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Summer Pavilion (Singapore, Feb ’17): incredible dim sum

21 Feb
Summer Pavilion has been my pick for the top Chinese restaurant in Singapore for a long time, even before Michelin was a twinkling in the Singapore Tourism Board’s eye. (It currently has one star.) I grew up eating in Chinese restaurants long before I set foot in a European fine-dining restaurants, but the consistency of Summer Pavilion’s excellence has always impressed me more than its hotel/corporate competition. I’ve had stunning execution of classic dishes at many, but there is always an intelligent and forward-thinking touch at Summer Pavilion.
I recently had an incredible dim-sum meal there this week that cut through my recently apathy towards blogging:
  •  We had lychee-oolong tea from Taiwan, which was flavored with “The Eight Treasures”

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  • Congee with fish slices
    • It was made with red snapper, a firm neutral-tasting fish that would be seen as a blank canvas for chefs, except for a delicious and visually appealling gelatinous red skin, rather than offcuts or snakehead (toman) fish which is too rough. The thoroughly crisped dough was a nice different touch from the usual soggy cut youtiao.

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  • Steamed rice skin roll, shredded chicken, mushroom, ginger, spring onion
    • I thought this was an amazing dish. Instead of the usual rice skin roll (changfen) with a mix-and-match meat filling, this was a harmonious composition of silky rice skin, the piquant aroma of shallot oil, and a mix of textures from both vegetables and meats. The shallot oil was a wonderful companion to the light soy that usually goes with changfen.

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  • Steamed vegetarian dumpling, lily bulbs, water chestnut, sweet pea, mushroom, preserved vegetable
    • I decided to go with dumplings primarily for lunch. I would not have ordered this, had it not been for the mention of lily bulbs, which is an absolute favorite ingredient of mine. The dumpling, bursting with sweet flavors, was a wonderful summary of the best of nature’s light ingredients.

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  • Steamed prawn and bamboo-shoot dumpling
    • This “har gow”, had a juicy and firm prawn, well coated with a crystal translucent skin. The bamboo shoot diversified the crunchy prawn texture.

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  • Steamed lobster, fungus, onions and carrot dumpling
    • Reprise of har gow with a different ingredients – again, juicy and firm.

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  • Baked abalone puff, assorted mushrooms, carrot, onions
    • A perfectly tender abalone, with the concentrated mollusc taste, on a sweet bed of pastry, with textural contrast from chopped mushrooms. This was a perfect bite, served at a perfect temperature.

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  • Chilled aloe vera, kiwi, strawberries, lime juice

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  • Chilled cream of sago, mango, pomelo
The meal ended up being comparatively short at an hour, but what a meal! I conveyed my feelings to the server, who was justly proud of the chef’s cuisine and the restaurant’s Michelin star, and this meal reminded me again how brevity and a few excellent courses can form an indelible culinary memory.
 
Rating: 20/20

Whitegrass in Singapore (Sep ’16): “international cuisine worth the name”

24 Sep

Whitegrass is one of the most intriguing restaurants in Singapore I’ve been to this year (though this year has been a fairly quiet one!). Not because the dishes at Whitegrass are straightforwardly delicious – no, the most straightforwardly delicious meal this year might go to Odette (Singapore), which turned out a fine French meal with aplomb in June. Rather, it is because chef Sam Aisbett, an ex head-chef of Sydney’s Quay, has an adventurous mind, and his attempts at “international cuisine” dishes are some of the most sophisticated I’ve tried.

“International cuisine” is often interpreted by chefs at a very basic level to mean using ingredients from other geographies in homage to the foreign style – e.g. I’ve had a few dishes in Europe that featured Japanese ingredients, that had diverged too far from the original to remind me of them. (For example, a kingfish “sushi” at Bareiss (Germany), a great restaurant, but fish on cold rice with a sweet starch bore only a passing resemblance to sushi). These dishes rarely excite, and I often prefer if the chefs would serve me dishes in the style that won them plaudits, and serve these foreign dishes only to European locals/regulars who would be impressed by/tolerate these experiments. Thankfully, at most high-end places, they usually restrict the number of these dishes to a quarter of the menu at most.

The worst excesses of international cuisine are perpetrated by chefs who indiscriminately use foreign ingredients in their cooking. This seems to be more an American affliction, and I shan’t name names, but every major American city has their share of chefs who serve kimchi burgers, and XO sauce something or other, and with invariably inedible results.

The meal at Whitegrass was beautifully presented, with well-thought out flourishes (a flowercup of salted-egg yolk stands out in my mind). It wasn’t a perfect meal – I didn’t like all the dishes, primarily because for the 8 course meal , cream was used in almost every dish, and we felt really heavy towards the end. There were a couple of clunkers in the meal – a butter poached pigeon that was tasteless and a plum cake that had poorly thought-out sugar architecture. But what made this meal stand out was two “international” cuisine interpretations that I felt would equal anything in restaurants in those native geographies.

I was particularly impressed with a slow roasted Mangalica pork wrapped in roasted black moss (“fatt choy”), which replicated the taste profile of a popular Cantonese fine dining dish where abalone is served with black moss, a light brown sauce, crunchy lettuce for texture. It came as no surprise to me that the chef is a frequent patron of Chinese restaurants, because the taste resemblance was uncanny.

The second, which was my favorite dish of the night, harked back to North America. It was a delicious composition of semi-hard textures – West Coast geoduck, fermented celeriac, hen of the woods mushrooms (commonly foraged in the Northeast), with some millet crisps. The trio of geoduck, celeriac, and hen of the woods each had a different bite to the tongue, but the combination was just a pleasure to chew. It was among the best composition I’ve had of these ingredients, including anywhere in North America.

Even the dishes which I didn’t think were knock-outs were incredibly intriguing – including a creamed chicken salad with hazelnuts and artichokes that reminded by of a very good Waldorf salad.

Sam Aisbett’s kitchen is probably one of 2-3 kitchens in Singapore where I have had dishes that are both wholly original and refined – the others being Candlenut and Restaurant Andre. Great to have it as an option in Singapore.

Rating: 16.5/20


  • 2016-09-16-20-59-26 2016-09-16-21-00-58 2016-09-16-21-01-06Snacks: Smoked diced hamachi with charcoal cracker; cheese biscuit with feta; pork with XO sauce

 

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  • “Bibimbap” – nori cream, dashi jelly, cucumber balls, trout roe, puffed rice, cherry radish

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  • “Sashimi of rock lobster, salted daikon radish, fennel pollen, frozen pomelo” (3.75/5)
    • Sour cream at the bottom, flavored like the Chinese red vinegar used in shark’s fin soup. I like the sashimi, but the nitro-frozen pomelo was a bad idea – the freezing reduced it to bitter pithiness; there was no sweetness.

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  • “White cut free-range organic chicken, violet artichokes, pickled jellyfish, fresh and roasted hazelnuts, sesame, ginger vinegar” (4.25/5)
    • A good mix of textures; the cream became a bit overwhelming to fully enjoy the dish, but it was an interesting intellectual dish, like a very good Waldorf salad. I like the touch of folded salted egg flowercups. There were little touches of flowers and root vegetables like chorogi.

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  • “Geoduck clam, steamed egg custard, fermented celeriac, white hen of the woods mushrooms, olive herb, umami broth” (5/5)
    • My favorite dish of the night. A tribute to North American semi-hard textures.

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  • “Lobster custard with tapioca and umami pearls” (3.5/5)
    • Very heavy – a chawanmushi with lobster oil. Decent, but the culinary-interest to how-full-is-this-making-me ratio was very, very low.

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  • “Australian tiger jade abalone with three treasures” (4.5/5)
    • Intriguing dish – genuine Asian fusion that was completely unique – eggplant, shiitake, and green peppercorns from Thailand, with salted baked abalone and a hint of black vinegar. It fulfilled the first commandment of Asian fusion that so many chefs break – “first, do not be inedible”, and was actually quite delicious

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  • “Slow roasted Mangalica pork, scallops silk, white turnip cream, cabbage stem, fried black moss, aromatic pork broth” (5/5)
    • A fusion dish worthy of any Cantonese fine-dining restaurant. Excellent.

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  • “Roasted Anjou Pigeon, slow roasted young beetroots, fresh milk skin, blackcurrants, native pepper berry, sour leaves (3/5)”
    • A clunker after an excellent string of highlights. A butter poached pigeon that was tasteless. The best part was the beetroots which provided distraction from the monotony of unsalted meatiness that was the pigeon breast.

 

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  • “White peach from Wakayama preferecture, silver milk and peach seed jelly, peach skin granita, sour cream ice cream” (4.5/5)
    • An intriguing dessert that had alternating spheres of peach-granita and spherified-milk-with-peach-pit-essence. The peach granita was excellent, and the coconut meringues on the wafer added a nice touch

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  • “Perserved Mirabelle plums, buttermilk mousse, roasted almond cake, crisp meringue, black plum ice cream” (2.5/5)
    • An unexciting and functional dessert. What I didn’t like about the dessert for me was the thick wall of frosting sugar to keep the structure of the cake/inner plum sorbet/top plum ice cream together. The sugar wall was barely edible, and was only clearly there for structural engineering. Such barely edible food architecture should be kept to wedding-cakes and gingerbread houses, and does not belong in a fine-dining dessert.

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  • Manjar blanco Alfajor, Raspberry snowball
    • An excellent Peruvian shortbread biscuit (the manjar blanco Alfajor)

Wonton noodles @ Empress Road Food Centre in Singapore (Feb – May ’16)

24 May

There are at least three major styles of wonton mee (noodles) in Singapore.

The “Singapore style” is characterized by sweet black sauce, dousing noodles that get soggier by the second, and a helping of red charsiew. The wontons are more metaphorically accurate, willowy sleeves of cooked dough surrounding a small core of meat. Some shops mix it up and have a soup based wonton, and a fried wonton covered in a tougher dough skin for an optimal mix of wonton textures. The noodles are treated with lye to make them have a crunchy texture. The Singapore wonton noodle will often have pickled green chilli for sourness and some type of ground red chilli sauce. The main strength of the style is its melting-pot approach to sauces, having the potential to be a really complex array of textures and tastes. The main weakness of the style is that the sweet black sauce often upsets the balance of the entire bowl of noodles.

The “Thai style” has minimal dressing and is served with a more chewy noodle, akin to kolo mee in East Malaysia. I believe the difference is these noodles are not lye-treated (but I could be wrong). Popular fix-ins are cubes of lard & fried wontons. The main strength and weakness of the style lies in the noodles. Like kolo mee, an overly doughy noodle is cloying, but a fist-sized clump of uncooked noodle, drizzled with lard and cooked al dente, is perfect.

The Hong Kong style is a very crunchy noodle that is served with a light soup, and served with prawn dumplings. The noodles are lye-treated, like the Singapore version, but are usually less soggy. At Mak’s Noodle in HK Central, they serve it on a spoon. The wontons are generally stuffed with shrimp, and have a crunchy texture. The strengths of this style are in the wontons (called by the alternate name “shuijiao” in Singapore), which are simply the most substantial, and the crunchy noodles. The weaknesses are an occasional over-use of lye in the noodle itself, which makes the noodle having an artificial crunchy texture.

Despite being raised in Singapore, of these three “pure” styles, I find myself preferring the HK style the best. I prefer my wontons hearty-sized and my noodles to have a balanced taste.

I recently moved to the West of Singapore, near Empress Road Hawker Centre. I have often had breakfast at two of the centre’s wonton noodle stores, and I find them excellent in their individual way.


Ah Wing’s wanton noodles are some of the best wonton noodles I’ve had anywhere. The entry-level “wonton noodles” are excellent. The charsiew is better than the crimson shoe leather that plagues so many noodles, being both black and tender. The wontons are a mix of pork and prawn, which gives it a more interesting texture over pork alone. The owner does not take metaphorical license from the name wonton (or “cloud-swallowing”) to dish a negligible portion of meat into wisps of flour. His wontons are golfball-sized, and the portions are generous. It comes as no surprise that the owner is an emigre from HK, and is run by him and his wife.

But the best-dish at the stall are the couple’s shuijiao noodles. Shuijiao, a codename for HK-style wontons, are usually available at every wonton mee stall in Singapore. The only difference is that the shuijiao usually feature a mix of prawn and pork, whereas HK-style wontons are usually pure or mostly prawn. What sets Ah Wing’s shuijiao apart from others in Singapore is the mix of ingredients – about 60-70% prawn, the remainder pork and strips of a crunchy black fungus.

Yet it is not a textbook HK style noodle. The sauce base is similar to the Singapore style, with a mix of green chilli, a savory chilli sauce, and a dark sauce base. The key difference is that the dark sauce is not sweet black sauce, but a light soy-sauce that harmonizes well with the other ingredients. The noodle is crunchy, but not artificially so. Another minor point: The soup is not laced with MSG, making it surprisingly drinkable (I have no quarrels with MSG as an ingredient, but find it overused). It is possibly the most balanced wonton noodle I have eaten – from sauce, to noodle, to wonton, and combines the best of the Singapore and HK styles. I do not exaggerate – I had these noodles almost everyday for breakfast in a three-week period, and found myself rarely tiring of them.

Rating: 5/5

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Wonton noodles

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Shuijiao noodles

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Chicken feet noodles

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Chicken feet hor fun


[Edit 16/06/2016: Chen Long wonton noodles is no longer at Empress Road Food Centre, and has moved to Blk 5058 Ang Mo Kio Ind Park 2 #01-1255 S569561.]

Chen Long wanton noodles are operated by a young couple, who set up their shop late last year. They are located a row behind Ah Wing’s wonton noodle in Empress Road, and have their own following. They do not directly compete with Ah Wing’s. Instead, they offer the textbook Singapore-style wonton noodles and a Thai style wonton noodle.

The Singapore style wonton noodles are not bad, but they use the same sweet dark sauce base which is not my favorite.

I however am an admirer of their Thai style wonton noodles. It is the definition of unhealthy food. The soup wontons are rather small, but the fried wontons have a delightful crunch, the whole bowl of noodles is dressed in lard bits and lard oil, and the dark sugar-coated charsiew is crunchy, especially if you ask for the cuttings at the burnt ends.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thai-style wonton noodles

Ashino in Singapore (Feb ’16): “compelling fish, flawed sushi”

20 Apr

Ashino is a Tokyo-style sushi-joint in Singapore specializing in serving aged cuts of fish, which opened in 2015. The chef is an emigre from Japan, and has its fair share of regulars who seek a more off-beat Tokyo-style sushi experience, than the standardized edomae menu that places like nearby Shinji serve.

I found Ashino-san’s handling of the aged fish quite compelling. The standout cut from our February lunch was his 24-day aged grouper, which was fatty and rich in tasty oils, and sublime with squeeze of lemon. Accentuating the impression were crunchy pickle strips which gave the impression of eating a decadent round of fish and chips.

The chef is also an iconoclast more generally, revelling in sushi esoterica. His tsubugai sushi was delicious, his cross-hatching of the common whelk giving it the crunchy texture akin to true hand-dived scallop.

The weakness of the meal revolved around his rice. First, he served a few pieces to the customer by hand. It was a nice touch. But it revealed the inadequate compression of his rice. His shari fell apart easily, and twice when I had reached out to take a piece from his hand, the shari broke into half. I’m not sure why he chose to pack the rice so loosely –  perhaps it was an attempt to pack more air inside the rice, but he had not mastered the technique.

Second, his sushi sometimes felt unbalanced, with pieces that would be better served as sashimi. I think this is because he is an iconoclast when it comes to toppings with his sushi, and therefore there is a higher risk of failure with his pieces. The sushi pieces for lunch were these:

  • akami
  • botanebi
  • tsubugai
  • kawahagi
  • kinmedai
  • ika
  • chutoro
  • aji
  • nodoguro
  • whitebait
  • uni
  • anago

Of this group, tsubugai, kawahagi, nodoguro, are uncommon cuts, while whitebait was completely new for me. I felt the nodoguro overpowered the rice, especially since Ashino-san gave it a peppery and citrusy skin. The whitebait was visually arresting since they were cooked 4-to-a-group on a cherry blossom leaf. But they were rather dry and tasteless as a topping. The kawahagi sushi was topped with ankimo sauce and spring onions but it is hard to generate any gustatory excitement from a tasteless fish that’s basically a human chew toy.

Overall I found the experience an educational one. All things being equal I value an educational meal with flaws, more than a boring but tasty meal executed with perfection, so I would return to Ashino because I don’t see many chefs here championing the esoteric cuts.

Other links:


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  • Magurozuke, Aomori, aged 9 days (4.25/5)

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  • Botanebi (4.5/5)
    • Creamy

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  • Chawanmushi with botanebi eggs (4.5/5)

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  • Tsubugai sushi (4.25/5)

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  • Pacific Saury (grilled) (3.75/5)

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  • Kawahagi sushi (4/5)

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  • Ankimo

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  • Kinmedai, aged 18 days

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  • Shiroebi with yuzu (3.25/5)
    • Too dry

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  • Grouper, aged 24 days (4.75/5)

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  • Ika/Cuttlefish (4/5)

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  • Chutoro

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  • Aji

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  • Nodoguro (4.25/5)
    • Peppery and citrusy skin

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  • Whitebait (3.75/5)

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  • Uni

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  • Anago (salt) (4.25/5)
    • Powdery

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  • Tamago (4.5/5)

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  • Green tea ice cream

Dehesa in Singapore (Jan ’16)

20 Jan

Dehesa is an offal-tapas restaurant in Singapore, specializing in animal off-cuts. It opened mid-December 2015, and is currently only in its first month of operation. Despite this, the food is assured and much better than the run-of-the-mill tapas joint in Singapore. Each dish is either delicious or has a creative twist. As a casual restaurant, it is a gem.

The chef, Jean-Philippe Patruno, is a Spaniard raised in Marseille. He has been cooking in Singapore for quite a while, at Una restaurant located in the far Western part of Singapore (Rochester Park). However, the old restaurant is very out of the way for people living in the East like me, so I never made it there. I am glad however that he is putting his own twist on the usual Spanish small plates.

There were intelligent touches of using popular Singapore ingredients (tripe, lala AKA Venus Clams ). For instance, the tripe was fried, and the venus clams was done in the moules and frites style of stewing them in an olive oil/alcohol based sauce [specifically, moules mariniere]. The cooking is not fussy (the dishes are assembled using a skeleton kitchen team of 3 people when I was there).

It’s a small kitchen. Apparently the show kitchen is the only kitchen, so all the action really happens in front of you (if you have a bar seat).

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Crispy Tripe / White Peppercorn / Chilli Padi (4.75/5)

An excellent dish of fried tripe (stomach lining, usually cow). Despite the Singaporean love affair with tripe, I’ve never had fried tripe. This was excellent, with a mildly spicy white peppercorn sauce that had the alluring bitterness of roasted peppers.

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Duck Hearts on Toast (4.5/5)

Excellent.

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Frit Mallorquin (4/5)

A regional dish of Mallorca, this is also a typical Lebanese/Middle Eastern dish of an offal stew with mashed potatoes.

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Ox Tongue / Celeriac / Anchovies (4/5)

Very tasty

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Lala / Chillies / Sherry (3.75/5)

Done in the moules and frites style. (sans frites)

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Chocolat / Olive Oil / Salt (5/5)

We were on the fence about ordering a dessert, but the quality of this dessert just crowned our experience.  Thin slices of sourdough bread were dipped in caramel and then hardened, forming a savory crisp that was very addictive. An excellent conception.

Rating: 16/20

Wild Rocket in Singapore (2015): a disappointing flagbearer for Modern Singaporean food

30 Nov
  • Rating: (after 2 tasting meals): 13/20 (first tasting 15/20, second tasting 7/20)
  • Number of visits: 3 (twice in Jan ’15 – Feb ’15, once in Jun ’15)
  • One-line review:Wild Rocket is the oldest of the “Modern Singaporean” restaurants, started in 2005 by lawyer-turned-chef Willin Low. He cooks off-beat renditions of Singapore classics, and has been widely known as one of the first chefs to cook upmarket food in this manner.Recently, the food has been described by local commentators as Japanese-inspired because it has comprehensive sake pairings and clean plating aesthetics, and has a strong focus on seafood (5 dishes had seafood as principal components), raw (scallops), semi-raw (negitoro), or in a croquette (two types of crab). The cooking is not overly complicated, but focused on 2-3 principal ingredients (as opposed to 4-5 for Labyrinth, and the thick carpets of sauce at Candlenut). The standout dish of my tasting menu meal there was a thai pomelo salad with a savory ice cream, though I found the 4-course option on another night a bit more hit-and-miss. Overall I found it my first meal (in February) there enjoyable and assured. (15/20)However, I came in later in the year (around June) for another dinner, and found it very disappointing. There were no standout dishes, not any luxury ingredients despite charging $150+ per person. What I disliked most was when others in my table were served grilled king prawn noodles, I was served a very simple noodle dish stir-fried with kai lan (noodles with vegetables) merely because I had tried the king prawn dish before. To add insult to injury, the dish was described as having truffles (to justify its substitution) when it clearly had no truffles of any sort. It is one thing to have a very ordinary dish dish, it is worse when it is inferior to the normal offering, but to claim it is some sort of premium offering when it isn’t takes the cake. The dishes that night were subpar (perhaps because Chef Willin was not in that night)and I found myself thinking it was a waste of money. On the basis of the two tasting menus I’ve had this year (+ 1 4-course meal), I think the kitchen is (1)  inconsistent and (2)  the ingredients do not really justify the price. If one is looking for a fine-dining experience, a better value-bet is to dine at Les Amis instead.

    How can a restaurant charging $150 per person use canned pineapple in its dishes, and mislead diners about having truffle in its dishes? The ingredients are just subpar for the price.
    I will say however that service is excellent – and Ram and Willin are generous and knowledgeable. If you do come, make sure to drop by on a night that the chef is in.

  • Memorable dishes: Thai pomelo salad ice cream, sugee cake
  • Other links: Aun Koh’s review, Wong Ah Yoke’s review

FIRST MEAL

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  • “Chee kueh” Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with chai poh & truffle infusion
  • Flavored with truffle bits and truffle oil (3.75/5)

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  • “Thai pomelo salad”, fish sauce and coconut ice cream, peanuts, onions
  • Inspired dish (4.5/5)

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  • “Bak chor mee” Glass noodles, iberico pork fat, torched tuna (scrapings from the bone)
  • I enjoyed the fatty tastes, but it felt underseasoned to my taste. (3.5/5)

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    • “Tea leaf egg” Quail egg in pu erh, cod, Savoy cabbage (4/5)

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    • “Singapore fried noodles”: Hokkien mee pasta, shio kombu, prawn stock from head, lobster oil
    • It had a distinct “wok-fried” fragrance
    • 4.5/5

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  • Croquette of two crabs: Australian spanner crab on outside acting as glue for the croquette, Vietnamese blue swimmer crab on the inside for sweetness. A duck egg sauce below, acting as sweet custard, like liushabao.
  • The crab inside was a bit dry. 3.5/5

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  • “Beef hor fun” short rib, 48 hour sous vide. Black bean sauce.
  • 3.75/5
  • Black bean provided saltiness. One “hor fun” piece had the saltiness of black bean, the other did not. The one with, was markedly better.

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  • Sarawak pineapple sorbet, with vacuum sealed pineapple, mint sugar, chilli, soy salt from Kwong Woh Hin
  • Vacuum sealing the pineapple is claimed to improve the sweetness of the fruit.

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  • A comforting mouthful of cake, with a rich ice cream (4.25/5) “The secret is to mix coconut water with coconut cream to ensure a profound coconut flavor, because coconut cream by itself is very fatty.”

SECOND VISIT

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  • Hokkaido scallop carpaccio, shio kombu, truffle oil

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  • Red Thai duck curry salad. (3.25/5)
  • canned pineapple was used.

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  • Shrimps paste “har cheong” pigs ear, home made tartare sauce, mango salsa (4/5)

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  • Char kuey teow with cuttlefish (4/5) Wok hei was good.

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  • Kai lan pasta reduction (2.5/5)
  • This was served in place of one of the better dishes here (the king prawn noodles), and was just kailan stir fried with noodles. It was represented as having truffles – but I detected nothing of the sort

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  • Barramundi liver, ginger confit, claypot rice 3.5/5

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  • Rack of lamb tandoori, herbs and spices, cauliflower papadum, raitah. (3/5)
  • Undersalted, and meat of ordinary quality.

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  • Sugarcane with some sorbet

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  • Pulut hitam ice cream (3/5)

 

Les Amis in Singapore (October ’15)

24 Oct

Les Amis (2015): 17.5/20 (over two visits)


It took me a while to get to Les Amis this year because there was always something new on the Singapore dining scene – tapas, experimental restaurants, “Modern Singaporean” food. But two visits convinced me of the error of picking the newfangled over the star-spangled*.

* – Forbes, not Michelin

Traditional French sauces. I can’t think of many French restaurants in Singapore that are making traditional sauces from Escoffier. Les Amis’s chef Sebastian Lepinoy for a tasting lunch prepared two fantastic classic sauces – the first was a “sauce Americaine”, that harmonized two separate ingredients – a Brittany seabass and leek. “The leek will not harmonize with the line-caught bass [bar-de-ligne] otherwise”, Chef mentioned in a post-meal conversation.  The second, a sauce poivrade from Escoffier made with raspberry jam, was also very good.

It is a gourmet’s restaurant: The front-of-house take great pride in the gourmet ingredients they serve – cheeses, artisanal olive oil, Le Ponclet butter. Due to this depth of knowledge, FOH is able to engage diners in an equal conversation at the table. The diner’s value proposition is that he pays, but often in Singapore the front-of-house doesn’t have much knowledge of what is being served, and cannot engage in any in-depth conversation on the food. Not the case here.

Japanese elements. I would criticize the food here on one point. The chef enjoys working with Japanese products. But sometimes it comes at the detriment of the dish. My main dish was a piece of A5 Ohmi wagyu with sauce poivre. Ohmi wagyu is luxury because it is butter in beef-form. When paired with sauce poivre, the meat had little independent taste (though great texture), serving as little more than texture for the sauce. I wondered if the dish might have ben improved with a more robust tasting non-wagyu beef, as an equal partner of the poivrade sauce. The unstinting (one might also say “unthinking”) use of wagyu is not a “problem” confined to Les Amis, but as the most thoughtful restaurant it should think more about the ingredient pairing. Prior to serving the dish, our FOH mentioned that the chef had “sweated” out the fat from A5 wagyu. But isn’t the raison d’etre of wagyu to enjoy its fat content? Why is the chef transforming a Japanese product into something it is not?

Overall – the restaurant that best exemplifies gourmand-ism in Singapore, independent of flashy theatrics or hype.


PHOTOS from SECOND VISIT

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  • Le Ponclet Butter
    • An almost cheesy butter

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  • Smoked salmon maki with julienned celeriac, cold angelhair pasta with osetra grade caviar, first of season Alba white truffle (3.75/5)

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  • Australian spanner crab with Momotaro tomato “millefeuille” (3.75/5)
    • A sweet heirloom Japanese tomato layered with crab. Based on this and a previous visit where I had a foie and truffle millefeuille, chef is a fan of the millefeuille construction. Pleasant.
    • Served with toast and artisanal olive oil

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  • Hokkaido scallop, tempura chip, lemon, shiso flower, served with sweet sesame sauce on the side (3.75/5)
    • Good dish that only really came together with sesame sauce.

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  • Foie gras seared with sesame, mango compote, French river eel, dashi broth (4/5)
    • Individual components very good but little synergy. Foie paired well with fruit. River eel and dashi seemed standalone.

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  • Bar de ligne, leek, sauce Americaine. (4.75/5)
    • Brittany line-caught bass (bar de ligne) had a firm, savory flesh that was well prepared. The star of the dish was sauce Americaine, a sauce based on tomato and crushed lobster shells. The chef prepared it with cognac, which gave a sweet flavor, reminiscent of Chinese sauces with shaoxing wine.
    • Another association was Singaporean chilli crab sauce– both have a crustacean and tomato base.
    • The sauce was served with a side of unsalted baguettes to mop up the sauce (Chef believes that to serve it with sourdough or salted baguettes would overpower the sauce)

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  • Ohmi wagyu, poivrade sauce with raspberry, asparagus (4.5/5)
    • A5 ohmi wagyu. Dish would have improved with a robust tasting beef. Ohmi had great texture but little independent taste

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  • Cheeses from M. Jean-Yves Bordier
    • (e.g. Reblochon)

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  • Pear Williams (4/5)

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