Friday, August 19, 2016

Andre: revisited Jun 16 (Singapore)

June 2016

41 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 089855, Singapore
Tel: +65 6534 8880

At the time of writing this, Andre already received its two Michelin stars in the inaugural Singapore Michelin Guide, though we dined there two weeks prior to the awards announcement. We had the privilege of hosting our overseas friends who had heard so much of this restaurant, so there was understandably very high expectations from all of us. The first Michelin Guide for Singapore was generating quite a bit of anticipation, hence it was one of the main conversation topics at the dinner. It was our view that it would get at least two stars, if not the only one to get three. We were not totally wrong in the end, although we had forgotten about Joel Robuchon (a flawless restaurant we have to admit, though lacking in soul and originality in our opinion).

We've followed Andre's progress closely, from the time when it first opened several years ago, and have seen his season menu progress and mature (see earlier post: Andre June 13). We even stopped writing about our meals here, until now when renewed interest due to the advent of the Michelin Guide obliges us to take stock and document again our experiences here.

It is a testament to Andre Chiang's burgeoning reputation and self-confidence that he continue to be a trailblazer for the culinary arts in Singapore. Relying exclusively on a menu consisting solely of an eight-word 'Octaphilosophy', there never is a description of the dishes he is only going to serve at each meal, putting his diners solely at the discretion of his inspiration for the day. Of course most of his dishes reflect the general theme and his specific creations for the season, but tweaks are made depending on the availability of ingredients.

His amuse bouche consisted of a eclectic selection of snacks, including the roasted cumin mushroom mini-tarts, celeriac with a line of miso on a cracker, variety of crisps and the abalone and crispy deep fried prawn heads. They were all very addictive. By this point we had made a curious observation. From the point of time when we sat down till the time we finished our snacks, we were not once asked by the sommelier if we wanted any champagne or wine. This we thought was unusual in our experience. Initially we put it down to tardy service but after observing the other tables, we realised that this was deliberately the case.

The amuse bouche continued with the amazing locally-inspired charcoal you tiao (dough fritters) and pie-dan (preserved century egg).

Only after the amuse bouche was done with that we were offered the alcoholic drinks. We opted for the wines by the glasses (there was also an interesting tea pairing for those wanting to stay sober). If we were to have any beef with this restaurant, it is their insistence of carrying only biodynamic or organic wines from small unknown French producers. No fancy or known labels in their wine list. And these so-called healthy and eco-friendly wines were not cheap, pricing themselves at levels comparable with the top French wines without in our opinion being as good. This is another example of Chef Andre's self-confidence that he can continue with this as a matter of his principle.

The first course was a bowl of sweetcorn and almond in horseradish cream. This was mind-blowing. The combination of flavours was unusual yet totally original. It totally overshadowed the next dish, which was the white asparagus and sea urchin with an egg white sauce. The asparagus was, to be fair, a very elegant dish nonetheless. This was followed by the squid linguine with rice crispies and seaweed. This was a well-balanced and memorable dish.

The other dish to blow our minds that night was the seared oyster with scallop skin and watercress foam. This was another very original dish and introduced us to flavour pairings which were new to us. Then the next dish was the horse mackerel in a mushroom and seafood soup which was a restrained demonstration of the umami flavours, followed by a black truffle linguine (we remembered it being good but our minds were still on the oyster dish that we forgot what this dish was about).

The foie gras custard with black truffle and chives reduction was an old favourite which dated back to the first menu. It was still enjoyable, but we felt that the rest of Andre's food has moved on and that this dish was like a drag on the menu. Maybe it's time to put this one to pasture.

The final main course was the lamb shoulder roasted in coffee seeds with dehydrated onion. It was competent without being a standout dish.

The desserts were what really immortalised this meal. The first being a simple yet incredible milk curd with a spoonful of chocolate and nuts. The fruity dessert was next, the refreshing carbonated grapes and peach parfait with a layer of iced raspberry which was quite sublime. And the final dessert, the deconstructed cake. This was a masterpiece (albeit it was a collection of 'unmixed cake ingredients' - the irony). Mixing up the ingredients gave a dessert which was formless yet perfect in its flavours.

The meal ended off with a more than acceptable selection of petit fours. This will be a meal which will stay in our memories. It was a polished, innovative and daring dinner with Chef Andre introducing new ideas and flavours and being brave enough to step outside the comfort zone of most conventional diners. If anything, dining at Andre is comparable to listening to a Mahler symphony. It is intense and complex, with depth, textures and subtleties which may be lost on a casual audience. Not everyone will get it, but it is a true connoisseur's delight.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Odette (Singapore)

June 2016

1 St Andrew's Road, #01-04 Singapore 178957
Tel: +65 6385 0498

Update: In July, Odette was awarded 2 Michelin stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide for Singapore.

When Julien Royer left Jaan, there was discernible disappointment amongst the local fine dining crowd for the loss of one of Singapore's most promising young chefs. Having taken over the kitchen at Jaan after the high profile departure of Andre Chiang (who went on to set up his own restaurant, Andre, now regarded as the finest European restaurant in South East Asia) about half a decade ago, he very quickly created a cult following of his own, first by maintaining Andre Chiang's very high standards then infusing his own personality on the cuisine to make it his own. One apparent difference between the two master chefs is that Andre Chiang's cuisine tends to be more Asian-influenced whereas Julien Royer's food, though similarly modern and innovative, is stronger in the French tradition.

So when it was announced shortly after that Julien Royer was setting up his own restaurant, Odette, there was a buzz of anticipation, which resulted in his restaurant being the hardest to get reservations when it first opened (around 3-4 months in advance). 9 months on, the waiting list for reservations is no longer that long, though 1-2 months advance bookings may still be required. We held back visiting Odette till earlier this month because we were hoping that the customary new restaurant teething issues would be ironed out, and since then we have dined here three times.

Odette opened at the new iconic National Gallery, which is the refurbished former Supreme Court premises. Its location generated even more hype for its opening given that it coincided with the launch of the much lauded and highly anticipated National Gallery in the 50th year anniversary of Singapore's independence. Inside, a modern white minimalist interior with warm lighting adds to a very cozy and intimate dining environment.

There were only tasting menu options: the 6 and 8 courses and their vegetarian equivalent. The 8 course was what we went with, and our tipple that night was a glass each of blanc de blanc champagne and a bottle of Rhone Cote-Rotie.

We enjoyed the plate of snacks: basil cracker, seaweed pillow, comte puff and cumin tart, which were not at all pointless. The next amuse bouche of mushroom soup was full of rich earthy flavours and would not be out of place in the formal menu itself.

The Hokkaido Uni (langoustine, mussel 'cloud', Oscietra caviar) was a very refreshing cold starter and the Majestic Oyster 'Jacques Cocollos' (2 ways: tartare, dill, sea pearl and tempura, vadouvan, sea grapes) was fantastic (rarely do we like cooked oyster but tempura version was excellent).

The Heirloom beetroot variation (salt-baked beetroot, stracciatella 'Artigiana', honeycomb) showed the Julien Royer's skill in creating a dish based on beetroot being the leading ingredient.

The Rosemary smoked organic egg (smoked potato, chorizo, buckwheat) was an old favourite and is one of Julien Royer's signature dishes, dating back to his Jaan days. The richness of the mushroom-based froth with smooth creamy potato with the crispy buckwheat and Spanish sausage was well complemented by the half-boiled egg and its bright-orange organic egg yolk.

The Seared foie gras (miso caramel, lemon quinoa, gariguette strawberry) surprised us because it looked like a typical foie gras dish but was in fact very unique. The tartness of the strawberry and lemon was an refreshing change from the usual sweet counterbalance to the liver. This was very good and unexpected.

The Crispy skinned kinmedai (charred Fremantle octopus, confit fennel, bouillabaisse) was also excellent and notable because of the restraint in the flavours of the seafood stew sauce, hence avoiding overpowering the perfectly cooked fish.

The Poulette a' la braise (asparagus trio, foie gras coulant, sauce 'Albufera' & black truffle) was reminiscent of the French countryside; full of earthy notes and woody flavours.

The 'BBQ' pigeon Fabien Deneour (petit pois, roasted porcini, pickled cherry) was also of a very high standard. It was cooked perfectly, retaining its juices without undercooking it. This, together with the chicken main course, demonstrated the Julian Royer's classical French culinary roots.

The obligatory cheese course including the usual suspects; the 24 month aged Comte, Munster and Roquefort (though they lacked and Epoisses this time).

The pre-dessert and dessert of Lime foam and cucumber sorbet and Lemon Tart (organic lemon curd, sable breton, basil) were feather-light and very refreshing. The version of the lemon tart in particular was a very impressive effort.

In all this was a superb meal. The food was flawless throughout and the strong classic French influence was apparent despite its tendency to the modern style. The wine list is decent and has the right selection of wines and vintages for a new restaurant. However, there is room for improvement. Service, though ernest and diligent, felt slightly green and inexperienced, but that should hopefully get better over time once the staff matures as the restaurant does as well.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

8 ½ Otto e Mezzo: revisited Jun 16 (Hong Kong)

June 2016

Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2537 8859

In the years since the first time we dined at Otto e Mezzo (see 2012 writeup), we have tried to dine here again whenever we visited Hong Kong, but were unsuccessful in getting reservations at their dining room (our trips to Hong Kong are typically not planned more than 2 weeks in advance and reservations seem only to be successful if made at least 1 month in advance). It was only this year that we realised the trick of getting a meal here at the last minute: by getting a table at the bar.

It is quite a different dining experience: smaller and uncovered tables, noisier and with less light, the clientele here seems more intent on having a quick bite before moving on or enjoying a cocktail with some light bites. However, the menu and wine list is exactly the same as in the main dining room. We took a chance on accepting a table at the bar area once and since then, we have been back four times and each time opted for a bar area seating, even when a table at the formal dining room was available.

In our view, this is still the best Italian restaurant in Asia that we have dined at. The quality of the produce, the consistency of the cooking, the breadth of the wine list (especially where Italian wines are concerned) and the impeccable service (our favourite waiter happens to be a dead ringer for one of our childhood male idols, Hong Kong movie star Simon Yam) makes us keep coming back.

The pictures below are of some of the dishes we have had over the past year. The one menu we always look forward to is the truffle menu. We will always order from that menu if available (only during the northern hemisphere winter months for the European black truffles and the southern hemisphere winter months for the Australian black truffles). Some of the excellent amuse bouche we have had here include the tempura shrimp and the Iberico ham in rock melon puree.

The Homemade tagliolini, butter, parmesan and black winter truffle fondue is the best truffle pasta we have had outside Piedmont. This is a must-order by us whenever available.

We ordered the Tagliatelle, lamb and endive ragout, black olive when the black truffle pasta wasn't available. It was excellent.

Our favourite Veal chop "Milanese" style, large crispy breaded veal chop, potato, Sicilian tomato and oregano salad never failed us each time we ordered it.

The M9 sirloin and beef cheek, green and vegetable salad, red wine and plum sauce is a good alternative to the veal Milanese.

Probably our favourite dessert of all time, the Black truffle gelato, chantilly cream, crispy hazelnet and pistachio is not always available (even if there is a truffle menu). We still dream about this dessert sometimes.

The Italian interpretation of the classic French dessert, the Neapolitan rum baba, did not disappoint. The pastry was soft and spongy yet was able to soak in the exquisite rum and maintain its structure well.The mango and mango ice cream were a good complement to the liquor.