The Swedes are here! Is Singapore ready?
Scottish head chef Tristan Farmer keeping his gaze on his kitchen with a smile.
With the recent demise of Joel Robouchon, both the chef and the restaurant, Singapore had lost its only 3 star Michelin restaurant on its epicurean terra. And with Andre Chiang’s exit last year, the next best contender for the top honours of the Micheliniverse also departed from the fray. From where I stand, it seems very unlikely that any of the remaining 2 star joints are geared to step up to the challenge as well.
Thus it is rather exciting to know that a superlative 3 star establishment, Restaurant Frantzén has entered Singapore with its only fine dining outpost outside of Stockholm, and more interestingly in the space vacated by Restaurant Andre as well.
Beautiful Swedish handcrafted knives were offered for our game course
While there is no comparison between the 2 entities, Restaurant Zén has clearly inhabited the post-Andre space with aplomb, setting in motion a culinary sensation in 3 short months that now has a waiting list that stretches indefinitely. Naturally one would be quick to ask if this is but a ruse, a clever trick conjured by some maverick PR machine.
Fresh ingredients of the evening displayed for the benefit of guests
Seeing, and in this instance, tasting is indeed believing.
Having reviewed a handful of 3 star restaurants myself - Quintessence in Tokyo and Tang Court in Shanghai, one isn’t quite easily fazed by the stardust, especially when it was communicated last minute that a doorbell had to be rang at the door to gain entry.
So, no welcome outside the restaurant? The predisposition to dislike the establishment thus began.
Within minutes of entry, that petty bias dissipated as one is greeted with effusive smiles and an uncommon warmth oozing from a mini army of chefs, servers and incredibly poised happy campers. Throughout the evening, glasses were never empty for long and the attention to details was uniform.
Beer poached crustacean, smetana, wild trout roe
Head chef Tristan Farmer, a Scottish lad without a tinge of that infamous accent, was at my table within minutes. Capably affable, and armed with warm introductions to his person and the cuisine, it wasn’t so much a meet the chef moment, but more like friends exchanging notes on all and sundry.
And it was then communicated to me that there would be 14 courses served over 3 levels, with food that are prepared with Nordic and Japanese culinary traditions. And of course, Nordic peculiarities like putrid mackerel and beaver’s tail did not make it to the menu.
Onion velouté, almond, liquorice, enjoyed in full view of the ingredients of the evening
While at the ‘Kitchen’, which is the first floor of the space where the food gets prepared, guests like myself who had scored a reservation were treated to conceptually sophisticated bite sized snacks a la ‘beer poached crustacean, smetana, wild trout roe’ and ‘celeriac, nutmeg, black truffle’. For a writer who had refrained from the daft metaphor ‘mouth-watering’ for close to 2 decades, I am now compelled to make an exception.
A tour of the kitchen soon followed, where guests are introduced to produce that are as exotic as the staff demographics (Swedish, Scottish, Malay, Chinese and a few unidentified) in the room. The adorable looking fish with the huge glassy eyes is a deep sea denizen from Japan called Kinmedai, and the lobster, actually a crayfish called Marron, is glisteningly black and hails from Western Australia. These amongst other delicacies, like raw urchins, ginger buds, king crabs, Yumenoka strawberry and black truffles, will be incorporated into my dinner.
Crudo: Zén prestige Caviar, red deer, argan oil, shiso flower
The 2nd level, christened ‘The Dining Room’, was where the serious feeding commenced. Here a succession of 8 courses, 5 savoury and 3 sweet, conjures yet another dreadful adage - ‘made the taste buds fly’. Some of the courses, like the incomparable Kinmedai, Koshihikari rice, sea urchin, matsutake and vin jaune was pre-plated and delivered in optimal tasting conditions. Others, like the French toast “grande tradition” with consommé a la truffle, was assembled at the table with grand theatrics. Every shave of the truffle adds to the quickening of the heartbeat and after about 6 dozens or so shaves, an avalanche of that black gold had been piled onto the toast.
One then takes a bite and is instantly lifted to the heaven of ultimate indulgence.
The highlight of the evening - French toast “grande tradition” with consommé a la truffle
One is then brought back with a kind enquiry if one would like more of the accompanying consomme, which is such a simple yet uncommon regard for guest satisfaction.
The journey continued, and much as it seemed impossible, the delight inflates with each proceeding course, culminating in a coma-inducing sweet euphoria. The salted Hokkaido milk ice cream, wild strawberries and Swedish waffles is so good they deserve their own retail outfit, and I would personally guarantee commercial success.
Salted Hokkaido milk ice cream, wild strawberries, Swedish waffles
The evening thus proceeded with a sitting at the ‘Living Room’, where a selection of premium teas and more desserts, including a Haruka golden apples & cloud berry cobbler and a melange of fruits prepared in surprising ways, like Kumquat, bitter cocoa bean, lemongrass and Yumenoka strawberry, chamomile, were proffered.
The whole affair lasted 4 hours and the courses were paired by delectable wines, sake and intriguingly crafted fruit juices, my favourite being the purple carrot with smoked maple syrup and the raspberry with silver needle tea and spruce syrup.
I would regularly patronise a juice bar that could raise such plummy sophistication.
This house of ingestible joys is clearly going to be the progenitor of several successful splinter joints in good time, and a grand experiential institution now vacant on this island of good eats.