SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) It can't be easy being the big boss of Jaan. Imagine: first, you luck out with a chef who goes on to win all kinds of accolades until, as is human nature, he leaves to do his own thing. After a while, you find another chef who starts winning awards and guess what, it happens again.
Nothing wrong there - it's just called personal ambition. Now, Jaan is back to that awkward guessing game where we wonder if the next chef will keep Jaan on its upward trajectory and if so, will he stay long enough to see that Murano glass chandelier make its long-overdue journey to lighting accessories heaven?
For a start, Kirk Westaway is no stranger to Jaan's kitchen. He was Julien Royer's No. 2 before the latter left to set up his soon-to-open Odette in the National Gallery, and very much part of the team that led the restaurant to one of the top spots in the local F&B scene.
So if you wanted to, you could close your eyes and still eat chef Royer's food, because he's spent the last few years making it. Case in point - the 55-degree smoked organic egg is still on the menu along with a few more Royer favourites.
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But the Devon-born chef hasn't been sitting on his former boss's laurels. Instead, he parlays the emphasis on purity and produce into his own larger goal of making the English garden come to life on your plate.
Without casting any aspersions on his macho-ness, chef Westaway cooks like a girl - in the way that his dishes are so beautifully plated without a single dot of pea puree out of place. Slate grey and white crockery are his favourite canvas - ingredients artfully arranged in a graceful curve only on one third of the plate - going against our oft-held belief not to discriminate against the other two-thirds.
We've seen our share of pretty plates, but his really make an impression. If he were a woman he'd probably be one of those painstakingly applying false eyelashes - one maddening lash at a time.
We're not against beauty, but we do like some personality behind it, so while the chef's got his packaging right, the flavours need to be less reticent. We're straining to find something distinctive for our palates to latch on to in the langoustine cannelloni, beyond marvelling at the delicate slices of avocado rolled around the barely discernible shellfish, lobes of mild uni and salty caviar, with pearls of finger lime.
The heirloom tomato is a beautiful reconstruction that involves cooking it sous vide, dehydrating and rehydrating to create a kind of tender dense shell stuffed with a mixture of chopped oxheart tomatoes and herbs. Basil sorbet and a tiny ball of burrata wrap up this labour-intensive take on salad caprese that doesn't seem to justify the amount of work that goes into it.
In fact, the less fussy farmer's harvest pops in the palate as much as it does visually, with a combination of steamed and roasted vegetables pulled together with eggplant puree and ham-infused butter emulsion. It hits the spot with its textural mouth feel, silky butter and creamy puree which together equal any meat dish.
We also like the chef's way with surf and turf - in the form of silky smooth rainbow trout confit, lemony quinoa and creamy cauliflower mash with a crispy chicken skin tuille. A boneless confit chicken wing is a little too mushy and salty, but the chicken jus with its pleasantly gelatinous smoothness adds surprising depth to the fish.
Pink-cooked pork belly slices are chewy but full of flavour, served with braised cocoa beans that taste like cannellini. But it's the pigeon that impresses the most - brought to the table whole and roasted golden, then plated separately. We get an almost bloody but tender sous-vide breast that's juicy and springy, and confit leg. A crunchy ball of minced pigeon spare parts and foie gras is like a savoury toffee apple with its nougatine-like crust.
We prefer the chocolate overload of the ivory caramel to the pretty but underwhelming roasted French peach with candied and lightly cured fruit overlapping with ice cream, meringue and sponge. Although a slight overkill, the aerated chocolate, sponge, caramel, ice cream and other variations of the chocolate theme come together in a wild sweet mashup that you can't finish but is a happy ending to your S$158 surprise menu.
This is a delicate period for chef Westaway where he needs to balance the kind of food one has come to expect of Jaan and asserting his own individuality. But the amount of work he puts into his dishes shows how he's taking ownership and gamely picking up the gauntlet from his predecessor. We'd like to see him stay. That chandelier, on the other hand, is another story.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on October 19, 2015.
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