21 Lewin Terrace
Tel: 6333 9905
Open for lunch and dinner.
Mon to Sun: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6.30pm to 11pm
THROW a stone in Singapore and you're likely to hit a new cafe. Throw another stone and you're likely to hit an old person with nowhere to have a proper sitdown meal with real tablecloths and napkins.
Before the latter becomes extinct - the restaurant, not the old person - the newly established Lewin Terrace is a valiant attempt to revive an era when going out to dinner was an occasion and not a "what do you want to eat" daily banality.
It may be an uphill climb for Lewin Terrace, and we don't just mean the stairs that lead up to this lovely black-and-white colonial bungalow that once housed the residence of Singapore's Central Fire Station's British chief. Its opening comes in the wake of the closure of Au Jardin in Botanic Gardens, and it also takes over the premises from former tenant, Flutes at the Fort, which has since relocated to the National Museum. With most fine-dining eateries downgrading to bistro and cafe level, can something like Lewin Terrace - which boasts no celebrity-chef connections, progressive cuisine nor hipster concept - make an impact on the local dining scene?
It probably depends on how people take to the idea of Japanese-French fine dining at the hands of Chef Ryoichi Kano and general manager/chief sommelier Daisuke Kawai, an alumnus of Les Amis.
Just based on looks alone, the new operators get top marks for restoring the colonial splendour of the bungalow with its old-world ambience and tropical luxury-inspired decor. That alone will seal the deal for anyone looking for an intimate wedding venue or chi-chi party spot.
On the cuisine front, though, it's still a work in progress. Chef Ryoichi plays it far too safe with flavours too mild and execution too reticent to make you sit up and take notice.
At dinner, you are presented with only two choices - a $120 or $180 set menu with a couple of extra courses added to the more-expensive choice. The amuse bouche sets a placid tone with a refreshing shot glass of dashi jelly topped with vegetable puree; mushy gnocchi mismatched with a miso glaze and so-so deep-fried battered cucumber maki.
The dragon fruit carpaccio, meanwhile, is an artistic arrangement of sweet-fleshed segments that give way to a disappointing crab and avocado salad - salty and most likely made with average quality canned crabmeat.
Chef Ryoichi also seems to have an odd relationship with seaweed. It's as if he likes it but it doesn't like him - giving his otherwise delicate chawanmushi a sickly green pallor that distracts from an otherwise silky custard delicately flavoured with clam broth and studded with bits of prawn for texture. Despite the ugliness of the algae-looking green surface, it's a very tasty steamed egg delight.
The ugly seaweed phenomenon crops up again with one of the menu highlights - a perfectly fried piece of tile fish (amadai) with superb crunch from its edible scales, paired with a pan-fried risotto cake and submerged in fish broth in a smart take on Japanese chazuke or tea rice. This time, a scary-looking hijiki paste is mixed with tingly peppercorns that add an interesting earthiness to the dish, rounding off the flavours in a nice little package.
We also like the chef's clever interpretation of foie gras terrine, where two baby blobs of liver are encased in paper-thin slices of bettarazuke - sweet pickled daikon - an enlightened change from more familiar fruit. Sandwiching the blobs are wafer-thin potato chips that look exactly like pulled sugar sheets.
That bit of innovation gives way to staid grilled beef - either wagyu or gyuniku depending on the set - done very rare but with an accompanying hot stone to cook the meat further to your liking. A plain miso garnish and an odd piece of tofu covered with tartare-like sauce doesn't quite impress.
Neither does the dessert of flourless chocolate cake which is more like hardened ganache, although the sesame custard sauce and brown sugar ice cream help mitigate it somewhat. We actually prefer the pre-dessert of sweet green tea syrup and slippery clear "water" jelly.
Even if the food fails to spark the imagination or palate, we like Lewin Terrace for its earnestness and good intentions - from its well-meaning, if unsophisticated, service and Japanese sense of hospitality. It's unintimidating, the food's okay, and it's a really pretty place.
It reminds you of how restaurants used to be, even if it's a model that doesn't seem profitable.
If familiarity has gone out of style, let's hope Lewin Terrace can make it fashionable again.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good