Thursday, July 07, 2016

atas anniversary meal

Our 13th wedding anniversary (the wedding dinner one not the ROM one) is on 6 July.

KK said – Let’s go eat at one of those restaurants where the food looks very small on the plate and you don’t feel full when you’re done.

I knew exactly what he meant. I had always yearned to be one of those fools.

I’m a happy hawker center person, KK is a slightly more upmarket café person, but don’t we all aspire to eat some fine-dining mosh at least once in our lives? I've been meaning to since 2012, took me that long to take the plunge.

Moreover, one of the most interesting books I’ve read was one on El Bulli and Ferran Adria’s food inventions. For a while I craved foams and whatnot. Now I’d get my chance to nibble at pricey food inventions, courtesy of KK’s wallet.

I searched online. And I found it. My former boss, a highly-respected food critic, had also once recommended this man’s food to me above all the other fine-dining restaurants in the country. This year, his restaurant ranks 32 on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the only Singapore restaurant to make it in.

I e-mailed for a lunch reservation (dinner would have been excessive), I got a date a week later (KK will have to take leave but hey it’s our anniversary), we had to pay a $50 deposit to secure the table, for a meal that would cost nearly $500.

We turn up half an hour early on the day, at 1130am, the first amongst a handful of diners. The place is a recessed slice of white studded with French windows, set back from the buildings on both sides like it’s not quite meant to be seen, with a sprig of olive tree like a big decorative bonsai in front.

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We step in, slightly fearful that we’d be outclassed, or maybe jeans and sports shoes is not allowed (it is). Inside, the first floor is all dark paneling, chandeliers and mirrors. A black opague sliding door at the end reveals the kitchen, which we are shown twice because it’s clearly an exhibition of Gattaca-ish stylings. It’s a dark, glassy, futuristic space where a team of chefs (numbering more than the diners I think) silently assemble their delicate creations in great concentration. The atmosphere is probably not unlike that of a semi-conductor facility and its terribly impressive.

We are led to the third floor – an airier lighter space which the waitress calls the “fun” space - and given a prime table next to the chef’s personal library, where apart from cook books he also stores his raw pottery creations and sketches.

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Do we have fun? Um. Not quite. We don’t quite know what to do. We cringe at the thick silence, eschew the wine (“warm water for me please, thank you”) and in what was the ultimate faux pas, walked up from the table to try and search for the place to pay before the meal was finished. (our Japanese Waiter, a very prim and proper gentleman in a suit who precisely recites the story of each dish before he serves it to us, raises an eyebrow as we head toward the lift – We have not served you the petit fours, Madam, you have not finished your meal.)

I honestly had no idea. What are petit fours? Food Noobs that we are, we are likely not able to fully appreciate what we are served, like how I as a Car Noob will never appreciate how a Volkswagen is superior to a Lancer.

But it is an experience. We are served like we have never been served before (different sets of cutlery in different styles for every course, a towelette served on a wooden dish looking for all the world like a dry round white biscuit until boiling water is poured on it when it then springs open like an accordion) and we put strange things in our mouth which have never been there and which do even stranger things once in there.

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* Towelette

Now I turn to the food, which I will dwell on at length because this will be the last time I’m eating like this. We are served nine plates. I give the official names, then my food noob observations.

PLATE 1: Seafood Tamara with Gluten Bun

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That’s a translucent carrot chip (finally! I eat a carrot chip! It’s sweet!) with salmon roe under, sitting on an incredibly light and crispy puff which explodes in a shower of warm crumbs in my mouth.

PLATE 2: Abalone/Liver/Crispy Kombu and Prawn Head

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* Abalone with purple things (don't know what) sticking out

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* Prawn Head

This plate which looks like a coral reef is put under my nose. It's the prettiest dish of the meal. The very thinly-sliced abalone sits on a piece of crispy seaweed, I don’t know where is the abalone’s liver, while the prawn head (where IS the head?) tastes like some sort of airy Japanese keropok. The really good part is when I start tearing off the bland greens lining the plate and stuffing it in my mouth. Along comes Mr Japanese Waiter to clear our plates. KK asks, pointing at me – Are we supposed to eat that? Waiter doesn’t blink – Not really, no.

PLATE 3: Dry Aged Scallop, Textures of Mushroom and Tofu, Kombucha Granite, Vegetables Demi-Glace

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* The melt-in-your-mouth scallop

Lu would squeal. This dish looks like two cute ball-y creatures prancing on a meadow. There’s the brittle ball of what tastes like onion ice-kacang on the left (KK does not like the iciness), while on the right is a truly succulent springy scallop, the flesh of which isn’t the least bit like the usual “strands” texture of scallops, wearing a cloak of very artistically burnt (?) mushroom strips. That powdery stuff is tofu powder, ground from a block of dried tofu and I think the meadow is spring onion oil?

PLATE 4: “Terre Et Mer” Gillardeau Oyster Tartare, Cured Lardo, Shima-Aji and Pork Trotter Broth

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Mr Japanese Waiter announces – This dish is a very interesting combination of the sea (fish) and the land (pork). Ah, so. The dab of paint is a salty, smoky puree of onion and smoked eel, the pile in the centre is oyster with what seems to be potato cubes covered with a white veil of something, the perfect tiny triangle of seared fish with straight-cut sides (I’m very impressed at how each side of the fish is exactly perpendicular to the plate) is apparently stuffed with chicken. I cut very small pieces trying to find the chicken in the fish, but I can’t. Maybe it’s blended in. 

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* Got chicken?

The dish also comes with a small cup of spectacularly rich intense pork soup, so rich it feels like if you dripped it from a spoon it’d drip slowly.

PLATE 5: Burnt Beef Tongue Salad, Ruban of Butternut Squash, Warm Foie Gras Soup

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The story for this is that it combines poor food (butternut) which takes centrestage as the star of the dish, and rich food (foie gras). This was our favourite. Usually I hate pickles and those delicatedly-folded origami-ish columns (no idea what the white dot on top is) have a definite whiff of sweet/sour pickle about it. However it’s supposed to go with the bed of stuff under, presumably the beef tongue although I can’t decipher the beef’s tongue, and some crunchy bits. The waiter pours a rich foie gras soup into the plate. Everything goes into the mouth at the same time. It’s intensely sweet, salty, rich, crispy, crunchy, sleek, jelat, satisfying.

PLATE 6: Salt Baked Poulet De Bresse, Grilled Leek Flower, Egg Noodles, Tasmanian Truffle and Emulsion

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* Chicken wrapped in the dark lotus leaf

This was the big surprise. These sort of meals usually have some sort of surprise element, whether it be from ingredients which have been turned into a completely different form or unique combinations. The waiter first brings a small loaf of black bread as long as my hand to our table and beams – “This is your main course. Actually, your main course is chicken breast from France, which is the best chicken in the world (like a showman, he then proceeds to cut the bread to magically reveal, in the cross-section, a perfect circle of chicken. He continues slicing the bread). The chicken is wrapped in lotus leaf and baked in the bread so the flavor is intense (he removes the bread and places one tiny piece of chicken on my place). Enjoy.” He walks away with the bread and chicken which is still in the two ends of the loaf, where it would presumably be discarded (no!!! I can dabao for the kids!)

We’ve never had chicken like this, KK says it tastes and feels like ham, it's salty moist and springy. We don’t like the egg noodle (chewy) or the leek flower (grassy) but hey, I had my foam! All three patches of it!

PLATE 7: Porcini Crème Glacee, Milk Skin, Buttermilk Curd

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Mushroom ice-cream with crumbles (one spoon's worth) and on the other side, something sweet with what tastes like sweet beancurd skin.

PLATE 8: Carbonated Red Grapes, White Peach Parfait, Honey Ice Cream on Raspberry Ice

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* What lies beneath

A sliver of ice which really tastes like raspberry. sits like an ice-skating rink over a cocktail of peach ice cream, raspberries and grapes. The grapes fizz when I bite them. For me, because I’m not a fan of berries, the honey ice-cream wins the day.

PLATE 9: Petit Fours

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The course we almost missed, I’m glad we didn’t. A warm soft chestnut madeleine, kaya toast macaron and a Dr Pepper lollipop which I was told was a specialty but which I refused to eat because I hate cherry Coke and I hate lollipops. KK ate mine.

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* The chef behind, talking to another couple, as KK fingers the bill with an interesting expression of... resignation? The chef doesn't open the restaurant if he isn't in town, so he can cook / supervise personally.

2 comments:

Dee.. said...

you went to Andre! well worth it because the restaurant just earned their 2 michelin starts!!

Sher said...

ya we went b4 the stars were awarded :)