Restaurant Review

Modern Australian cooking at Whitegrass offers composition of flavours in perfect harmony

Individual ingredients come together in a well-balanced whole at Whitegrass

Whitegrass stands out like an oasis of calm amid the buzzy new eateries that have popped up in Chijmes.

Unlike its fellow tenants, many of which are tiny casual eateries or semi-open restaurants with tables spilling outdoors amid blaring music, it sits in a quiet corner of the dining complex.

Opened by Australian chef Sam Aisbett last month with partners from Malaysia, Whitegrass is the latest addition to the fine-dining scene here and, judging from its first set of menus, a very welcome one.

Chef Aisbett has worked with top Sydney chefs, such as Tetsuya Wakuda at Tetsuya's and Peter Gilmore at Quay, and recently moved here to open his first restaurant.

The restaurant has three rooms, each decorated in a different style. The outer room where I am is the least interesting. It is pleasant enough, but looks ordinary except for a quirky wallpaper of flora and fauna that is unfortunately muted in the dim evening lighting.


Slow-cooked Mangalica pork from Whitegrass' five-course menu, and Alaskan king crab, steamed silken tofu, tapioca and junsai (above) from the eight-course menu. - PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

The other rooms look more interesting, with decor themes built around geometric shapes.

  • WHITEGRASS

  • 30 Victoria Street, Chijmes, 01-26/27, tel: 6837-0402, open: 6 to 9.30pm (Tuesday to Saturday), closed on Sunday and Monday

    Food: 4 stars

    Service: 3.5 stars

    Ambience: 4 stars

    Price: From $170 a person, without drinks

Chef Aisbett's modern Australian offerings at Whitegrass reflect his strong culinary background and sensibility that encompasses influences and ingredients from around the world.

There is no a la carte menu, just two sets - a five-course menu at $170 and an eight-course one at $265.

I settle for the cheaper menu, mainly because it includes a course of Mangalica pork with tiger abalone that appeals to me. The dish is not in the eight-course menu.

And I do not regret the decision because that turns out to be my favourite dish in the meal.

Dinner starts off with a cold starter of sashimi of yellowtail amberjack with horseradish, toasted nori oil, salted radish, nasturtium leaves and white soya dressing. It looks pretty enough, with the ingredients shaped into a slender cylinder topped with edible flowers.

But tastewise, it doesn't stand out from similar dishes served at many modern Western restaurants. Also, a hint of fishiness in the amberjack does not go down too well with me.

What's up next, slow-roasted young beetroots and smoked eel, is more appealing. The chef turns what could have been a simple dish into something unique by topping the dish with paper-thin red sheets of dehydrated beets and white ones made with eel skin and butter. These not only make the dish look more interesting, but also provide added texture. And the easily soluble sheets turn into a punch of flavours in the mouth.

Next is an extra dish from the chef, a pleasant surprise from the $265 menu - Alaskan king crab, steamed silken tofu, tapioca and junsai.

It comes in two portions: A bronze crab is placed on the table and its back flips open to reveal a little roll inside. Wrapped in it is a melange of ingredients, none of which is obvious but, together, make a delicious morsel.

There is a second portion - a bowl of steamed egg custard topped with oxtail consomme.

This, too, is subtly seasoned and the flavour of oxtail eludes me, but it is far from being bland.

The next dish of slow-cooked Mangalica pork is just as packed with ingredients. There are bits of abalone, fermented cabbage, turnip and fiddlehead fern as well as the pork sitting in a sweet seaweed and pork broth.

The tender pork is the star here, with thin streaks of fat and the most amazing flavour. It's the best- tasting piece of pork I've eaten in a long time. The broth is a clever idea too. It not only moistens the meat, but its warmth also brings out the flavours better.

I like the sweet, tender pieces of abalone too. If only they were bigger.

The full-blood wagyu from Australia that comes next is disappointing though. The piece of beef, while tender enough, does not have the fat or flavour that comes from the even marbling of top-grade wagyu.

There are also small pieces of braised beef tendon and tongue, as well as toasted organic wheat, shiitake, pickled Chinese artichoke and burnt celeriac. Interesting as these are, they do not make up for the lacklustre beef.

Dessert is a composite of young coconut mousse, jackfruit ice cream, longan, almond and ginger cake, executed in various forms and textures such as in crispy wafers and more dehydrated sheets. The tropical flavours are toned down, but the results are pleasant as the individual ingredients work in harmony instead of fighting one another.

That is how I would describe the cooking at Whitegrass. Each dish is a composition - a host of ingredients calibrated to complement one another and come together as a well-balanced whole. Not every dish is a success for me as personal preferences come into play. But if the restaurant holds onto that principle, it is on solid ground.

  • Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
  • The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'In perfect harmony'. Print Edition | Subscribe