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Not quite a match made in heaven at JAG
76/76A Duxton Road
Mon to Sat: Noon to 2pm; 6pm to 10pm. Closed on Sun.
DINING at Restaurant JAG is a bit like going on a first date. There's a lot of emphasis on making a good impression. If it were a guy, it would be the perfect gentleman - immaculately dressed, beautiful manners, the ability to say the right things with just enough warmth and charm to put you at ease. He impresses you with his multiple career achievements, his pursuit of perfection and just as he's about to tear off his shirt to reveal that he's Superman's cousin (twice removed), we're throwing our hands up in fear, going "Whoa - you know what? Maybe you're not my type."
There's no denying that Restaurant JAG - we never get around to asking what it stands for - is pulling out all the stops to make an impression. It's a cosy, intimate space, well appointed with a 26-seater dining room downstairs and a handsome living room-cum-bar on the second floor.
In the kitchen is Jeremy Gillon, who hails from the French Alps where he helmed a Michelin-starred restaurant in 2015 and who has been on the Singapore scene for the past three years - firstly consulting at Me@OUE and most recently at the short-lived Audace.
Now he's calling the shots at his own place, with partner Anant Tyagi, and he's going at it full throttle with a menu that from snacks to finish is a parade of elaborately composed creations that equally dazzle and confound the palate.
Usually, it's a tip of the hat to chefs who pay such meticulous detail to every aspect of the menu, but it gets to the point when every mouthful you take comes with a long description of ingredients that have been shaved, grated, pickled, turned into snow or manipulated into a form far from its original.
It tickles our fancy at first, to bite into little canapes like thumbnail-sized crackers filled with cream and a tiny sliver of torched prawn (the original description is much longer); soft-charred leeks topped with a herb-scented cream and bits of dried wagyu jerky; and baby Spanish croquettes.
They're part of the seven-course Culinary Journey (S$168) that's offered at dinner, alongside a five-course (S$98) and ultimate 10-course degustation (S$218). And so wide is chef Gillon's repertoire that he's happy to do two different menus for the same table.
He seems to thrive on making morsel-sized dishes that take less time to eat than to put together. There is a cauliflower dish - no bigger than a floret - prepared in different ways from grated to pickled to torched, melded together with sour cream and caviar. It's an interesting play on textures that's gone in one bite.
A confit egg yolk is pleasantly sticky-chewy, trying to hold its own against its many counterparts that include watercress coulis, horseradish cream, light pickled shaved cucumber, ikura and watercress crumble. It's a complicated balancing act but so far so interesting.
He does it again with a sweet sorrel sherbet that in some magical way plays matchmaker to shavings of rich frozen foie gras with smoked eel, sealing the union with a shower of roasted buckwheat.
It's a more successful combination than his overzealous treatment of chestnut and Hokkaido scallop. The poor chestnut doesn't get a chance to be a simple nut - it's pureed, sliced and topped with raw waterchestnut before the tired-tasting scallop is also sliced and fanned over the puree, served with milk foam, dots of apricot jam and sprinkled with, yes, chestnut powder. It feels like eating a sugar-free Montblanc with sashimi. Cue stomach flip.
Less-is-more doesn't seem to be in chef Gillon's vocabulary as he bandies about different variations of the convoluted theme. There are times when he produces a winner, like a very good butternut squash veloute poured over shavings of raw squash and small French mussels. Pesto dots break the butternut dominance and bread chips offer crunch.
Grilled octopus covered with smoky torched bonito flame is also not bad, with sticks of tender salsify and its puree, with mixed seeds for crunch.
But a main course of beef heart is way too salty although the squid ink polenta helps to mitigate it.
With little variation in pace or flavour, it all becomes too much of a good thing. It's fine if we're living in the Alps and need to ski down a mountain to go home, but when your car is parked just outside there's no way to work off any of these calories. Despite our groaning, he's left the best for last - thick, sticky, chewy chocolate ganache and truffle mushroom ice cream - which is the most brilliant invention of the evening.
So we're not really into Restaurant JAG with its heavy, cloying nature that comes on just a little too strong for our taste. It doesn't mean that there aren't other palates that will be a better match for it. It's not you, JAG, it's probably just us. But maybe we can stay friends and visit a little later. But let's just go a couple of rounds around the mountains to burn this off first.
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.