Monday, 1 September, 2014

Published April 14, 2014
Alpine cuisine hits a high
Chef Lorenz-Maria Griesser stakes out new gastronomic terrain at ZOTT's, writes JAIME EE
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OTT ambience: ZOTT’s over-the-top decor features a diabolical-looking metal sculpture of a horned horse nuzzling/about to eat an ugly pink baby. The glass-encased ox head (above) that fronts the open kitchen is apparently the taxidermied pet of the owner, Christian Zott. - PHOTOS: ZOTT

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97 Amoy Street

Tel: 6223 0913

Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Fri: 11am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 11.30pm

Dinner only on Sat: 6pm to 11.30pm. Closed on Sun

SO here's what I think Alpine cuisine is. Cheese fondue. Served by a milkmaid named Heidi who spent the morning squeezing the udders of family cows Ursula and Matilda, before sitting down to a hearty meal of boiled meat and potatoes, stone-hard bread with rendered bacon fat, strudel for dessert, washed down with apple cider and grog.

No, I don't know what alpine cuisine is.

ZOTT'S, on the other hand, is eager to enlighten you at its over-the-top, stylised temple to European mountain cooking in Amoy Street. Except that what strikes you first isn't the food, but how the owners have managed to squeeze a fine dining restaurant, art gallery and cow theme park into the very narrow confines of this restored shophouse - all in meticulous, elaborate (expensive) fashion.

Step into the cool, gunmetal grey interior with its artfully positioned lighting, and giant oil paintings leap out at you from your left, behind protective glass walls. Russian artists, you're told, even though you don't ask. They're all for sale and you're given a catalogue - even though you don't ask.

Just in case your living room could use a Satanic metal sculpture of a horned horse nuzzling/about to eat an ugly pink baby. The glass-encased ox head that fronts the open kitchen is apparently the taxidermied pet of the owner, Christian Zott (hence the restaurant's name), but we forget to ask if that's for sale too.

If someone introduces a restaurant bathroom of the year award, ZOTT'S restroom would win, hooves down, for its fantastical/ludicrous rendition of alpine sanitation. A massive bovine peers at you through the mirror, as cowbells ring, cows moo and yodellers, well, yodel, in the background. I can't say for sure, but I think I heard a cow cough in mid-moo.

You really have to give it to them for their painstaking attention to detail. In a sea of cookie-cutter grunge-cool designer eateries which have to make do with limited resources, ZOTT'S stands out for its no-expense-spared approach. That extends to the menu, too, which takes the form of a heavy hardback that chronicles the concept and geography of the cuisine on offer. Just don't over-think the whole alpine concept - it's a loose interpretation that includes all of Europe's mountainous regions from Germany to France, Italy and Switzerland, so just about anything goes.

Chef Lorenz-Maria Griesser's cooking leans towards Bavarian and Austrian multi-syllabic specialities such as Kaiserschmarrn (souffle pancake), Tellerfleisch (beef done three ways) or Geshmorte Lammschulter (lamb shoulder). So being the alpine troupers we are, we order: Bouillabaise. A traditional Provencal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille, says Wikipedia. According to our heavily accented ZOTT'S server, we gather that water from the mountains flows into the Mediterranean, so you know, it's technically alpine.

Never mind. It's delicious. Even though at $87, you're subsidising the airfare of the red mullet, sea bass, scorpion fish (rascasse) and turbot which are all flown fresh from their home waters because the restaurant wants to ensure full authenticity of the dish.

Apart from the strong flavour of the mullet, the rest of the fish add to the delicate body of the seafood bisque that is further pumped up with the accompanying rouille and baby baguette slices.

We're pretty impressed with Chef Griesser's sure hand and innovative approach, as in the Carpacio d'Espadon ($28), where lightly marinated raw swordfish is adorned with salmon roe and a whimsical "apple creation" where pureed frozen apple is shaped to look like the real thing complete with red gelatin skin. The light ice cream-like mixture adds a mild sweetness to the savoury, slightly fishy swordfish sashimi.

Also a winner is the Suedtiroler Apfelsuppe ($26) - a creamy apple soup made from a blend of fruit, chicken broth and tomatoes, poured over a silky-textured slab of lightly smoked Arctic char, tiny balls of very sweet apple and pebble-like potatoes. The mouth feel of fish and barely discernible saltiness works in tandem with the sweet-savoury, lightly thickened broth.

The Bondage Chicken hints at a macho specimen trussed up and carted to your table, but the puny partner in this tryst speaks volumes of how big really is better. Do you want to pay $36 for a pigeon-sized bird with no alpine affiliation? Even if cooked rotiserrie-tender with a scant flavour of Bavarian paprika and curry powder seasoning? Upsizing is perhaps in order here.

We do, however, wish that Kaiserschmarrn ($24) could replace souffle in the cooking lexicon because it takes the airiness of the latter and the fluffiness of a pancake and creates dessert heaven dusted with powdered sugar, served with vanilla ice cream and stewed plums. If you prefer desserts you can drink, we recommend the boozy milkshake masquerading as a buttermilk cocktail ($24) that you drink out of a horn.

Dining above sea level comes at a premium at ZOTT'S, so it's up to you to decide if the change of scenery is worth it. You can also argue till the cows come home about the definition of alpine cuisine but we're happy to give ZOTT'S its due for believing in itself and putting its money where its mouth is. Moo.

Rating: 7


10: The ultimate dining experience

9-9.5: Sublime

8-8.5: Excellent

7-7.5: Good to very good

6-6.5: Promising

5-5.5: Average