The worst part of any gastronomic holiday is when it comes to an end – not because I’ve not eaten my fill (on the contrary I have usually over-indulged and am eager for respite), but because a daunting pile of blog posts often await my return. Wanting to avoid this predicament after my recent restaurant-packed trip to Singapore, I resolved to start penning a few while still abroad. But of course that was never going to happen. Now that my tan has already started to fade it’s high time I got writing, starting with Restaurant André helmed by man-of-the-moment André Chiang.
The French-trained Taiwanese chef cut his teeth at an impressive roster of Michelin-starred establishments (L’Astrance, Pierre Gagnaire, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, La Maison Troisgros and Le Jardin des Sens) but is best known for his two stellar years at Jaan par André, which he led to critical acclaim both within Asia (ranked 4th in the Miele Guide 2010) and worldwide, placing 39th in this year’s S.Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. Barely a month old, his eponymous first restaurant was already being pitted as the best new opening in town and seemed the perfect venue for a catch up with friend and fellow fine-dining enthusiast T.
We arrived at the small 30-seater on the cusp of Chinatown with high expectations, quickly settling in with a couple glasses of de Sousa Brut (the house champagne) while eyeing the minimalist pre-determined menu. On it, in place of ingredients were eight words that defines Chiang’s culinary approach, or as he calls it, his “Octo-Philosophy” – Pure, Salt, Artisan, South, Texture, Unique, Memory, Terroirs. Kind of tricky for wine selection (we ended up leaving the choice of wines by the glass to the discretion of the sommelier) and more than a touch pretentious for my liking, but I decided to reserve judgement and tuck into the array of canapés that kicked things off.
Paper-thin Masala Chicken Skin shards snapped pleasingly in the mouth but surprisingly lacked flavour. Baby Aji Fish Tartare encased in crunchy toast cylinders was fresh and sweet, with a nice textural contrast, and equally tasty but in a deeper savoury way was the Porcini and Onion Tart. Not really a tart as such, but rather a fragile lacy umami-rich mushroom wafer dusted with parmesan.
The Vanilla Popcorn however was odd – the popcorn fragments were bland and made worse by an unappealing acrid tasting butter-like substance. We both agreed the teaspoonfuls should have been left off the line-up. Palate teasers over, it was time for the Octo-journey.
First up was a Raw Scallop Ravioli which consisted of silken slices of scallop lightly spread with seaweed paste and wrapped around Japanese chives in a pretty lavender pool of Purple Cauliflower Consommé. The dish is titled ‘Pure’ as it has been left unseasoned, with only the seaweed paste to impart salt and a sprinkling of dill flowers and purple chiso flowers for aromatics. Delicate, clean and understated – this was the standout dish of the evening.
The next offering ‘Salt’ was not quite as harmonious – a single fresh Oyster jarred with its blanket of sickly sweet Granny Smith Apple Foam which had an artificial candy-like quality not disimilar to Japanese Hi-Chew sweets. The mollusc cried out for more acidity, but did marry well with the seaweed jelly and sea water dotted with vintage French olive oil.
I rather enjoyed the ‘Artisan’ course of Kyoto Aubergine with Aubergine Crème Anglais, Macadamia Shavings, Caviar and vintage olive oil, as did T, who declared it her favourite. I did however question the inclusion of caviar as the creamy aubergine and strong olive oil completely masked the delicate black pearls – the dish would be just as exceptional without the luxury addition.
A duo of plates followed for ‘South’ which the waiter explained to be representative of the South of France where the chef has spent time and greatly influences his cuisine. We were advised to eat the cold course first – cured kinmedai (golden eye snapper), tomatoes and Japanese seaweed with persimmon sorbet. One-note and unexciting, the salad brought little to the table.
The other plate of Seared Sea Bass, Raw Prawn and Razor Clams with Spanish Rice and Shellfish Foam was far more successful with some strong components (although what paella had to do with the South of France I’m not too sure). The prawn and clams were especially delicious – the former, rolled into a cylinder, was sweet and creamy while the latter were tender and beautiful against its bed of silky cauliflower purée.
For ‘Texture’ the waiter presented us with rectangular slate slabs carefully stacked with black Arborio Rice Squid Ink Crackers concealing a snowy white mound of Squid ‘Risotto’. The crackers provided crunch that juxtaposed with the soft cauliflower cream-enrobed squid pieces but the dish was let down by a serious lack of flavour. The Ledbury’s excellent version totally blows this out of the water.
The White Alba Truffle, Iberico Ham, slow-cooked Black Chicken Egg, Girolles, Morels and Veal Jus concoction that followed was a checklist of some of my favourite foods and tasted as incredible as it reads. Not exactly ‘Unique’ though – truffle, egg and mushrooms being a tried and tested combination. Annoyingly the sommelier kept us on the Pinot Gris paired with the last course which was hardly an ideal match.
We were both reaching our limit by the ‘Memory’ course of Foie Gras Custard with Black Truffle Coulis which has been with the chef since 1998, in various different permutations. The intensely rich dish sent us over the edge, and we requested a pause before the main to recover.
After a brief intermission we took on ‘Terroir’: Milk Fed Lamb, Lamb Jus, Garlic Crumbs, Dehydrated Olives and Tarragon and Green Pea Pureés Lamb. It was well-executed but I was really too full to appreciate it. I do remember liking the intriguing worm-like French Root Vegetables on the side.
Dessert was not listed on the menu and we were simply informed that we would receive a Chocolate Plate. Thankfully it was a lot lighter than the name implied, although I still struggled to finish the Caramel Sponge, Chocolate Dust, Chocolate Crisp, Chocolate Sphere and Tonka Bean Ice Cream with Fromage Frais. Like many of the other dishes, this was good in parts – the sponge was light and airy and the ice cream dreamy, but the thick skin on the chocolate sphere had an unpleasant chemical taste, a shame as the riff on a warm chocolate fondant was quite clever.
We had the pleasure of meeting the amicable chef as he made the rounds after service and he was excited and passionate about his solo venture, which allows complete creative freedom unlike Jaan where he faced certain restrictions (as with all hotel restaurants). Clearly pleased with the overwhelming response (they were booked out until the new year), he talked animatedly about the multi-level space which aside from the central dining room, has a private room and a private art studio (Chiang is an avid potter).
Despite taking an immediate liking to André, I left somewhat disappointed – many of the dishes did not come together as a whole, the sommelier’s pick of wines were pedestrian (I would have also appreciated a more structured pairing) and I genuinely felt the experience was not worth the price (S$288 a head, sans alcohol). That being said, having revisited what I ate that evening I can see the glimpses of brilliance and with it only being early days, Restaurant André certainly shows promise. Not at the top of my Singapore dining destinations, but I wouldn’t rule out a second visit when I’m next in town.
41 Bukit Pasoh Road
t.+65 65 348 880