Fixed-price menus are how many new restaurants here deal with the space and labour crunch. Instead of an a la carte menu offering a big selection of dishes, these comprise a set number of dishes that can be prepared by a small kitchen team forming a production line in a tiny space.
Meta, which opened at the beginning of this month, follows this recipe and it works well for the long and narrow restaurant, which occupies a single-unit shophouse in Keong Saik Road.
It seats only 30, either at the counter, where diners can watch the chefs at work, or at small tables lining the length of the restaurant. A floor-to-ceiling mirror facing the counter creates an illusion that the restaurant is double its size, although it can be rather disorienting after you have had a few drinks.
Chef Sun Kim is South Korean and has worked at Tetsuya's in Sydney and Waku Ghin here, both helmed by Australian celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda.
The menu at Meta is supposedly contemporary Asian, but comes across more as contemporary Western with Asian touches. The plating is Western, and although Asian ingredients such as ginger and miso are used, their contributions are often subtle - unlike in traditional Asian cooking.
There is a choice of three menus: five courses at $88, eight courses at $128 and a five-course vegetarian one at $80. These are changed according to the seasons and diners get the winter menus now.
The eight-course menu starts with a single oyster dressed with the juices of pomelo, lemon and ginger. The citrus flavours dominate, but the ginger, while staying shyly in the background, adds a hint of spice that makes the dish a lot more complex than the usual lemon juice-Tabasco combination. The pomelo sacs, meanwhile, provide welcome bursts of sweetness when you bite into them. That the oyster itself is plump and fresh adds to the pleasure when you bite into it.
9 Keong Saik Road, tel: 6513-0898
Open: 5.30pm to midnight (Monday to Saturday and public holiday except Chinese New Year), closed on Sunday
Food: 3.5 / 5
Service: 3 / 5
Ambience: 2.5 / 5
Price: $80 to $128 a person, without drinks
The next course is amaebi (Japanese sweet shrimp) served raw, Japanese style. It is topped with strips of marinated apple and touches of yuzu that do not seem to do anything to enhance its sweetness. The dish looks pretty, but I would rather have the shrimp with a simple dash of soya sauce and wasabi. What I like is the charred prawn head, which is crispy and leaves a pleasant smoky aftertaste.
What comes next is wagyu beef tartare with pear kimchi, egg jelly and crispy rice, which would work better if the kimchi flavour is more assertive. As it is, the raw beef tastes half-dressed. However, the dish is saved by the crispy rice sprinkled on top, with the palate titillated by the different textures on the plate.
A pan-seared Hokkaido scallop that follows is cooked just right and pleases with its natural sweetness. Crispy sheets of squid ink bubbles look interesting but, texture-wise, remind me of the crispy rice - so it is perhaps not a good idea to serve this right after the tartare.
The best dish for me comes next: a beautiful pan-roasted fillet of John Dory sitting on a bed of vegetables and fregola, with some clams snuggled among the pasta grains. The seafood is fresh and not overcooked and the clam juices form a light, sweet broth that soaks into the fregola.
The main course of slow-cooked, grass-fed Tasmanian beef short rib, served with parsnip and oyster mushroom, is good, but not outstanding. Part of the problem for me is that, with just a couple of small pieces of beef on the plate, they are gone before they can even make an impression.
Pastry chef Tammy Mah shows brilliance in her cheesecake interpretation. It is served as a shiny, golden globe and I almost expect it to sprout wings and fly away like the Golden Snitch in the Harry Potter movies. A gilded coat of citrus gel encases a layer of soft citrus cheesecake and, in the centre, a lump of dark chocolate with a liquid blood orange centre. So many textures, so many flavours, but eaten together, you get a harmonious balance of tartness and milkiness.
The next two desserts, however, remind me too much of molecular gastronomy and appear dated as a result.
I can't really taste the wasabi in the white chocolate wasabi cream with sesame sponge and yogurt, and the fizziness from the pop rocks no longer provides the surprise it did 10 years ago.
Similarly, the smoking nostrils trick from liquid nitrogen in the last dessert, called The Rock, just comes across as a stale gimmick.
Chef Mah shows much promise in her execution, but she should realise that molecular gastronomy is dead and move on from it.
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•Life paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.