FRENCH FOOD, JAPANESE SENSIBILITY
Recently-opened Beni (04-16 Mandarin Gallery, tel: 6235-2285) is one unusual restaurant. The 15-seat place has diners sitting around a U-shaped counter, with chefs plating their dinner in front of them. And instead of elaborate fixtures and artwork on the walls, everything is shrouded in black. It is like dining in a cocoon, with nothing to distract from the food.
The restaurant serves French food executed by a Japanese team of chefs. Recently, I have an excellent meal there, with some uncommon courses. One of these is the King Of Green Hiro Premium gyokuro tea, a very intense brew with a rich, umami flavour. After sipping the tea, we hand the cups back to the chef, who adds olive oil and salt to the leaves, which we then eat. The bitterness is intense, but the flavour of the tea is something I will always remember.
If you have dined at Guy Savoy's restaurants, then you will remember one of his signatures, fish with scales fried to a crisp. At Beni, a piece of tilefish comes with crisp spikes of scales and it is such a delight to eat with the bouillabaisse sauce.
The restaurant has also managed to source Ozaki wagyu, The beef is named after the farmer, Mr Muneharu Ozaki, rather than the Miyazaki Prefecture, where the cattle is raised. He has good reason to be proud enough of his beef to use his name to market it. Instead of the over-the-top marbling in a lot of wagyu, his beef has a robust flavour. Yes, it is also tender, but the meat does not surrender completely, it springs back when you chew on it. Always a good thing.
Menus change every month, but this is going to be a special occasion restaurant for me. The degustation dinner is $298 a person and lunch is $128 a person.
I've been to Kanda Wadatsumi (50 Tras Street, tel: 6221-6264) a couple of times and every time I am there, the staff ask if I want an omakase meal ($120). The a la carte menu is usually too good to resist but on a recent visit, I decide to go for it and let the chef decide.
It turns out to be a great idea. I feast on sweet slices of raw eggplant dabbed with miso, anago in jellied stock with crunchy cucumber, and a lavish platter of sashimi. There are other goodies in the eight-course meal. These include a sweet grilled ayu fish wrapped in bamboo leaves, which impart a lovely fragrance. The meat course is wagyu simmered in miso, the chunks full of collagen.
My favourite course, however, is the rice one. We opt for claypot rice rather than sushi and are wowed by the tako rice that appears on our table. Pieces of octopus, battered and deep fried, are scattered on top of the rice. When we dig in, there are broken up pieces of sansho peppercorns and their herbaceous aroma is enchanting.
Getting felled by a nasty bug means bed rest, which I am glad to have, and bland food, which is a bummer. So as soon as I feel better, I head to Shisen Hanten (Level 35, Orchard Wing, Mandarin Orchard Singapore, tel: 6831-6262), a Sichuan restaurant that is an offshoot of a Japanese chain.
The meal is sort of like watching television in colour after years of watching black and white images. The dishes are hot, sour, spicy and sweet and I relish every mouthful.
Chen's Mapo Doufu ($20) is a must-order here. The dish of tofu with beef or pork does not blow diners' heads off with heat. Instead, the aroma of Sichuan peppercorns adds depth and complexity to the dish. It is perfect with rice.
Restaurant collaborations are spicing up the dining scene here and on Aug 3, I head to Moosehead Kitchen + Bar (110 Telok Ayer Street, tel: 6636-8055) for an unusual one. Instead of teaming up with another restaurant, it decided to work with Warong Nasi Pariaman in North Bridge Road and Ah Hwee BBQ Chicken in Changi Village to serve a Gotong Royong 50 meal.
The $25 platter of food, good for two, presents the best of the three eateries. Ah Hwee's beautifully burnished chicken wings with a very kicky chilli dip, Warong Nasi Pariaman's ayam bakar with a coconutty gravy, and Moosehead's grilled corn with Sriracha mayonnaise, grilled cauliflower and flatbread.
The food is cooked in the restaurant's Inka charcoal oven and oh, the char on all the food is so very appetising.
I cannot wait for another unusual collaboration. Bring them on, I say.
We end this week's column with an unusual snack. One of my colleagues in the Art Department offers me some deep fried worms he bought in Bangkok.
I promptly take a photo of it, of course, and wonder if I should just try one. Oh, what the heck, I'll try anything once. So I grab a worm and take a bite. It has a light crunch and is hollow inside. Thank goodness, because seeing and tasting worm innards would not be a good thing.
Right at the end, there is a faint aroma of dried squid, a snack I used to love as a kid.
"Have another one," my friend says.
Um, no thanks.