November 18, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 1: Australasian fine dining

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I'm back in Singapore for a few days, this time tagging along with Hello Kitty on her business trip.  We are staying for a couple of extra days to see friends and, of course, to eat.  It's a trip that both of us are kinda looking forward to.

But the trip started off badly.  Some idiot (that would be yours truly) decided to leave behind a big care package destined for three of my friends.  After having boarded the plane, I realized that the bag was nowhere to be found.  Naturally we weren't allowed to get off the plane to look for it, although CX ground staff did help - including looking for it in the lounge, and notified us while we were in the air that the package could not be located.

I was pissed.  There were valuable goodies that I had spent time, effort, and money to gather.  Now I would have to tell three different friends about their impending disappointment... and my stupidity.

Anyway... We arrived at the Oasia Downtown Hotel and checked in without a hitch.  We had a little time before dinner, so Hello Kitty checked out the Red Dot Design Museum.  It's been 6 months since my last visit, and I think they managed to change about 95% of the exhibit - which is pretty cool.

Dinner time rolled around, and I went to meet my friend Chubby Hubby and his lovely wife S.  Thankfully, this time he was in good enough shape to see me.  I had suggested a few places that I wanted to check out, and we settled on Whitegrass.  I had heard positive feedback from a couple of friends, and I was curious about it after seeing some very pretty pictures.

I was kinda starving since I didn't eat much on my flight.  So I dug in to the goodies on the table right away...

I love it when a restaurant gives you lardo.  This was perfect with the sourdough bread.

The butter was pretty good, too... and came in ceramic containers that looked like mushrooms.

After getting an explanation regarding the two options available, S graciously agreed to join the rest of us for the larger, 8-course "discovery menu".  This was gonna be fun...

Chef Sam Aisbett started us off with some nibbles...
Cheese bicsuits with fresh goat's curd and fennel

Smoked hamachi with charcoal cracker, avruga caviar, and bottarga - I hate to repeat myself, but avruga isn't fucking caviar.

Fried Japanese river crabs with XO sauce - I love these little crabs, and they were a little spicy thanks to the sauce.

"Bibimbap" - a little extra from the chef, who confessed that this was really more Japanese.  On top of the konbu (昆布) cream at the bottom sat piles of dashi (出汁) jelly, Japanese cucumber, Japanese radish, chrysanthemum petals, puffed rice, cured trout roe, and Korean nori (のり).  Interesting combination of textures.

Native Australian fresh water marron, yuzu koshu, pomelo, citrus marmalade, nasturtium, boiling cold tea - the "boiling cold tea" was poured into our bowls, and the bowls were enveloped in mist for a short while.  The marron was really delicious, and the lemon purée and frozen pomelo pulp worked with the homemade yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) to bring refreshing citrus flavors - while adding a nice little kick from the chili pepper.

White cut organic chicken, violet artichokes, pickled jellyfish, fresh and roasted hazelnuts, sesame, ginger vinegar - in a tribute to Hainanese chicken rice, the chef poached the chicken so that it was tender and succulent, while adding Jerusalem artichokes, violet artichokes, and Chinese artichokes.  Fresh and roasted hazelnuts were added on top to add crunch and fragrance, with shimeji (しめじ) mushrooms, sesame, salted egg yolk, and snake gourd flowers.

Knowing that we share a common distate for mushy chicken, I asked Hello Kitty what she thought of the dish.  Her response was "雞冇雞味" - meaning that chicken is too bland and doesn't actually taste of chicken.  I find that this has become the prevalent taste in Singapore... which turns me off of all those supposedly famous Haianese chicken joints in town.

Having said that, the flavors here - in addition to the chicken, that is - are pretty interesting... and certainly texture-wise was very complex.

Geoduck clam, steamed shitake custard, fermented celeriac, white hen of the woods mushrooms, umami stock - thin slices of geoduck, with mushrooms, dots of young garlic purée, and some crisps at the top.  The shiitke and "umami stock" certainly delivered.

Lobster custard with umami pearls - another little extra from the chef.  Umami stock, sago pearls, chives, sesame.

Australian jade tiger abalone with three treasures - the Jade Tiger abalone is so named because of the green hue in its shell as well as the black tiger stripes on the inside lip of its shell.  The abalone was salt-baked with kelp (昆布), then served between slices of shiitake mushrooms and Japanese white eggplant. The green peppercorns in the stock is the third treasure, which delivered a real vibrant kick.  The stock was treated by adding agar agar to give it a viscous, gel-like texture.  Very Chinese, and very bling thanks to the huge gold leaf on top.

Roasted Mangalica pork jowl, scallop silk, white turnip cream, cabbage stem, black moss, aromatic pork broth - this was undoubtedly the best dish of the evening.  The turnip cream sat at the bottom of the bowl, topped by very thin and crunchy sheets of radish, along with small chunks of radish on the side.  In addition to the soft and smooth tofu, there were also ribbons of scallop processed, I suspect, not unlike the way André Chiang does it at his eponymous restaurant.

This was all very nice, but the pièce de résistance was the pork jowl - which was oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth thanks to the collagen and fat.  What made it even more amazing was the black hair moss (髮菜) wrapped around it, which was pan-fried to make it crispy.  So as one bites into the pork, the sensation delivered was a crispy and aromatic exterior with a soft and fatty center.  How awesome was that?!

Roasted Anjou pigeon, slow roasted young beetroots, milk skin, fresh currants, mountain pepper, sour leaves - the final savory course seemed to be an anticlimax for me.  I LOOOOVE pigeon, and love it when it's done rosé, but when you extract the breast and serve it to me without any of that crispy, browned skin... then my enjoyment has just been cut by more than 50%.  Wrapping the pigeon leg meat in milk skin was a nice touch, as was serving the pigeon heart and putting diced pigeon liver on top... but it's all just trying to claw back from the major disappointing blow you've just dealt me.

Add to this the fact that there were chunks of beetroot on the side, and it's easy to see why neither Hello Kitty nor I cared for the dish...

Japanese Niitaka pear, amazake milk jelly, shiso leaf ice cream - each "pearl" was made with a different ingredient, which included pear, pear juice granita, perilla (紫蘇) leaf ice cream, yuzu (柚子), and amazake (甘酒) milk jelly.  The pear was a little on the sour side, and there was acidity from the yuzu. I liked the sweet and alcoholic milk jelly, but didn't manage to detect any hint of perilla.  Still, a nice and refreshing dessert.

Feijoa, pineapple, lime - with feijoa ice cream, almond cake, pineapple and lime curd, lime and koshu (古酒)? cream frozen and crushed before sprinkling on top, along with dots of pineapple, apple, and lime gel as well as some dried milk.

There were just so many different textures here... from the frozen powder on top, to crunchy bits, to soft gel, to a chewy and almost gummy center.  The flavor profile was mostly sweet, with a little acidity.

I didn't know what feijoa was, so I asked to see the raw fruit.  As it turns out, the texture was not dissimilar to a soft guava, although it was certainly more acidic, with green and floral notes.

Then came the petits fours:
Marshmallow chocolate royale - with a raspberry marshmallow at the bottom and chocolate brownie on top.

Cookie sandwich with dulce de leche and maja blanca.

Even though I didn't manage to bring the goodies that my friends requested, at least I didn't show up empty-handed... The two bottles of wine that I had in my check-in luggage didn't get lost.

Jacques Selosse Version Originale, dégorgée le 20 Decembre 2012 - nose was very nice and yeasty, with lots of minerals.  As the wine was a little warm at first, the acidity was a little high, but this improved with further chilling.  I loooove Champagnes with oxidation, as the nose showed some salted plums (話梅).

2001 Sine Qua Non Albino - a blend of 46% Chardonnay, 40% Roussanne, and 14% Viognier.  This had a huge toasty nose, with lots of roasted corn, with a little ripeness and a little sweet grass.  After an hour the nose became very buttery.  This was soooo fragrant and beautiful.

This was a lot of fun tonight.  I got a chance to try out a new restaurant with a chef who used a lot of Asian ingredients and created dishes inspired by Asian cuisine, and I got to drink some decent wines while catching up with friends.  This trip to Singapore was beginning to look better...

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