December 20, 2013

Makan 2013 Day 5: repetition at André

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Tonight was my eagerly anticipated return to Restaurant André.  Mr. Ho and I were completely blown away by the food on our first visit back in May, and the Specialist had arranged for this to be her last dinner in Singapore - since it was meant to be the highlight of her trip.

I was a little apprehensive, however, as a friend from Hong Kong told me that when he visited a few months after my visit, the menu he had was largely the same as mine.  Would I be having the same dishes again tonight, 7 months later?

The answer was a resounding "YES".


Popcorn and vanilla - same as last time, a little soggy.

Chicken masala - paper-thin wafer of chicken skin.

Lobster sandwich - still very tasty.

Like last time, a few of these came in a box with that wonderfully delicious chocolate soil.  I insisted on taking some of the soil home.

Potato bravas

Porcini crispy - it's amazing how tasty this paper-thin wafer can be.

Fish and chips - something new but similar.  Very nice.

Pineapple/ olive/ gin tonic - this was new.  I had to confirm with our server that this was meant to be gin and tonic, because none of us were able to get that.  Instead the chunk of pineapple pretty much dominated the flavors.

Charcoal deep-fried dough stick - the sticks were probably colored/flavored with squid ink.  We were supposed to pick out the edible pieces from the pile of charcoal...

...and dip into the dip made with squid, garlic, aioli and piquillo peppers.

Then the octaphilosphy courses began:

Puréte: Seafood on arrival/ wile herbs/ kelp coulis/ legumes - pretty much the same as last time, except for one of the fishies being different.

Sweet shrimp - with sansho leaf (木の芽).

Salmon

Moules de buchot - with courgette and perilla flowers.

Needlefish (針魚)

Abalone - with pickled shallot.

Moules de buchot with wild herb coulis

Sel: Gillardeau oyster/ sea corals/ Granny Smith apple mousse/ caviar - this was one of the dishes that blew us away last time, and it was just as good.  The acidity of the Granny Smith achieved a perfect balance with the brine of the oyster.  However, while I was more than happy to have this again, the upside surprise and "wow factor" was gone.

I still love the presentation though... with the bunch of caviar (both sturgeon and olive oil), mushrooms, chives and Granny Smith apples making up a sea of "corals".

Sud: Heirloom tomato/ white peach/ sea urchin risotto - yup, same as last time... and the dish is split into two separate presentations.

Mackerel with prawn emulsion, sea bass, raw greater amberjack (勘八) over sea urchin risotto.  The prawn emulsion was pretty nice.  The risotto tasted more like sushi rice (シャリ), with the acidity of vinegar.  The plate was also decorated with tiny dots of parsley cream.

Heirloom tomatoes, persimmon, radish, tomato sorbet, Champagne vinaigrette, Japanese seaweed.  I had issues with the staff regarding this very dish last time, because they didn't know all the ingredients - especially the fish.  This time they didn't introduce the fish to us.  When I asked another server, the reply was that this was needlefish (針魚). WTF?! I may not be able to recognize this white fish by sight, but I'll bet a million dollars it ain't needlefish.  We just had needlefish two courses ago, and is this guy seriously trying to tell me that these two are the same fish?!  Looking back at my notes from the last dinner, I'm guessing it's flounder.  We were told that the sorbet was tomato, but there was definitely something else that was much sweeter.  Was it persimmon as the server told us, or white peach as the menu stated?!  Total confusion...

Texture: Homard bleu/ 'airy' gnocchi/ St. Jacques crème anglaise - this was the other dish that totally blew us away last time.  The French blue lobster was just soooo tasty, with perfect texture that is just oh-so-slightly crunchy while still tender and succulent.  The flourless gnocchi were indeed very "airy" and melted in my mouth.

Artisan: grilled topinambour/ fresh truffle/ wild mushroom/ malt vinegar ice cream - pretty interesting new dish for me, and probably served with the same chocolate soil with garlic.  I think the mushrooms were trompette de la mort, and there was a nice layer of onion compote at the bottom.  Combination of different textures, temperatures of the ingredients, and mixture between sweet and savory flavors.

Unicité: barigoule artichokes/ kisu/ olives/ tomato confit - a new dish this time.  The Japanese whiting (鱚) was made into a roll and stuffed with whiting mousse and tartare, and had a distinctively sweet flavor profile.  The artichoke in barigoule sauce was pretty good, and the tomato and black olives further confirmed the provençal roots of the dish.  Garnished with sorrel leaves, a slice of Granny Smith apple, and some butter foam.

Mémoire: warm foie gras jelly/ Perigord black truffle coulis - wonderful dish that I didn't mind having again.  French chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し).  Perfect for the winter - even though it's not exactly cold in Singapore.

Terroir: tri tip/ black garlic tapenade/ wild beets and berries - same ingredient, different preparation.  The tri-tip was wonderfully tasty and fatty, and perfectly charred on the outside.  With beef jus, Swiss char that had turned color, different types of beets and a beet-flavored wafer.  There were also raspberries and black berries, and one of the black berries had been roasted to create an different texture.

Now come the onslaught of desserts...

Wild berries shaved ice/ honey ice cream - HUH?!  What was printed on the menu was completely different from what we had...  This was bitter almond mousse, muscat grape jelly and melon soup.  The layer of muscat jelly also had actual grapes, and the Japanese melon was incredibly fragrant and sweet.  Looove this wonderfully refreshing new dessert.

"Snickers" - same dessert as last time.  Still very tasty, but no surprises.

Bûche de Noël - it's almost Christmas, so we got a little something extra...

The log was made with layers such as chocolate sponge cake, black cherries, chocolate mousse and kirsch bavarois.  On top of the "bark" there were bits of pistachio sponge cake, juniper berry jelly and mushroom crystalline.  Very, very yum.  I especially like the red peppercorns for a hint of spiciness.

And the petit fours arrive...

Strawberry sangria chupa chups - with a touch of cinnamon, I think.

Sencha and macha marshmallow - interesting that they actually used two different types of Japanese tea for different flavors.  The macha (抹茶) was obviously more intense compared to sencha (煎茶).
Chestnut madeleine - had to take it apart and look for the chestnut pieces before confirming that it's really chestnut.  The butter simply overpowered everything else...

French Earl Grey crystalline - I thought there was something else floral besides the bergamot, and asked one of the staff.  He told us that because it's French Earl Grey, they used lavender.  Somehow I don't trust him...

"Popcorn" chocolate - yup, pop rocks AGAIN...

We saved the best wines for tonight, and skewed them in favor of bubbly/whites due to the seafood-oriented menu.

2000 Krug - very toasty, nutty nose.  Acidity was pretty noticeable despite the very ripe palate.  Really, really didn't work with the mussels.

2004 Ramonet Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet - ripe on palate, but turned really metallic with caviar.  Initially served in smaller white wine glasses, the nose improved once we changed to larger glasses.

1986 Lafleur - very ripe on the nose, almost a little stewed, with soy sauce, smoky, minty, slightly earthy notes.  Very beautiful.  Soft on the palate, with higher than expected acidity.

The food was very good tonight.  I was more than happy with the quality of the ingredients, the combination of flavors, as well as the execution.  So why did we leave the restaurant not the happiest of customers, unlike my experience last time?

For me at least, there was one element that disappointed me which my friends did not share.  André Chiang is without a doubt one of the most talented and creative chefs in Asia today.  But when you visit restaurants of this quality helmed by creative chefs, one's expectations naturally go up - especially on repeat visits.  I was expecting to have some dishes repeating tonight, but the result was much worse than I feared.  Five out of eight "snackings", six out of the eight "octaphilosophy" courses, one of three desserts and three of five petit fours were exactly the same.  I was more than happy to have a couple of the same dishes again - especially the oysters and the lobster - but I wasn't expecting to be repeating 70% of the menu at a restaurant supposedly known for the chef's creativity.

Admittedly some of us are very picky customers, but we all had issues with the service tonight - and that covered multiple fronts with each and every one of the front-of-house staff.

I'd always been a pain in the ass when it comes to knowing the different ingredients of a dish, and this is especially important for me at restaurants where it often is a symphony of flavors.  At a restaurant of this caliber - whether by reputation or by the prices charged - I expect the staff to know the dishes well.  On both visits, there were occasions where the staff got the ingredients wrong or left some key ingredients out (such as the fish in the vegetable part of Sud).  The worst part tonight was that we were given printed copies of the menus - and at least one of the desserts was completely wrong.  So what's going on here?  That would never have happened at Caprice, Amber or Pierre in Hong Kong.  Do they not care to get things right because 1) they think their customers don't care, or 2) they think their customers don't know any better, so whatever they say is fine?

The service was also poor in another aspect.  On two separate occasions, some of the ladies left the table.  On at least one occasion the staff knew that the guest would not return to the table for an extended period of time.  Yet when it came time to serve the next course, all four portions were delivered to the table in spite of one or more empty seats.  No one bothered to ask if they should hold back the missing guest's portion until they return - the food was just left on the table.  By the time one of the guests returned, her tomato sorbet from Sud had melted into a puddle.  Not a single staff cared that the guest was returning to a dish that was either too warm or too cold.  That would not have happened at a restaurant of a similar price point in Hong Kong or another major cosmopolitan city.

With "Snickers", at least one of our four portions had toppled over by the time it reached our table.  This is exactly what happened to my millefeuille at Pierre in Hong Kong, and again is something that just shouldn't happen at a restaurant of this caliber.  If the dish falls apart and the presentation is ruined, you should bring it back to the kitchen and get it fixed, instead of serving it to the customer.  Otherwise, why bother with the presentation at all?

Finally, I have to single out the Japanese sommelier for his poor attitude.  Yes, we brought our own wines, so even if the wines turned out faulty we would not have been able to return them.  But it is still standard practice for the sommelier to offer a glass to the customer for tasting - before the wine is poured for the whole table.  With the second bottle, the sommerlier actually came and said: "No need to taste, just pour?"  Why he would make that assumption is beyond me.  Of course we wanted to taste it first!  For the last bottle, the sommelier actually didn't even bother asking us... he just poured from the decanter.

Oh yeah... he also decanted the Lafleur away from us.  What assurances do I have that what he poured from the decanter was actually the wine that we brought?!  The whole reason why a sommelier ALWAYS decants the wine within sight of the customer is to eliminate any suspicion of switching - so that the customer knows that what he or she is drinking is in fact the very wine that he or she ordered or brought.  That the offending sommelier came from Japan - where the standard of service is traditionally so high - was even more surprising to us.  Fortunately the Specialist knew her wines and identified the bottle she brought...

This was such a shame!  Tonight's dinner could have blown us away in the same manner like my last visit, as I was absolutely unable to find fault with the food.  Instead one of the most talented chefs in Asia was completely let down by his front-of-house, and marred what would otherwise have been a fantastic meal.

7 comments:

Derek said...

Interesting thoughts on front of house. I'd imagine like all high end restaurants, they struggle to find and keep staff.

Daniel's Food Diary said...

I can't tell which country you are from (I guess HK), but the lack of service staff is not just a challenge for this restaurant, but the entire country, unfortunately.

Peech said...

Daniel,

Yes, good help is hard to find everywhere, and service staff in Singapore are as braindead as they come. But one would think that an establishment like this - World Best 50 and blah blah blah - should be able to recruit, train and retain good staff...

Kenneth Tiong said...

Hello Hedgie,

I dined at Restaurant Andre twice in two weeks last August, and I asked Stepan (the GM) to try a wider range of Chef Andre's cooking and prepare a different set of dishes of possible. So if you're coming back to Andre next time, I think you can just request a simple changeover.

Cheers,
Kenneth

Link if you want to browse dishes from both nights: kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/andre-singapore-31072013-and-10082013-octaphilosophy/

Peech said...

Hi Kenneth,

If I were in your situation (and I was last year with regard to RyuGin in Hong Kong) I would certainly have asked the resto to do something. However, I still think that having 70% of the same dishes 7 months apart is a little too much. It doesn't encourage repeat visits.

kennethtiongeats said...

It is an interesting question though: do you think it's all right to ask for a changeover menu even 7 months apart?

Peech said...

Kenneth, I'm not going back again unless I get some different dishes!

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