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Meta offers up a mixed bag
9 Keong Saik Road
Open for dinner only
Mon to Sat: 5.30pm to 12am
Closed on Sun
IF only we had a dollar for every chef who works in a well-known restaurant and leaves to go into "private practice", so to speak.
We could have enough to pay for a meal at one of their new places, which always seems to be priced at I-used-to-work-in-Waku-Ghin level rather than I'm-on-my-own-and-still-untested realistic starting rates.
Meta is the latest restaurant to boast an alumnus from Tetsuya Wakuda's acclaimed Singapore outpost. And although S$88 or S$128 won't get you very far even on Waku Ghin's bar menu, Meta is banking on chef Sun Kim's job resume first and his South Korean nationality second to make you pay for one of two prix fixe menus in its trendy Keong Saik Road premises.
Chef Kim, who also worked at Tetsuya's in Sydney, has taken a leaf out of his ex-boss' book and the likes of Odette/Andre in not offering any menu choices unless you have dietary restrictions. A risky choice for a chef/restaurant with no proven track record. On the one hand, it's good business sense: there's less wastage, execution is easier and you're guaranteed a minimum expenditure from each guest. On the other hand, unless you're a famous chef, a very small restaurant or well, Japanese, you have only one chance to impress the diner - or never see him/her again.
Meta is a mixed bag of good ideas, not-polished-enough execution and a dedicated young team which takes ownership in everything they do. From the young assistant chefs who come to explain each dish, to the pink-haired bar manager know-it-all (in a good way), our meal is a pleasant one from start to finish. We are normally wary of the career aspirations of pink-haired men outside of beauty salons, but we are impressed with his understanding of the food and the way he explains the intricacies of the sweet whisky cocktail (S$25) that he makes for us. The senior server also deserves props for his watchful eye and sincere efforts to make you comfortable. Only chef Kim himself remains inaccessible behind the long steel counter where he and his team prepare the eight dishes and one snack for our S$128 winter menu.
We chomp on feather-light but oily rice and squid ink crackers and miso-smeared asparagus spears studded with crunchy fried quinoa to the beat of Spandau Ballet and harsh techno-rock that gets louder as the meal progresses and more diners file in. It so frightens our big fat Irish oyster in its shell that it refuses to unleash its full flavour - so we get lovely texture but little briny flavour, although the zingy pomelo-lemon-ginger dressing is a nice touch.
The raw sweet prawn that follows is dressed up with dashi jelly and mouth-puckering pickled radish slices that's a little off-balance in the mouth as the yuzu dressing overpowers the mild prawn and savoury jelly. The char-grilled prawn head is nice but might be less jarring if it had been done tempura style.
The wagyu tartare with kimchi and rice crispies is the highlight of the menu. Although Mr Pink calls it a deconstructed bulgogi, it seems more like a reworked bibimbap as raw beef, julienned strips of mildly spicy pear kimchi, rich egg yolk jam and crunchy rice come together in an interplay of taste and texture - sweet, sour, savoury and crunchy all in the same mouthful.
The mildness of an ample-sized Hokkaido scallop is a good match for the assertive braised endive with bitter undertones tempered by sweet-sticky caramel shoyu, bottarga slices and squid ink cracker made of puffed sago pearls.
Chef Kim seems to have a penchant for tiny round things, whether it's the rice crispies, puffed sago or the barley-sized fregola pasta that swims in a clam broth dotted with basil oil and topped with a slightly dry John Dory fillet.
We prefer the silken-textured 30-hour slow-cooked beef short rib served simply with veal jus, parsnip puree and unnecessary curls of oyster mushroom.
Desserts are over-thought with too many things going on. A golden ball needs a good beating before the top of the orange shell gives way to reveal a chocolate inner coating, frozen cheese mousse and blood orange sauce within, on a bed of shattered meringue.
Elaborate and inventive but also heavy-handed. Good for a few bites but not more. Restraint would also work for the awkward mish-mash of sesame sponge, yoghurt sorbet, wasabi cream topped with yuzu sabayon and pop rocks - the dessert equivalent of an indecisive suitcase-packer. Finally, a liquid nitrogen-frozen coffee scented bonbon that you pop into your mouth and blow out streams of dry ice-like smoke is silly but still fun.
The ideas are there, but much tweaking needs to be done before every element of the fixed menu falls into place. For now, it's still worth a try, but going forward, Meta needs to put more options on the table.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good