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Dining without colour at Preludio
182 Cecil Street
#03-01/02 Frasers Tower
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Sat: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm. Closed on Sun.
PRELUDIO is a restaurant after an extreme minimalist's own heart. From its decor to staff uniforms to even - no, especially - the food, it has created a world where monochrome rules. Woe betide any Pantone chart that might be innocently passing by, because it would be lynched and have all colour stripped from it before it's released again.
Like the beautiful red tomatoes that are first paraded proudly before us. Next time we see them, they are unrecognisable black lumps - all traces of pigment charred out of them in a blistering hot oven.
Such conscious uncolouring forms the premise of chef Fernando Arevalo's self-described "author's cuisine", where he dispenses with cooking genres such as mod-European, progressive cuisine or simple Mediterranean - in favour of his own. In this spanking new - one hesitates to use the terms "bright" or "cheery" - restaurant in Frasers Tower, the food unfolds in "chapters" which will change every one-and-a-half years or so.
"'Monochrome" is the first chapter, which means everything is either naturally black or white or forcibly made so.
The rationale for stripping food of its colour, they say, is to reduce it to its fundamental state of "raw and pure". We always thought reducing food to its fundamental state is to serve it raw and pure - like a tomato before its annihilation - but whatever.
In any case, setting such artificial restrictions - okay, some call it an exercise in creativity - is not unlike giving a dieter 500 calories a day and telling them to create delicious meals out of that allotment. We feel like that dieter as the chef trots out one self-important black-and-white trope after another.
What saves Preludio from itself is that chef Arevalo's cooking is fundamentally sound. He has an eye for interesting ingredients and pulls them together in thoughtful combinations. When he can't get something completely black and white, he fudges it with a bit of beige and brown, or even purple. And when he really can't alter the natural colour, no problem - there's nothing you can't hide under a white cover or black skin.
Dinner is a six- (S$168) or eight-course (S$218) affair, and they don't tell you what's on the menu, preferring to describe things as you go along.
We start off with an amuse bouche of hamachi sashimi - thick-cut slices of yellowtail covered in an almost pastel-hued pear gummy slice, dressed up with vinegar pearls and petals of lightly pickled daikon, neatly tucked in to offset the oily fish. Pristine white flowers are a sweet touch. There's clarity of flavour, and just a slight off-kilter balance as the acidity dominates the fish, but otherwise a likeable start.
The next two dishes employ some identical twin trickery for a fun deja vu effect. The first is a thick white cloud of whipped yogurt and burrata cheese that settles over cubes of sweet, hardly earthy, roasted white beetroot marinated in olive oil, sweetened with walnut crumble and given a light zing with Japanese cucumbers. The bland young caviar beside it adds little beside the obligatory blackness.
A more mature caviar works better with its doppelganger - this time it's airy mushroom-infused potato foam over cubes of rich bone marrow, with croutons for crunch and fermented black trumpet mushrooms to take the oil off the marrow. The caviar works in its saltiness to good effect.
Chef Arevalo is pretty good at sussing out unique ingredients, like his catwalk of odd-looking root vegetables - maggot-shaped crones or Chinese artichokes, bulb-like lampascioni and heliantis tubers - from France.
The bulbs are pickled while the others are cooked in butter with chanterelle mushrooms - add some cubes of eel and you have a failsafe, comforting combination enriched with an emulsion of egg yolk and yuzu. For effect and crunch, a large crinkly white rice cracker sits on top.
To highlight an artisanal balsamic vinegar from Modena, the chef makes rib-sticking agnolotti stuffed with butternut puree and nestled in rich Parmesan sauce. Almond snow is the only white feature and the thick, molasses-like balsamico the token black one. There's no escaping the yellow hue of the pasta, but the bit of colour is a welcome reprieve.
The chef's interpretation of pulled pork is way superior to the dried strips of heavily seasoned over-cooked meat of the original. He uses Spanish iberico, seasons it with a spice mix and cooks it at low temperature so you get all the tangy paprika/cumin familiarity but tender, yielding meat. A black "skin" of squid ink mixed with panko crumbs is only there to be black but does nothing for the meat, while the aforementioned grape tomatoes from Naples are charred but jammy sweet.
To continue on our merry monochrome way, pre-desserts of white pisco sour clouds on a spoon and chocolate twigs covered in coconut snow to herald the coming winter precede the main sweet.
Inspired by the Gorbea mountain in the Basque country where she hails from, the pastry chef creates a stark landscape of frozen blueberry mousse, snowy yogurt ice cream and jagged peaks of milk crisp, while fine snow of Idiazabal cheese lends a smooth nutty richness to this tangy-sweet treat.
While we understand the need for originality, and some of the black-and-white tricks are quite fun, we would rather celebrate the chef's cooking in all its spontaneous, ingredient-driven glory, not his ability to stick himself into a box.
Good food is good food, and to paraphrase Michael Jackson, it shouldn't matter if it's black or white.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
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