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Ace-ing The Menu At 1-V:U
#07-01 The Outpost Hotel Sentosa
10 Artillery Avenue
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 2pm; 6pm to 9.30pm (10pm on Fri and Sat)
THE last time we saw Ace Tan, he was playing with dry ice and umami "snow". That was three years ago, when he and former chef-partner David Lee thought their brand of high-concept, high-priced modern Asian cuisine could overcome niggly obstacles such as bottom line, restaurant management, investor expectations and well, common sense.
Well, that was then. Restaurant Ards is gone. Pfft! Into the void where bubbles burst and harsh reality follows. But Chef Tan has emerged with a new-found maturity, humility and more importantly, a place to start all over again.
That is the scenario we find him in now, on the seventh floor rooftop of The Outpost in Sentosa, where he juggles buffet breakfast for the hotel's guests while experimenting with koji and homemade pickles for his fancier repertoire at night.
1-V:U (pronounced phonetically as "one view") is pretty much an all-purpose, all-day-dining holiday resort kind of eatery that you don't normally take seriously food-wise. Look out the window and you see the hotel pool below, where half-naked people look like inmates in a nudist prison, wrapped in black-and-white striped towels. You can also see the tip of the merlion's head in the distance.
The place feels too casual for the level of cuisine that you equate Chef Tan with, but in this case it's deliberate. Instead of pulling out the bells and whistles, he serves entry-level progressive cuisine to ease first-timers into appreciating something a little more complicated than, say truffle fries (think loaded chips with kombu truffle oil from the day menu or wagyu burger with kimchi slaw).
While he does have fusion leanings, he slips them in when you're not looking, so you don't really suspect that your plate is filled with Asian nuances from his life and travel experiences, and the techniques of his Western kitchen training.
His S$98 omakase is an effective snapshot of his ala carte menu, served in smaller portions so you can sample the diversity of his work. It starts off with his version of the Chinese spring onion pancake, but filtered through the palate of one who clearly likes pizza and naan and can't decide between the two. So you get minced scallions scattered in wedges of crispy pizza-naan hybrid, pan-seared to emulate a tandoor oven's hot spots. Dip the wedges into your choice of honey soy sauce dressing or a vibrant, perky Thai namjim pesto made from blitzing Thai basil and other herbs with oil, fish sauce and chilli.
The classic hawker centre porridge with marinated raw fish on the side gets a new spin with sliced raw hamachi tossed in garlic oil and soy sauce with fragrant fried garlic and shallots, and pomelo segments for a fruity flourish. The hamachi quality doesn't impress but it's a pleasant combination.
He gets more creative with a deceptively simple saute of French and winged beans in an Indonesian-inspired spicy sauce with a surprising garnish of Japanese natto. There are certain cultural barriers you don't cross, such as mee soto-inspired rempah and slimy fermented Japanese soy beans. Yet it's the latter that gives the vegetables an unexpected silkiness that's quite addictive.
Grilled octopus on a caramelised pineapple gochujang sauce tries a little too hard to create a harmonious match with its slightly cloying sweetness; a much more polished combination is found in the perfectly steamed moist red snapper fillet in a beurre blanc sauce made with fish bone stock, streaks of home made XO sauce and capers to cut the richness. Crunchy garlic shoots add to the texture.
In contrast, the sous-vide duck breast in a peanut-enhanced jus, served with a crumble of duck skin and cinnamon is a little too fiddly with a side salad of cucumbers dressed in a namjim yoghurt dressing. The idea is to refresh the palate after a bite of rich duck with the cool cucumbers, but there's too much distraction from the odd satay-flavoured sauce and the clash of yoghurt.
What falls into place is the pre-dessert of very sweet Cameron Highlands strawberries matched perfectly with sweet tea jelly and yoghurt sorbet. The main dessert of liquified black glutinous rice with funky pickled water chestnut and coconut lime ice cream will split diners between those who love it and those who don't understand it.
But what we'll agree on is that Chef Tan's skill in subtlety and complexity is not to be sniffed at. There are a lot of good ideas in his head and while 1-V:U still has some way to go, there's no denying that Chef Tan is on the right track.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.