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Plating up the good, the bad and the wacky
BACCHANALIA'S Ivan Brehm takes the humble carrot and turns it into a multi-faceted "carrot cake": chewy-crunchy slow-cooked carrots, carrot sponge, carrot jam, carrot cream, carrot custard... whew. Top marks for ingenuity and for making us look at vegetables in a new light.
There's more to the humble bread roll than just deciding between butter or olive oil. Bacchanalia (again), The Disgruntled Chef, Cure and Terra are some restaurants who will give Paleo converts carbo withdrawal symptoms. Bacchanalia does a crusty loaf with creamy polenta and basil oil which you wash down with intense vegetable consomme.
The Disgruntled Chef does magic with burnt onion charcoal bread that's torn into jagged pieces - toasty on the outside, pillowy inside - that you dip into cream cheese topped with fish floss. Cure's fluffy warm sourdough is transformed with "bacon butter" - whipped yellow heaven dusted with bacon crumbs - and mildly fermented cabbage. And Terra is a little stingy with its addictive toasted ciabatta and homemade mushroom pate.
Speaking of Terra, chef/owner Seita Nakahara is a firm believer in uni that is sweet, creamy and not at all funky - unlike some Italian or other restaurants with very lax definitions of freshness. His uni pasta is the perfect combination of Italian cuisine and Japanese flavours. Made without cream and accented with yuzu, the homemade pasta is light and briny and full of sea urchin punch without the pong.
Whether they hold Japanese or Australian passports, wagyu is the steak of choice this year with myriad varieties coming onstream. But our favourite ways of eating wagyu include the Kagoshima wagyu tenderloin from Hide Yamamoto's chef's table menu. The meat is wrapped in straw and baked in a salt crust before being seared on the grill, served with yuzu miso, popped rice and shaved truffles for a luxe-on-luxe treat. At Syun - another celebrity chef-linked (Hal Yamashita) eatery - the best dish is a triple threat of wagyu sashimi, uni and caviar balanced on a spoon and polished off in one amazing bite.
New mod-Chinese eatery Lokkee can give Korean fried chicken a run for its money with its Firecracker Chicken Nest - numbingly spicy deep-fried nuggets served with chopped dried chillies and "egg yolks" that are really mango puree to put your tongue fire out. But for the real Korean McCoy, Joo Bar's crispy chicken gets our vote over BonChon any time. And no queue too.
Oh My Edomae
Our new favourite sushi joint Ashino features a serious Tokyo chef who doesn't even serve sashimi because it's a totally different skill in his mind. We're happy to go along when he crafts such exquisite morsels from seafood that are aged to its peak texture and flavour. Like his quivering plump botan ebi aged for three days and so delicate you literally eat it off his hand.
Best things come in small packages and at Labyrinth they certainly know it. We love Han Li Guang's baby snacks of nostalgic food served at the start of his wacky journey into modern Singapore food. Note the chwee kueh that tastes like nasi lemak, and the pastry puff that bursts with rojak flavour.
Jean-Charles DuBois's lobster bisque at Balzac Brasserie beats all other contenders with a perfect harmony of seafood broth, cream and cheesy baby ravioli. You can't get more classic than this.
Japanese not-so-fast food
Hashida Garo does designer casual dining with flair - we're still in love with the wagyu croquettes and water manju - with its three transparent balls of jelly filled with a smooth bean paste, floating in a light mint syrup.
Cake for dinner
Antoinette's Pang Kok Keong's carved a niche for himself with stunning sandwiches in cake's clothing. His Father's Day creation was a memorable combination of light rye bread, smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, tomato marmalade and egg mayonnaise, coated with a layer of cream and mascarpone cheese. He had one for Christmas, and we can't wait to see what he comes up with for Chinese New Year. Nian gao sandwich?
Are you lookin' at me?
Lollapalooza wants you to know what part of the animal your food comes from, hence graphic dishes like a whole unpeeled cooked ox tongue that appears on your plate and gooey whole tuna eyes that we can't bring ourselves to order despite our fish head curry eye fetish. Yes, we should know where our food comes from - but we still like to think they come in neat packages in the supermarket.
Hipster hawker - Not
The folks behind Wanton Seng need to apprentice at some real wonton noodle stalls if they want any respect. Lacklustre pork belly done char siew style and bland wontons don't do justice to otherwise good al dente noodles.
What's that again?
Some things we couldn't quite figure out: Adrift's chilli crab, The Rabbit Stash's ENSOPHI philosophy, Coriander Leaf's designer overload and Violet Herb's purple Princess Elsa dining room made dining out a more colourful, intellectual and flavour-bending experience this year.
Here's to another year of good, bad, wacky and weird things to eat - we're looking forward to it.
READ MORE: On the cutting edge