Michelin Guide Singapore 2018 Trilogy Reviews #1 - Old and New

August 9, 2018

Michelin Guide's 3rd edition on Singapore's culinary scene was unveiled at a glitzy presentation ceremony held on the resort island of Sentosa on 25 Jul 18. After the exit of 3 star Joel Robuchon barely a month before the announcement, there remained just five 2 star and thirty-four 1 star restaurants in the food-mad city state, 1 more than last year's crop of thirty-eight restaurants . 

 

There are 5 new entrants this year representing a diverse spectrum of culinary cultivation from an entrenched Cantonese fine diner to a 7 month old wine gastro-bar. Most from the class of 2017 have survived the cut for yet another year albeit with notable exits like Robouchon and Andre Chiang, who caused a stir by handing back his 2 stars before he shuttered his hugely successful and heavily lauded eponymous restaurant in February this year.

 

Two hawker stalls, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles and Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles, regularly touted as the world's cheapest Michelin restaurants, remained on the list if only to raise the question of what it means to be a Michelin starred joint these days. After the applause for the elevation of street food has largely abated 2 years since 'history was made', more are now questioning the relevance of a secretive guide that shuts out restaurants for nuances in delivery but embraces fuss free hawker stalls that some may view as dime a dozen.

 

Amidst the sea of contention once again revived by a new list given to old peculiarities, I will be penning three sets of reviews that reflect the evolution of the Michelin Guide in Singapore. We kick off the series with a round up of new and old winners and why we feel they deserve their freshly minted accolade.

 

Beppe de Vito (extreme right) with head chef Mirko Febbrile (2nd from right) looking jubilant after retaining his star at Braci

 

New blood

 

Nouri

 

Nouri burst unto the scene last year with enough buzz to command interests from gourmands and journos who'd packed the search pages with largely positive reviews. The manifesto on Nouri's website may sound wispy but Brazilian chef Ivan Brehm does conjure forms and tastes that fit the attestations.

 

Firstly, the service in this small restaurant is as warm and thoughtful as one can expect from Singaporean establishments, where collectively good service is not a strong trait. Mixologist Matthew Chan coughs up conceptual cocktails at the bar that sets the tone for Brehm's gourmet odyssey across time and cultures. An omakase menu here melds together diverse flavours and culinary traditions from multiple countries that it surprises even trained palates.

 

Bitter gourd was presented as a salad even as distinct Chinese flavours were retained. Caviar topped raw scallop immersed in fresh coconut broth may hint of French, Polynesian and Japanese influences but stands on its own distinctiveness. Just as you think the surprises are chiefly confined to the thoughtful amalgamation of disparate flavours, a roasted wild rice stem, an obscured Asian delicacy that is actually rice stem infected with fungus, arrives to alter that thought. Clearly, this a chef out to erase boundaries.

 

With his expert knowledge of food and flavours, Ivan Brehm is clearly in his milieu marrying all that is diverse and surprising. Pairing his creations with various sake served in fluted wine glasses reinforces his assertion that all is not as it seems in culinary distinctions and we should remain open to the idea of food without barriers.

 

 

Ma Cuisine

 

A surprising new entrant, Ma Cuisine is believed to be the only wine gastro-bar to be awarded a Michelin star in Asia. Conceived and managed by French comrades Anthony Charmetant and Mathieu Escoffier, the wine menu here is several times thicker than its food menu and features labels that would would scintillate seasoned connoisseurs.

 

The cellar here harbours a mind boggling array of prized vintages sourced from many wine producing regions across Europe and the new world. Charmetant gladly provides insights and info on the labels they carry as one listens between sips paired with food designed by Escoffier to suit the wines.

 

+A fuller review of this spirited establishment will be presented on part 3 of this series. 

 

 

Jiang Nan Chun

 

A pioneer establishment instrumental in the lifting of Chinese cuisine in Singapore, Jiang Nan Chun had an impressive start with illustrious chefs the likes of Jeremy Leung (Whampoa Club, Shanghai) and Albert Tse (China Blue, Tokyo) at its helm. 24 years since its inception, one may say that its 1 star is somewhat overdue.

 

Nevertheless, when one considers how a succession of chefs over the past decade has left the restaurant largely directionless, the appointment of Macau chef Tim Lam last year has brought back the right focus for this recently refurbished Cantonese fine diner. A sumptuously prepared Peking duck sets the tone for a tasting menu packed with familiar favourites like sweet and sour pork, soya sauce chicken and crispy egg nooodle with beef. Anchored by superb knowledge on technicalities, Lam was able to deliver perfectly nuanced tastes and textures enhanced by premium ingredients and meaningful updates.

 

Unlike the superficial presentations of yore, the current cuisine by Lam expertly marries the old with the new. His sweet and sour pork was perfectly infused with flavour via both marinate and sauce, each parcel of perfectly shaped meat gloriously crispy from a coating comprising 11 types of flour. The char siew made from kurobuta fillets was aromatic and succulent, perfectly balanced in its sweetness with just the right notes of char. 

 

These details may seem trivial but for a Chinese chef worth his salt it will take a lifetime to perfect.

 

 

  

Old Hands

 

Braci

 

Veteran restaurateur and chef Beppe de Vito may have established a sterling reputation for his string of successful restaurants like Il Lido and Osteria Art but it is his favourite child Braci that won him a Michelin star 2 years in a row.

 

I was told this intimate space is where de Vito puts on his apron and cooks for his guests, a treat one might not expect from someone overseeing 7 restaurants and bars across town. It is a treat over a decade in the waiting for me since I reviewed Il Lido at Sentosa when it first opened. And like wine, some chefs get better with age.

 

Kicking of a spirited Italian feast was a rare Altamura DOP Bread with extra virgin olive oil made from olives from the chef's own farm. The foie gras Semifreddo with kumquats and vincotto that followed was truly sensational, a hearty starter skillfully presented as a dainty course. The successive courses of hand-dived scallops with guanciale and smoked egg yolk, Tagliolini with sea urchin and caviar and Kagoshima wagyu with chanterelle were all masterfully prepared and presented.

 

All in all it was a superb culinary experience capped with lovely cocktails served at Braci's open air bar with intoxicating views of the Singapore river.

 

 

Jaan

 

Chef de Cuisine Kirk Westaway has recently announced after the list was unveiled that his cuisine at the erstwhile French institution will turn British with ingredients and influences from the isles taking centrestage. He is oozing gumption in his quest to redefine what constitutes British cuisine.

 

This has resulted in the repudiation of all French terms at Jaan where canapes are now simply known as 'snacks' and petits fours were unceremoniously supplanted by 'sweets'. The service staff are still significantly French though, as are the techniques involved with Westaway's British menu.

 

Lofty proclamations aside, the affable lad from Devon has maintained his 1 star status for the past 3 editions and knows his way around the culinary tracts of UK and how to best reform our staid ideas of stodgy English grubs. And he works his way with mini profferings before expertly making his incursion with more pronounced entrees.

 

A starter of beetroot meringues with smoked eel and fish and chip tartlets roused the palate with their delicious flavours before one tucks into beautifully presented courses with matter of factly names. Majestic Oyster comes with a tin that states the mollucs' origin from North West Ireland. English Garden is a melange of tiny crispy vegetable, crudites come to mind, served with dotted anchovy cream and herb broth. The height of theatrics arrived in the form of a massive stone egg harbouring a dish of separated egg on a bed of mushrooms topped with caviar.

 

Under Westaway, the culinary standard at Jaan remains laudible but honestly one remains unperturbed whether the establishment now flies the union jack or French colours.

 

 

 

+Next review - Excellent restaurants in Singapore that are bewilderingly shut out of the Michelin guide

 

 

 

 

 

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