SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) If there's one thing as challenging about opening a new restaurant besides getting the food and concept right, it must be picking the right name. How do you find just the right words to capture your cuisine in one pithy mouthful?
Do you want to be obvious, like say, Mr Rodent's Exceptional Steamboat, or more confounding, like a Greek restaurant called Troy's Hidden Delights?
In the case of California chef David Myers, he has picked the name Adrift for his new restaurant in the Marina Bay Sands. Don't expect anything nautical about it, though.
There are no lifebuoy knick-knacks to achieve a "lost at sea but with plenty of food on board" vibe. Instead, the word supposedly describes his wanderlust-inspired cuisine that combines his travels in Asia and his training as a western chef.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Tower 2
10 Bayfront Avenue
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10pm on Sun to Thurs; 6pm to 11pm on Fri and Sat.
In the buzzing, urban cocktail bar/restaurant in the MBS hotel lobby, he has created an east-west menu that, in a nutshell, is basically what happens when a foreign chef tries to make Asian food taste Western.
Myers is no Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who displays more restraint and understanding (and years of experience) in his interpretation of Asian cuisine with his French cooking background.
But what Myers does isn't too bad either, if you fancy bold, in-your-face flavours and a dizzying onslaught of Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Californian influences - sometimes all at the same time.
The restaurant has adopted a shared-plates concept, and there's no real order to your meal. You just pick from a choice of bar bites, things with toast, seafood and meat items and side dishes. You are advised to order at least three items per person and the food is brought out when ready, so you'll be picking from different dishes at once instead of dividing your meal into starters and mains.
After a dodgy start at its opening - when we could draw a line right in the middle to divide the good dishes from the bad - we made a second visit last week to find significant improvement and better consistency in quality.
If you need a snack, the togarashi caramel popcorn (S$9) can easily draw you away from Garrett's with addictive popped kernels coated in toffee sweetness with a kick of Japanese pepper.
Fried oysters (S$21) are three giant palm-sized specimens fried in batter - just-cooked tender and rich, which you use to scoop up some garlic mayo to complete your enjoyment.
The freshness of the hand-chopped raw beef mixed with bits of pickled cucumber (S$26) makes a satisfying tartare layered with creamy egg yolk on crispy toast.
A Vietnamese banh mi ($32) gets its sweet puckering flavour from fresh herbs and sweet-sour pickled vegetables that easily cut through the grease of the plump, pan-fried foie gras - all nestled in a toasted bun.
For a high-calorie treat, it is hard to resist toast fried in butter, sandwiched with chunks of crab and doused in melted cheese with minced pimentos (S$35). You only get three finger sandwich-sized pieces so your indulgence is kept under control, even if Adrift's pricing isn't.
Our theory that Westerners will never "get" chilli crab was proven on our first visit, with salty sauce that had none of the harmony of sweet, sour and heat and we had to contend with frozen-tasting battered cod (S$28) and dry flatbread in a sorry imitation of mantou.
The flattened grilled chicken (S$28) is well-marinated - if a little overseasoned - in a Japanese soy base, but its perfectly cooked texture compensates for it. Grilled whole scallions and a shower of leeks completes the picture.
We were less thrilled with the pungent, pseudo-Indian curry broth that held a fillet of salmon (S$28). But we noted the improvements in the sauteed brassicas (S$11), which was like chewing cud the first time but is now a satisfying vegetarian side of crisp-crunchy cabbage, broccoli and mustard greens garnished with fried shallots and aioli.
The problem with a shared-plates concept is that you end up with a buffet effect. You find yourself picking at several dishes at one go, each with the same robust flavours trying to outdo the others.
Unless you are really good at planning a meal and balancing the richness of one dish with the acidity of another and so forth, your palate will likely be overwhelmed.
The desserts are decent, if also heavy-going, from the coconut-enhanced French toast with ice cream and a coffee caramel sauce to a raspberry parfait that is a chewy potpourri of bitter chocolate ice cream, diced fruit, nuts, chocolate mochi squares, all in a bowl of vanilla cream.
There is enough to like about Adrift with its striking decor, buzzy vibe and generally well-prepared food and cocktails, but there is a lingering sense of trying too hard and with no clear narrative; the food feels neither here nor there.
It is the perennial issue with fusion food. When there is no real story to tell, it ends up - like the name suggests - slightly adrift.
This article was first published on March 30, 2015.
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