singapore incarnation  (aptly named Burnt Ends) puts the spotlight on what Pynt described as a “4 tonne double cavity wood-burning machine” – a custom-built brick kiln with 2 cavities (each capable of a different temperature setting) where apple and almond wood fuels the fire that tips 700+ degree Celsius in temperature. – Bibikgourmand.

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Burnt Ends is a one-of-a-kind barbecue place in Singapore, offering the most sophisticated barbecuing facilities on this island. With great ventilation (I sat less than 5m from a 850 centigrade oven and barely felt any warmth), this small establishment is always packed. There are only 17 seats at the bar, 6-8 seats at a banquet table, and another 6 seats at a countertop stool. It is run by a Perth native, David Pynt, who was a former sous-chef at Asador Extebarri, ranked by San Pellegrino as one of the World’s 50 Best restaurants.

Chinatown (and more specifically the Bukit Pasoh) now plays host to a range of high-concept eateries. This is in large part due to Loh Lik Peng, the New Majestic Hotel owner, who has invested and partnered with leading chefs such as Andre Chiang, Jason Atherton, and now David Pynt – to set up places such as Restaurant Andre, Esquina and Keong Saik snacks, among others. To think that 5 years ago, Chinatown had none of these places! No wonder they say a restaurant is the quickest way to gentrify an area.

Burnt Ends also now does lunch from 1130 to 2, and they have a banquet table (minimum 100/person spend). Reservations can be made for the first seatings at 6-630pm.

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Whopping fish (for the banquet table)

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Warmed Oysters (4.5/5)

Oysters, served on a bed of salt, in a citrusy marinade. Slightly warmed for a minute, great “amuse-bouche”.

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Smoked Quail Eggs (4.25/5)

Strong taste of smoke in the whites of these quail eggs. These are perceived as Burnt Ends “signature dish”, so they prepare many of these at a time. They came a bit cold, with runny yolk, and salt sprinkled on them. Decent but not amazing.

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Squid, Sweetcorn and Paprika (4.75/5)

Nice fresh semi-translucent squid. A paprika I wanted to finish off the plate, with slightly roasted kernels of corn that were still juicy. The charred spring onion had a delicious sweet interior. (Restaurant Andre works with similar ingredients in similar ways, a roasted corn kernel in Artisan #1 (figure A), and charred leek (figure B))

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Figure A

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Figure B

Now, back to Burnt Ends!

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St Marcellin and Toast (4.75/5)

St Marcellin has been one of my favorite cheeses ever since I tried it in a Lyon bouchon. My ideal St Marcellin is runny, mild but funky in taste, and only a little spicy from the mold. This St Marcellin (sourced from the Culina distributor) had the right amount of spiciness, and it was roasted and finished in the oven. The smokiness on the cheese rind went well with the toast.

If you go to Lyon, you’ll find Saint Marcellin pretty much everywhere. It’s the best-known cheese from that region, and the user friendly-sized disks are inevitably piled high at each and every cheese shop you step in to. Locals bake them at home and slide the warm disks onto salads, and I’ve not been to a restaurant in that city that didn’t have Saint Marcellin on the menu doing double-duty as the cheese or the dessert course. Or both. At the outdoor market stands, you can see how popular they are withles Lyonnais. And if you don’t believe me, their presence is so pervasive that I once bought a ticket on the bus in Lyon and instead of change, the driver handed me a ripe Saint Marcellin instead. – David Lebovitz.

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Veal Tongue, Mustard and Beer Pickles (5/5)

I wanted to get the most skill-ful barbecue dishes that was in that restaurant, so I asked the front of house: “what’s your most complex dish?” I was directed to the veal tongue. Roasted and soaked for 6 hours to tenderise, and then roasted, this veal tongue had the texture of soft sponge. It was accompanied by a delectable salad of pickles and veggies with mustard sauce.

2013-08-22 09.13.59

Banana and Caramel (4/5)

Very sweet caramel ice cream with a well-roasted banana.

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Burnt Ends is an unique addition to the Singapore dining scene. Judging by the packed house, it’ll be here for some time yet! The barbecue was skillful, and I enjoyed it very much.

Verdict: 16/20

Memory: Veal Tongue, St Marcellin and Toast.

Nihonryori Ryugin | Tokyo | 04/06/13 | “molecular kaiseki”

19 Aug
  • Address: Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor, 7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032
  • Number: +81-3-3423-8006
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $260
  • Courses: (12 main/14 total) 10 savory / 2 palate cleanser / 2 dessert /
  • Price/Main Course: $22
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 133 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 9.5 minutes
  • Chef: Seiji Yamamoto (Aoyagi, Tokushima)
  • Style: Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 3

Reservation available time : 11:30am-6:00pm

Ryugin popped on my radar when Chef Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Los Angeles) mailed me a DVD of Yamamoto performing cooking tricks that resembled a hybrid of Homaro Cantu’s (Moto, Chicago) high-tech-ery and Adoni Aduriz’s (Mugartiz, a favorite of mine) more organic approach. Indeed, as I did more research, I learned that Yamamoto and Aduriz were great friends, citing each other as influences and inspiration. The food at Mugaritz has an underlying Asian twist and it is possible to see how the two could find common ground to push each other further.3 A few inquiries found that, while experimental, Ryugin still had the Japanese attention to ingredient quality. The restaurant seemed to be at the forefront of an Eastern response to the largely Spanish molecular gastronomy “movement.” – ChuckEats on Ryugin.

Recently, I was staying in Tokyo for 6 days, and came in without a single booking for any restaurant. On a lazy Tuesday night, I managed to get a same-night table at the kaiseki (Japanese multi-course) specialists Ryugin. Weeknight tables are easier to get, since a great deal of fine dining is consumed by the professional class, which makes Friday-Sunday the busy days.

Ryugin is the brainchild of chef Seiji Yamamoto, who specialises in updating the traditional Japanese set-meal “kaiseki” with the latest molecular techniques, in what might be dubbed “molecular kaiseki”. Chef Yamamoto has been known to make burdock root corks for faux-wine, and his famous 196 degree series of fruit desserts involve some molecular trickery. The restaurant is located in gaijin work-and-play area, Roppongi Hills, and Chef Yamamoto has in the mean-time opened a branch serving the same innovative “molecular kaiseki” cuisine in Hong Kong.

Fiercely colourful crockery line the tables, in an intimate 26-seater restaurant, which is done is an classic black Japanese style, (similar to the l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon colour-scheme.)  It is ranked #2 in Asia for 2013 by San Pellegrino, just behind The Creations of Narisawa.

(In spite of the tongue-in-cheek title, liquid nitrogen was only used once, for one of the desserts. The meal was still focused on (and achievable with) traditional cooking techniques, with premium ingredients)

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Summer Menu 2013

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(cold) Grilled Corn Small Egg Custard with Fresh Sea Urchin and Fragrance of 3 varieties of Onions (5/5)

A simple pairing of egg custard and uni (sweet). 3 types of onions refer to green onion flowers (pictured), fried onion (brown bits pictured), diced onion (the white cubes). Showcased delicate raw sweet smell of spring onions without the bitterness.

2013-06-04 08.25.212013-06-04 08.25.00 (hot) Seasonal Vegetables with Pine Nuts dressing. Array of Flavors and Textures in one plate. (4.75/5)

“30 kinds of vegetables”. The salad, with crunchy vinegared bamboo shoots, pine-nuts, cucumber, savory green paste, mushrooms, was an upscale of an form of Asian vegetable medley. The salad tasted intensely of mushrooms and bamboo, and clearly labour-intensive. (as with Michel Bras’s gargouillou, and Alain Passard’s one-leaf-at-a-time approach to salads)

In Singapore, a similar dish called  盆菜 “pen cai” is made with tons of fungus and beehoon.

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(cold) Simmered Summer Vegetables and Cold Shabu-Shabu Beef with Kinome flavor (5/5)

The shabu-shabu tasted delicate and beefy, and falling-off tender. The jelly is made from boiling bonito fish, and lended a umami flavor to the dish. Blue Eggplant underneath the shabu-shabu, was from the Yokohama region. The star of the dish was kinome, leaves of the Japanese Ash (AKA Szechuan Peppercorn). Imagine lemongrass, but without the acrid lime taste. If lemongrass’s sourness can be a sawtooth wave, kinome resembles more a gentle sine wave. This was one of my favourite courses. Harmoniously composed.

(By comparison, the next night, at Tapas Molecular Bar, the beef was tender by virtue of pounding into submission wagyu beef with nitrous oxide for 6 hours.)

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(hot) Ichiban Dashi Soup. Pike Eel with Egg Plant stuffed inside in Summer Presentation (3.5/5)

The eggplant is folded within the pike eel. The pike eel was largely tasteless and flaky (so I guess I was to focus on its texture), the eggplant sweet; together they went well. I was told to eat before it disintegrates, since the geometric folding would not last long in the soup.

Alas! Given my inexpert chopstick handling, as well as the size of the morsel (two normal chopsticks full), they went together for 2 bites at most. This is a cutlery conundrum, calling for a new variant – gentle spatula tongs.

But a more experienced epicure educates:

There is no ingredient that tests the knife skills of a chef more than hamo, pike conger eel, which has rows of tiny coarse bones that are impossible to remove. Only an experienced chef with superior knife skills can perform honegiri (which means ‘bone cutting’ in Japanese), a process of making precise incisions into the bones without cutting through the skin or destroying the flesh. When a properly incised piece of hamo is blanched in hot water, it should blossom like a chrysanthemum flower with perfectly even sections, and create a light and fluffy texture. The hamo by Chef Yamamoto at Ryugin was the most perfect demonstration of hamo workmanship that I have seen to date. It was stuffed with sweet caramelized kamo-nasu eggplant and served in a wonderful bonito ichiban dashi. – Tomostyle

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The revelation of the dish was the water shield, or mugwortfrom the soup. This gelatinous herb is called “gin sai” or water shield. It’s crunchy inside and jello outside, like a natural red ruby (Thai dessert), which has a crunchy chestnut core surrounded by flour.2013-06-04 08.54.322013-06-04 08.54.48

(cold) Today’s Array of Ocean’s Delicacy. RyuGin style (5/5)

Clockwise from 8 o’clock:
1. Squid and prawn in Japanese soy sauce.
2. Lightly smoked bonito with Japanese mustard.
3. Flatfish with lemon juice.
4. Roasted potato stems with seaweed [texture of bai cai, seaweed umami]
5. Squid and seaweed.

Center:
6. Abalone and Crab Salad

Excellent.

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(hot) RyuGin’s famous Summer Dish: Swimming Ayu fish Grilled over Charcoal with Bamboo Aroma (5/5)

Ayu is a Japanese river fish; they were grilled in swimming position. Sauce is watermelon-pepper. (Ayu has a bittersweet part in its head, which I am told is the source of a watermelon flavour in the head). Advised to eat from crunchy head (w/o sauce) to crunchy tail (w/ sauce). Fantastic in conception and the fish were expertly grilled. The watermelon flavour in the ayu is a sort of bitter-sweet.

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Cherry pickled with ginger

Palate refresher. I am quite full at this point.

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Simmered preparation in Luxurious presentation – Soft Simmered Octopus – Simmered Abalone – Shrimp Ball and Green Peas (4.75/5)

Technically expert simmering with a winter melon piece draped over it.

The deviation from Chinese simmering technique came from the green peas! Crunchy like slightly simmered water chestnut. (“wakamame” peas?)

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Pork Neck Grilled on Charcoal and Straw Smoked with Wild Honey Soy Sauce and Mustard (5/5)

Pork neck was fatty and delicious.
Young corn had its thinking cap on.

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(hot) Pike Eel Scramble Eggs over the Rice Cooked from the Pike Eel Broth. Miso Soup and Pickles. (3.5/5)

Rice was unspectacular, but the pickled sardines were very good.

2013-06-04 09.47.12Refresher

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(off-menu) Chicken Rice Ball

Very fragrant. You can see the many herbs that went into it.

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Refresher2013-06-04 10.10.29

hmm…

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I broke it with a tap of my spoon… (on instructions) 2013-06-04 10.10.56

(cold) (hot) Roppongi’s special. Small piece of Ripe Mango. (5/5) !!!

oh!

A delicate bijou (of mild-tasting sugar?) coloured and shaped to look like a mango, containing freeze-dried mango powder, is broken by the diner and afterwards mixed with warm mango poured into the diner’s plate. This is the signature minus-196 degree dessert from RyuGin, which has been used for apples and peaches too, among others. (minus 196 is the boiling point of liquid nitrogen).

spectacular.

EDIT: here’s a video that goes into the complicated process of making one of these: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/07/05/watch-how-to-make-one-of-japans-elite-restaurants-desserts/

2013-06-04 10.16.28

(hot) (cold) Baked Ginjou Sake Oyuki Souffle, and Feathery Soft Served Ice Cream (5/5)

The premium sake souffle tasted like premium sake, which is the highest compliment I can give this dish. (and it goes all the way down into the base of the box).

Ryugin keeps getting better and better, living up to its promotion to 3 Michelin stars. Chef Seiji Yamamoto runs a tight ship at his Roppongi restaurant where the service and the courses seem to flow effortlessly. A recent revisit was right up there as one of the best meals of my life, and the highlight for me was their autumn harvest sake dessert. I went back and forth with my spoon, enjoying both the silkiness of the cold amazake soft serve and the warm fluffiness (and such enticing aromas!) of the sake soufflé. The juxtaposition of temperatures and textures was both pure genius and pure pleasure. – Tomostyle

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Matcha

Very bitter Japanese green tea, palate cleansing and bracing. The sequence of dishes is brought full circle; I am again ejected into the starry Tokyo night.

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My general thoughts on Ryugin:

  • Very theatrical. Most theatrical being the roasted swimming Ayu (river fish), and the Minus-196 Mango.
  • Their eggplants are very good.
  • Water shield, and kinome are herbs that should be used more often.
  • Bonito, which formed the base of the shabu-shabu jelly, is very versatile (dried bonito flakes are often used in Japanese home-cooking).

What I was impressed with was the high standard of imagination in every dish. Seiji Yamamoto has a perfectionist streak, and it shows in the plating and presentation of every dish. A beautiful dinner.

Verdict: 20/20

Memory: Uni Custard, Shabu-Shabu in Bonito Jelly, Swimming Ayu, Grilled Pork Neck, Minus-196 Mango, and Sake Souffle.

Jean-Georges | New York | 27/05/13 | “clean flavour combinations”

16 Aug
Address: 1 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023
Phone: (212) 299-3900
This was my second visit to Jean-Georges. The first was a birthday visit a couple of years ago. I think of Jean-Georges as a restaurant emphasising nice clean flavours, French with a little Asian twist. There are few surprises here, the kitchen is not a risk-taking one. The exception in this meal was an unusual foie-gras-cherry-granola dish! Dishes are generally made to emphasise a combination of 2-3 flavours. Desserts generally fall short of the standards of the main courses.
The egg-caviar here (which I didn’t have this time) is a 5/5 dish, one I would recommend. It is a variation on the chaud-froid theme for eggs (scrambled eggs with cold vodka cream and caviar). Here, you can watch Jean-Georges prepare it.

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Amuse-bouche: Pea-cream, vegetable sushi and vegetable shake.

The most memorable was the pea-cream. I still haven’t had a good vegetable sushi (including l’Arpege).

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Sea Scallops, Caramelized Cauliflower, Caper-Raisin Emulsion (4.75/5)

Memorable. Caper-raisin emulsion an inspired pairing.

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Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Black Bread, Jalapeño and Yuzu (4.75/5)

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Sea Trout and Oyster Tartar, Lemon, Horseradish and Chive (5/5)

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Diver Scallop Carpaccio, Sea Beans, Green Chilies and Spring Herbs (4.25/5)

Too spicy.

2013-05-28 02.54.48

Yellowfin Tuna Ribbons, Avocado and Spicy Radish, Ginger Marinade (4.25/5)

In spite of this being a JG specialty, I’m not enamoured with the soy-ginger marinade, which to this Asian palate was one-dimensional salt.

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Warm Asparagus Salad, Hollandaise, Truffle Vinaigrette (3.5/5)

Too much lemon. Unfortunately the Provencal Asparagus was overshadowed by the sourness.

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Foie Gras Brulée, Dried Sour Cherries, Candied Pistachios, and White Port Gelee (5/5)

Spectacular. An unusual pairing of foie-gras, and the all-American breakfast, cherry granola. A dish to live in the memory.

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Seared Gulf Shrimp with Baby Artichokes, Lemon Fennel Emulsion and Paprika Oil (4.25/5)

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Salt and Pepper Sweetbreads, Sweet Chili Emulsion, Pea Shoots and Golden Garlic (3.5/5)

I didn’t like the licorice braised sweetbreads, it was a bit tasteless to me.

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Steamed Cod with Potato-Leek Puree and Clams with Green Chili (4.5/5)

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Black Sea Bass Crusted with Nuts and Seeds, Sweet and Sour Jus (4.5/5) 2013-05-28 03.50.03 2013-05-28 04.02.49

Chocolate: 35%, 40%, 64%, 66%, 70%, 100% (4.25/5)

Jean-Georges 2013 edition for Chocolate. In case you’re wondering, those numbers describe the chocolate content of the items on the plate. The 100% is the black drizzle on the bottom. Jean-Georges makes a homely (and great) chocolate cake, but the other components were dry and cake-y.

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Citrus: Fresh and Candied Citrus Salad, Riesling Gelee and Buddha’s Head Snow Ginger Cake, Mandarin Gel, Olive Oil and Mandarin Powder (4.25/5)

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Caramel: Black Pepper Creme Caramel, Hazelnut Sponge, Crunchy Praline, Milk Chocolate Cream (4.25/5)2013-05-28 04.03.32

Rhubarb: Orange Flower Yogurt, Almond Crumble, Spiced Rhubarb Compote, Alsatian Rhubarb Tart, Basil and Rhubarb Puree (4.5/5)

2013-05-28 04.03.45 2013-05-28 04.03.59_____________

Conclusion: Jean-Georges is where I would go to in NYC for a no-nonsense French meal. The mains are generally technically excellent, and the early seafood courses (not the mains) are prepared to a high level of sophistication. One does not find a great deal of innovation here, and this may be due to Jean-Georges status as one of the linchpin fine-dining restaurants in NYC – customers expect good French cooking, innovation comes at a bonus. Therefore innovation is a bit lacking here. (It is a similar situation with Paul Bocuse’s 3 star Michelin restaurant in Lyon, which is also not known for innovation). I was taken most with the more unusual dishes – black bread with uni, foie gras cherry granola, and oyster salmon tartare.

Verdict: 16/20

Memory: black bread with uni, foie gras cherry granola, and oyster salmon tartare.

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)

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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.

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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.

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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

L’Arpège | Paris | 24/12/12 | “the genius of vegetables”

12 Aug
  • Address: 84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
  • Phone: +33 1 47 05 09 06
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $190
  • Courses: (9 main/13 total) 3 amuse / 8 savory / 1 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $21
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 140 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 10.5 minutes
  • Chef: Alain Passard (ex. L’Archestrate (Alain Senderens) which is now the location of l’Arpege, Le Duc d’Enghien)
  • Style: Vegetable-focused / Minimalist
  • Michelin Stars: 3
  • Favorite Dishes: Celerisotto, Millefeuille, Cevennes Onion-Truffle Gratin
  • Notable: Considered the best vegetable restaurant in the world. Passard has three specialty vegetable farms throughout France, each with their own climate and soil conditions.
Alain Passard inspires a great love from food writers. The list of fawners stretches from such blogging luminaries as Andy Hayler, ChuckEats, foodsnob etc., to mainstream food critics like the Sunday Telegraph’s A. A. Gill, to Hedone‘s Mikael Jonsson (formerly blogging at Gastroville). Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame) claims that Passard can make veggies “scream”.
This entire post by foodsnob on l’Arpege is some of the best food writing I have ever encountered anywhere.

In January 2001, Alain Passard made the headlines, having declared that ‘my menu will be entirely and exclusively dedicated to vegetables’. His decision was motivated mainly by personal choice, but in part by health concerns too (mad cow disease had reached France the previous year). The chef, having spent thirty years establishing himself as a maître rôtisseur, admitted that he ‘didn’t take any pleasure any more in eating meat’ and that ‘blood and animal flesh’ had stopped being a source of inspiration. The situation became so serious that Passard spent an entire year away from his kitchen, only setting foot in the restaurant to eat. ‘I no longer wanted to be in a daily relationship with the corpse of an animal. I had a moment when I took a roast out into the dining room and the reality struck me that every day I was struggling to have a creative relationship with a corpse, a dead animal. And I could feel inside me the weight and the sadness of the cuisine animale.’

Vegetables were his salvation. He needed new motivation and found it by replacing the raw materials with which he moiled, ‘like an artist who works in watercolours and turns his hand to oils or a sculptor in wood who changes to bronze’. The colours, flavours and perfumes of greens, herbs and flowers appealed to and stimulated him; more to the point, they changed his life. ‘All the terrible nervousness and bad temper that are so much part of the burden of being a chef were gone with the old cooking. I entered into a new relation to my art, but also to my life. And the lightness of what I was doing began to enter my body and my entire existence and it entered into the existence of the kitchen. It was like a light that I saw and a door that I walked through’.

The restaurant itself resides near the prime minister’s offices and government ministries, on a quiet street, opposite the Musée Rodin. Without, it is non-descript and unadorned save some flowery script that spells out l’Arpège, but within, the dining room is warm and comfortable. Rich browns and earthy oranges dominate; pear wood panels line the interior; and a dog-eared, burgundy carpet covers the floor. Music is Passard’s second love and the melodious insinuation suggested in the restaurant’s title is maintained by the motif inside: handmade Lalique pâtes de verre, inspired by the carriages of the Orient Express and inset along the far wall, depict Pan playing the flute whilst frolicking with two naked nymphs (images mimicked on menu covers); an abstract split cello sculpture by Arman sits in one corner; a coarsely-carved wooden guitar grows out the serving station; and, upon Bernard Pictet windows, etched waves ripple. This undulating design is also incorporated into Jean-Christophe Plantrou’s peau de poirier panelling and Massacar ebony furniture pieces. Rich, red leather upholstered chrome seats andchariots as well as the various bucolic bibelots such as large desiccated gourds or little twig bundles that rest upon tables, play on art déco principles. The only presence on the room’s walls is the nineteen-thirties/forties portrait of Louise Passard, which watches over the ‘chef’s chair’. White linen tabletops are dressed with bright red cover plates, Bernaudaud crockery, Christofle cutlery and customised glassware inscribed ‘Fabrique pour Alain Passard’.”

ChuckEats –

“As I’ve written before, L’Arpege can be hit or miss. At its best, it is the pinnacle of modern fine dining – excellent ingredients whose natural qualities are emphasized to unbelievable heights. There is a balance, precision, and purity of flavor – not new taste combinations or culinary technique from the future. When it is performing at this level, it is a contemplative and ephemeral cuisine, like poetry.”

There is also a comic book published in 2013 about Alain Passard’s cooking: In The Kitchen with Alain Passard, which I enjoyed very much. Here are some choice words from Alain Passard:

“I want to make people talk about carrots the way they talk about grand crus. Terroir is extremely important for me. We did trials. I asked the guys to plant seeds in three terroirs. The same turnip seeds, for a mauve-and-white turnip. The idea is to see how the produce reacts to different terroirs. In the Sarthe you have sandy soil. In the Manche it’s alluvial soil, and in the Eure it’s clay. Rainfall patterns are different. To see where the plant becomes tastiest and most elegant. The crew sends me turnips from the three terroirs after a few months. I evaluate the color, the look, the smell, the mouthfeel. I cut each one open, observe the texture and the smell. I taste it raw. I taste it cooked, and finally, I taste it like a wine. I put it through the juicer. I sip the turnip juice. And I say, “Ah voila.” It’s the Eure. Because the turnip feels at home there. The Eure produces the prime turnip, the cream of the crop. We test every fruit and vegetable in this way to determine the best place for it. Every vegetable will be a grand cru.

When I was dining recently at Jaan in Singapore, I was having a post-meal chat with Chef Julien Royer about his sensitivity to produce. And it turned out Alain Passard, vegetable maestro, had visited Jaan in November 2012, while he was in Singapore. Singapore also has l’Arpege alumnus Gunther Hubrechsen running his own restaurant Gunther’s.

______________________

At lunch on Christmas Eve 2012, I finally got to dine at l’Arpege. In advance, I will say I found the meal extremely memorable, and the highs were truly magical.

Wine: Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay

2012-12-24 06.24.23

Amuse-bouche #1: les Tartelettes.

A showcase of the sweetness of vegetables.

2012-12-24 06.39.55

Amuse-bouche #2: Beetroot sushi. (4/5)

sushi legumier au raifort – parfum d’arriere saison

The introduction of beetroot sushi is down to Passard’s #2, Anthony Beldroega. A sweet and floral beetroot, then wasabi and vinegared rice. I wasn’t a great fan of this, the wasabi overshadowed the gentle sweetness of the beetroot.

2012-12-24 06.45.21

Amuse-bouche #3: Poached egg yolk with lobster egg roe cream (4.5/5)

l’oeuf fondant a l’ail frais – veloute coraille

Predominating in salt; rich. Not the chaud-froid egg.

2012-12-24 06.51.57

Main #1: Cevennes White Onion Gratin with Black Truffles (5/5)

gratin d’oignon doux des cevennes a la truffe noire – parmigianno reggiano

One of l’Arpege’s signature dishes, this dish blew me away. A Cevennes Saint-Andre White Onion has an delicate sweet flavor. Here they were caramelised to concentrate the sweetness and put in a parmesan gratin, and had a sweet-tangy finish that the mild shaved black truffle did perfectly to complement.

2012-12-24 07.00.13

Main #2: Parsnip, Celeriac cream. Whipped Creme Chantilly. (4.5/5)

soupe veloutee au Speck de la Foret-Noire – panais rutabaga topinambour

Tasting Notes: Tasted like bacon. (Wikipedia’s article on Creme Chantilly/ whipped cream.) I can’t really remember what this tasted like.

2012-12-24 07.08.28

Main #3: Whole roasted beetroot in salt. Mulled wine sauce with vanilla. (4.75/5)

betterave de pleine terre confite au gros sel gris de Guérande – vin chaud du mendiant

The beetroot had almost been colonised by the salt on the exterior, and there was a sweet gradient. The vibrant purple color was (and still is) hypnotic. Colour, Simplicity, Sweet and Salt. A signature l’Arpege dish; beets are a favorite ingredient of Alain Passard.

2012-12-24 07.19.31 2012-12-24 07.19.25

Main #4: “Celerisotto”: Celeriac, Cheddar, horseradish (5/5)

Another signature l’Arpege dish. Celeriac (or celery root) is one of the few  root vegetables with little starch (5-6%) here it was diced into firm and juicy cubes. A dish that is all about texture. Superb.

2012-12-24 07.29.10Main #5: Vegetable couscous, vegetable sausage with Argan oil (5/5)

Jardieniere Arlequin et fin couscous a la l’huile de argan – merguez végétale à l’harissa

A sausage made of beetroot and carrot, the skin made of lamb (the only non-vegetable based ingredient on this plate). Again, highlighting the potential of vegetables. Of the highest quality.

2012-12-24 07.43.13 2012-12-24 07.43.21

Main #6: Smoked beetroot and celery consomme, vegetable ravioli (5/5)

A deep orange smoked consomme, another l’Arpege signature. Again, cooking of the highest order and imagination, with the best vegetables imaginable.

2012-12-24 07.50.52

Main #7: Salad, walnut sauce, parmesan (5/5)

The best salad I have ever had. Sweet as if each leaf was dusted with powdery honey. Each salad is carefully hand-assembled leaf by leaf in the kitchen. (That’s why you pay so much I guess.) Tyler Cowen mentions that great food can be found in Haiti due to low labor costs, allowing labor-intensive food preparation. Here’s the flip-side of the equation – the best salad of your life at European labor costs, which is why l’Arpege puts the smackdown on any diner’s wallet.

2012-12-24 07.45.05 2012-12-24 07.58.05

Main #8: Roasted chicken in hay (3/5)

ecailles ou plumes – reflet de la gourmandise

Here was the big miss of the meal for me. Others have talked about Alain Passard as a master roaster. Unfortunately the chicken here was tough and tasteless. I didn’t finish this dish.

2012-12-24 08.32.35

Cheese: Blue smoked potato with Moelleux du Revard [cow cheese from the Alps] (4/5)

Moelleux du Revard – pommes de terre agria fumées au vieux chêne

Great cheese (from Bernard Antony), but the smoked blue potato was a tad overcooked and starchy.

2012-12-24 08.42.18

Mignardises (5/5)

Celery macaron, carrot macaron, apple tart. brown geranium teardrops. white laurel teardrops, nougat.

Sucrerie – nougat, pate de legume, chocolat, Bouquet de rose

Incredible. The Bouquet of Roses makes a sneak appearance in miniature as the apple tart; carrot macarons and brown geranium teardrops were the other highlights of the dessert tray.

2012-12-24 08.44.32

Dessert: Pear and Vanilla Millefeuille (5/5)

Why do things change? Plato thought it was because the world of appearances is a degenerate plane of existence, separate from the world of abstract Forms. I am happy to report that the Platonic Form is millefeuille has deigned to visit us in our degenerate world, and it is found in l’Arpege. Everyone oohs and aahs over the l’Arpege millefeuille, because it is the best millefeuille on Earth. Incredibly flaky, buttery, light, streaked with caramel. I will remember this for a very long time.

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l’Arpege deserves its reputation at the pinnacle of world restaurants. If you would like to taste the possibilities of vegetables, you must pay a visit to l’Arpege. WIth a sunny and light-kissed dining room, I found l’Arpege’s decor very warm and inviting. According to Adam Goldberg (A Life Worth Eating), lunch service and dinner service at l’Arpege are quite similar, so lunch might be a better sampler option for those who don’t want to burn 400 Euros on one meal.

I dine, partially to experience the creativity of master chefs, who devote their lives to perfecting their craft, partially to form taste-memories of the Gilded Age of cooking. It is the Golden Age of cooking; it is the Gilded Age of food. I left l’Arpege having learnt what it meant for vegetables to be grand crus.

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Memory: Celerisotto, Vegetable Ravioli Consomme, Pear Millefeuille, Salt-Baked Beetroot, Cevennes Onion-Truffle Gratin

Overall Rating: 20/20

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Other write-ups:

  1. Food Snob.

Cheap Eats in Singapore

1 Aug

Earlier last month, I had a request from a friend to discuss some of the better cheap eats in Singapore. It is very possible to find good prepared food on a lower budget (good as measured on an absolute scale), but they tend to be rarer, as the ingredient quality declines and larger amounts of labour are needed to make the food taste as good, ceteris paribus. Luckily, Singapore’s hawker culture (where hawkers cook two-five dishes for many years) tends to encourages expertise among those who aim towards it. Unluckily, it is dying off.

However, I don’t really think all this doom-and-gloom about food-courts replacing hawker-centres is warranted. 50% of the food in a neighbourhood hawker centre is terrible. Scrub-your-mouth-out terrible. You know what I mean: the stringy overcooked chicken that sits limply above your MSG-sweetened chicken rice. The sad dry excuse for char siew that rests below cheerfully lye-drenched-and-dried wonton noodles soaking in a sauce that’s too sweet and too spicy at the same time. The laksa that has so much coconut milk, you’re almost drinking it straight from the can. Kaya toast that has too little kaya, a rubbery you-tiao (dough fritter). Don’t get me started on lor mee, or mee siam. The only thing I’ve eaten that hasn’t been screwed up majorly in some way is probably briyani. At least half of the hawkers exist to provide cheap and edible food first, and taste is an afterthought. That’s fine with me, it just isn’t what I’m looking for. Food courts may not be able to provide that great hawker dish in an old-school hawker centre, but it caters to a (relative to hawker-centre) higher income clientele, which means that the standard of cooking has lower variance around a higher mean, i.e. slightly higher standard overall, but you won’t find your grandfather’s carrot cake there. The opening of a new food court in, say Tampines, is a signal that someone, somewhere, thinks that that region of Tampines has a relatively higher income, a steady-flow of human traffic. A cause for cheer, I’d say.

As Tyler Cowen says in [the Japan chapter of] An Economist Gets Lunch, Economics is all about choice at the margin. So here’s a short list (non-exhaustive) of food I think is very good, and is on the cheaper side.

[None of the pictures below are mine. All credit to Leslie Tay; Camemberu for shooting pictures]

Great Food

1. Hot tau huay from Beancurd City (Little India). Holy! My spoon goes straight through the beancurd! This is the highest level of silky smoothness, I can imagine no smoother. Makes a mockery of Rochor Road tau huay, which is much harder. Apparently this is by the youngest brother of the Rochor Road Family

2. Yue Lai Xiang Cheng Tng (Bedok Corner Food Centre) – cheng tng.

3. Xu Jun Sheng (Joo Chiat Road) – great Teochew cze char. For me the combination of their turnip-omelette and Teochew porridge is sublime

4. Por Kee eating house (Tiong Bahru) – champagne pork ribs. My first post on this blog was about Por Kee. I love their champagne pork ribs; it is sweet-sour in genuinely appetising way.

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5. Mee pok from Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.

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6. Bak Kut Teh at Outram Park Ya Hua is delicious. Slather on the black sauce with chilli.

7. Katong Sin Chew cake shop in Bedok North serves the best, most pillowy and juicy coconut buns in the world. Get them at 3pm when they’ve just baked them. They’ll sell out within the hour. Their kaya cake and red-bean buns are good as well. Sorry, couldn’t find pictures.

Good Food.

  1. Mos Burger Ebi Burger, Mos Burgers anywhere. Great sweet sauce with two warm rice patties and a crunchy prawn patty. A common workday snack for me.
  2. Zhen Zhen Porridge (Maxwell Road Hawker Centre) is very thick. Expect to queue.
  3. Bedok Block 216 – Vegetarian beehoon, but with half beehoon and half mee (fried malay egg noodles). ask for half beehoon and half mee. This was a common childhood breakfast, and I still eat it often on the weekends.
  4. International Nasi Lemak (Changi Village) – nasi lemak.
  5. Tan Tu Tu’s coconut kueh. Try the peanut, and the coconut flavors.
  6. Bengawan Solo’s green pandan crepe wrapping a shredded coconut and gula melaka mixture. Another childhood favorite.
  7. Also, if you’re queueing up at Maxwell Road and Tian Tian is too crowded, you can try Ah Tai chicken rice, which tastes just as good to me. (he is after all, Tian Tian’s old chef). [Don’t get hei-bai (soya bean milk with grass jelly) from the stall opposite; it tastes disgusting.]
  8. Tian Tian chicken rice at Simpang Bedok has better roast chicken than white chicken, surprisingly.
  9. Alex Eating House, near Bugis (if you’re working nearby) has good char siew rice. Nice char.
  10. Ah Loy Thai has a nice Pad Thai. Don’t get the squid though, it’s just drenched in butter.
  11. Din Tai Fung is very consistent. It has the most technically excellent xiaolongbao I’ve tried in Singapore. [Unlike Paradise Dynasty, where the skin tends to sticks to the steamer. I had one xiaolongbao in Paradise Dynasty stick to the steamer and break when I tried to lift it up with my chopsticks. I asked the waiter to change it for an intact one; he kindly obliged. When the replacement came, I lifted it up with my chopsticks. It broke again.]
  12. Sea coconut with lime on ice. Very hard to go wrong with this one, even in a food court.
  13. Green bean soup. Another evergreen.

Fruits

  1. If you’re a fruit fanatic, you can go to Pasir Panjang wholesale centre. There you can get a box of fresh Rainier cherries (when they’re in season), or golden kiwifruits, whatever floats your boat. They’re fresher than at your fruit resaler or your NTUCs.
  2. Donut peaches.
  3. Durian.
  4. Jackfruit.
  5. Red dragonfruit.
  6. If you’ve ever wondered why Japanese grape candy tastes so unlike our grapes, try Kyoho Grapes and your puzzlement shall be dispelled. Japanese grape candy tastes like Kyoho Grapes, and the cheapest Japanese ones I’ve found so far are in Fairprice’s Finest in Somerset ($20 for a bunch)