Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Restaurant Andre - Perfection

He didn’t say where were going for my 30th birthday dinner. I just had to put on a nice dress. For all I knew, we were heading to a hawker centre near Chinatown… 

Little did I know he was taking me Restaurant Andre, currently ranking 3rd on Asia’s Top 50 and recently been awarded 2 Michelin stars. The understated entrance had a cosy glow; I felt I chose the right dress. Our server greeted us before introducing us to Chef Andre's unique octaphilosophy concept, explaining that the meal had a focus on fresh seafood, followed by the most splendid series of pre-meal snacks.

The sommelier presented the little book of wine. We left it to his safe hands to recommend wine by glass, starting with a light bodied red from South of France.

Snacks:
Wild Mushroom Tart; “Spring Tree” Cabbage-Curry / Swiss Chard / Potato Vinegar; Miso / Celeriac / Wild Flowers (above)


The small pile of ceps masked the mushroom mousse in the centre, served on brittle biscuit, was like a breath of fungi perfume.The beautifully presented air-dried vegetable crisps were innovative and moreish. But my favourite was the thin twig of celeriac puree mixed with the umami from miso.

Abalone / Liver / Crispy Kombu (left);  Fish & Chips (right)
This was mind-blowing. The small bundles of seaweed were blanketed with thin slices of abalone sashimi, naturally sweet and delicate with a springy texture. The flavours were incredibly clean, like a breeze across the ocean. The tongue-in-cheek fish & chips was a tiny white bait wrapped in fluffy potato coils, dusted with cider vinegar. It was a perfect mouthful of the iconic British fare.

Charcoal with Piquillos (front); Butternut / Salted Egg / Vanilla (back)
We were given the challenge to pick out the charcoal bread from the real charcoal pieces, served with a creamy pepper dip with slices of Japanese sweet shrimp. It was a playful end to the series of amuse bouche.

Octaphilosophy
Then we move onto the body of our meal, which is a dining concept consisted of 8 keys elements, each representing an interpretation by Chef Andre. I may well have paired the dishes to the elements incorrectly… I lost track as our server meticulously introduced each course with genuine enthusiasm.

Unique: Charred Corn / Bitter Almond / Horseradish
Our server explained our first is a mixture of many flavours; sweetness from the corn, bitterness from the almond and spiciness from the horseradish. Never would I have imagined this combination could have so much chemistry. Without losing their characters, the flavours were layered as one took over another, held beautifully together by a savoury whipped vanilla cream. The balance among each ingredient was en pointe. 

Pure: Stone Crab / Cucumber / Sea urchin
The thin slices of cucumber were lightly marinated with salt water, building a gentle resemblance to the sea, bringing out the sweetness of the crab meat pile in the middle. With sea urchin there is always the risk of it dominating the dish and washing over more subtle components, here the distinctive flavours were craftily toned down by globules of cucumber ice, leaving just a hint of its aroma that lingered in the aftertaste. It was masterly creation.

Texture: Squid Pasta / Kelp Jus / Potato Mousse

The squid spaghetti were playful and full of bounce, immensed in a luscious velvety potato cream that was mixed with the naturally salty seaweed jus; finished with a helping of toasted rice and sakura prawns amplifying the oceanic goodness from the seaweed gravy. Gorgeous.

South: Caviar Aubergine / Scallop Lasagne / Burnt Oyster
This course was a reminder of the 9 years Chef spent in South of France, where he enjoyed cooking with abundance of fresh seafoods. For me, this was pure indulgence; A plump gillardeau oyster was lightly charred to give a touch of smokiness to highlight its minerals but retained its creamy textures in the centre. The slight bitterness was perfect with aubergine, reining in the powerful caviar. Finally a huge sheet silky scallop carpaccio enveloping the parcel with its exceptional sweetness. Each course was outdoing the previous one… but I think this was my favourite dish of the evening.

Artisan: Roasted Topinambour / Espadon and Palourde / Kale Puree
Topinambour is also known as Jerusalem artichoke. This course was about the soils and so had a strong earthy tone from the soft and succulent artichoke heart, rounded off with a clam broth and springs of dried swordfish. Perhaps I was still too blown away by the oyster, this was somewhat less striking.

Salt: Risotto / Wild Fungus / Buckwheat wafer

I got excited when this huge fungus arrived at our table and our server asked if we were ready for some white truffle. Then she announced there was neither truffle or risotto in this truffle risotto. The ‘rice’ was pasta, not dissimilar to the puntalette at Lung King Heen, less starchy and more al-dante chew, infused with wild mushroom fragrance from the array of chopped mushroom. The generous shavings of the pungent cheese was nutty and aromatic, a trusted match to the wild fungus.

Memory: Foie Gras / Truffle / Chives
Apparently Andre has been serving this dish since the restaurant opening. The foie gras was blended into the eggy custard, exuding richness and foie gras essence, topped with a truffle relish. Interestingly we both found the dish familiar, definitely something resonated from my memory. Possibly the egg from Dabbous?

Terroirs: Forest Chips / Cacao nips / Pigeonneau Royal D’Anjou
The room as filled with cacao perfume when our server brought out the whole bird. It was then taken back into the kitchen for carving.

We both thought, what happened to the rest of the bird?! We were served the most tender part of the medium-rare pigeon breast, bursting with gamey flavours but not overpoweringly bloody. The skin had soaked up the woody fragrance, creating a foresty feel with the air-dried vegetables.

Desserts:
Green Tea Ceremony
This was most intriguing. To bridge the transition from savoury to sweet, we were brought a green tea ice cream, overlaid with green pea espuma,and a few frozen peas thrown into the mix. The changeover felt somewhat forced at first, but then it really grew on me and the combination worked.

Red Grapes / White Peach / Bergamote
The grape carpaccio looked like sliced octopus. If there was one item that didn’t put an immediate grin on my face this evening, this could be it. It was too sweet; as with a lot of peach flavoured desserts, the sweetness could come across slightly artificial. We thought this was like a melted hi-chew candy.

Then the staff brought out my little birthday cake with a music box - salted caramel mousse with a praline filling. Chef even signed a birthday note and wished me a happy birthday as he made his rounds at the end of the evening to greet his guests.

Camembert 
This was homemade cheese by Restaurant Andre, it came with a tiny booklet explaining how it was made. The cheese was light and feathery, like a chiffon cheesecake. After sampling the first spoonful, our server added hay ice cream to the soft cheese, building another mouthfeel to the composite. 

Petits Fours: Kaya Toast / Verjus and Pine Floss / Cherry Coke Chupa Chups / French Earl Grey Crystalline / Guinette Madeleine / Churros & Nutella

Restaurant Andre was perfection - from start to finish. Every dish was exquisitely designed and magnificently presented; the entire menu was oozing with finesse. An impeccable evening with the man I’m head over heels for, filled with sensational food, laughters and affection - I could not have asked for a more dreamy birthday. 

Our next chapter awaits.

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


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei


I spent a long time debating whether I should spend a weekend in Brunei. On the one hand the flights and accommodation aren’t exactly cheap, and I already knew there wasn’t much to see / do there. On the other hand I wanted to tick another country off my visit-list and collect another stamp on my passport. After all it’s not like I would ever come here after I leave Singapore. Curiosity got the better of me and I set off on  Saturday morning.

Public transport is limited in the city; most people have cars and buses operate at 20min intervals with the last bus finishing at 6pm. I stayed at Capital Residence, which operates a shuttle service covering the main sights including airport transfers. To be honest the staff were so friendly and easy-going they would have dropped you off anywhere you asked.

My flight landed in the afternoon and the city was like a cranked-up oven. It was a different kind of heat to Singapore; it was dry, skin-splitting kind of dry. I walked to Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, aka SOAS or the old mosque. The city centre was eerily quiet on a Saturday, most probably because no one in their right mind would choose to be outdoors at 38 degrees. Despite being the main sight, there were just a handful of tourists. I was given a long black robe to cover up, then I joined the other 4 people on the small mat inside. There isn’t much to see given we were confined to the entrance, but given it was fully air-conditioned, it was a nice place to cool off.

After walking around the mosque, I strolled along the river overlooking Kampong Ayer, a water village built entirely on stilts. There were plenty of water taxis offering 30-min tours around the village for $20. Alternatively a boat trip to cross the river is only $1. I didn’t bother as I have seen these in Penang.

In the evening I checked out the Gadong Night Market. The city was much more welcoming in the evening without the blazing sun. The covered market had a mixture of household goods and food stalls. Nothing like street markets in Thailand; maybe 30 food stalls split into 3 rows, jam packed with cars weaving between the stalls. There was a selection local delicacies including barbecue skewers, kebabs, nasi lemaks, satays and oddly enough Japanese Takoyaki with tuna (!) or chicken (!!) filling. Prices were cheap - most items were going for $1-2. With an iced milk tea in hand ($1), I bought 2 sets of satays, chicken and beef ($2), 3 chicken wings ($3) and a mixed kebab ($2).


The kebab was out of this world - the meat mix was so juicy and loaded with a delicious marinade packed with flavours, mixed with a generous dollop of mayo - it was wickedly indulgent. The satay and chicken wings were great, excellent value for money. There stalls selling chicken wings also sell skewers of ‘chicken tail’, or some would call them chicken assholes. I wasn’t brave enough to try; it’s pure fat wrapped in chicken skin, which basically means poison.

There wasn’t a designated eating area with tables and chairs, as most locals come by car to pick up takeaways. I just munched away as I wandered around.

Before heading back to the hotel, I made a stop at Jame’ Mosque (Jame’ Asri Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah), which is the new mosque built to commemorate the current Sultan.

I made a detour to the Palace entrance briefly just to marvel at its size and was hoping to catch a glimpse of the 1000 supercars the Sultan owns. The driver spoke very fondly of the Sultan. He explained he used to live in Kampong Ayer when he was younger, but a fire wiped out his house and the Sultan just gave them a new house near the airport. Orphans are also taken into the palace under his majesty’s care.

Final stop for the evening was the SOAS mosque to see it at night. The promenade by the mosque was flooded with people, not worshippers, but with Pokemon-Go players. I heard the game was rolled out to Brunei the day before and the craze took over the city…

After a hearty breakfast, I wandered down to Kianggeh Market. There’s nothing to see there. The Royal Regalia Museum, however, was most impressive. It hosts a spectacular display of royal accessories and gifts for the Sultan around the world during coronation. The reconstructions were magnificent.

With half a day to spare before catching my flight, I had exhausted all points of interest in town. There is a trio of malls near the airport, so I decided to check out the cinema at Times Square. Tickets were going for $7! Suicide Squad was a bit meh, but it was great way to kill a couple of hours. Before leaving for the airport, I tried Lee Loi Fatt foodstall, I heard they made their name by serving superb fritters. I went for a cucur udang, keladi & taufu (shrimp, taro and tofu), served with a generous pool of hoi sin and chilli sauce. It was delicious; a light and crispy batter with soft and fluffy fillings.

People said it was very possible to walk to the airport from the mall. Well, no one told me that I’d be walking on the highway and crossing a couple of massive roundabouts. I guess people don’t usually walk here. Well… I did. Thankfully traffic was light, which made crossing the highway exits a bit less nerve-wrecking. 

I’m glad I made the trip to Brunei.  People are helpful and easy-going, food is cheap and good, though mostly Malaysian. Fair enough it’s not the most exciting destination, but the sleepy sultanate is unique in its simplicity and laid-back ambience.

Brunei - check.