This story was first published in The Sunday Times on Nov 28, 2010.
The term “celebrity chef” came into vogue in the 1980s, when the media, especially in the United States, started promoting chefs like they were stars.
One of the first such stars was Wolfgang Puck, whose Los Angeles restaurant Spago opened in 1982 and was frequented by top Hollywood actors and directors. By cooking for celebrities, he became one himself.
But while his food and beverage empire has been growing in the US, and now includes more than 20 fine-dining restaurants under various names and concepts, there is little news of him in this part of the world. Occasionally, he is mentioned as the official caterer of Oscar parties in Los Angeles.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel Singapore, 10 Bayfront Avenue, tel: 6688-8517
Open: 5.30 to 10pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 5.30 to 11pm (Fridays and Saturdays). Closed on Sundays
Price: Budget from $150 a person
There is a reason for the Austria-born American’s low profile in Asia: Unlike many other celebrity chefs, he has not opened restaurants outside the US, save for casual eateries called Wolfgang Puck Express in Japan and at the Toronto airport.
All that has changed with the opening of Cut in Marina Bay Sands two weeks ago.
I had eaten at Spago in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and was impressed by the light cooking and flavours of its Californian cuisine, a fusion of Asian and Western cooking styles.
Cut, however, cannot be more different.
First, it is a steakhouse. But unlike traditional steak restaurants such as Morton’s of Chicago, which have a masculine, old-world feel, its vibe is a lot more contemporary.
It has all the elements of today’s fine-dining restaurants: a stylish bar at the entrance, a dimly lit dining room set off by sparkling tealights and a huge floral display at the end of the room for a burst of glamour. Everywhere you turn, there are smart and polished service staff.
At the same time, it has a relaxed feel. Pop music is played throughout the night and there is a healthy level of noise as the dining room fills up.
Not your run-of-the-mill steakhouse, Cut does not offer meat from just one source. The menu lists beef from Australia, America and Japan, with a range of grades and prices – from the cheapest Australian Angus, 300+ days grain-fed, at $65 for 225g, to the True Australian 100% Wagyu Beef from Blackmore Ranch, which costs $265 for 230g.
Non-beef eaters have plenty of choice too. Pork, chicken and seafood dishes are available as both starters and entrees.
During my first visit last week, I had a selection of starters and main courses that were all done very nicely – except for one thing: They were too salty.
For example, the prawn “cocktail” ($28) had a sweet shelled prawn sitting on a mound of wasabi panna cotta, which was a good idea, except that the wasabi’s sting lost in a fight against an overdose of salt.
The Double Thick Kurobuta Pork Chop ($50) delivered what it promised: a juicy piece of meat with a crunchy texture worthy of the Kurobuta label.
But it was salty, and not just the outside, which was rubbed with a herb mix. Even the centre of the meat tasted of salt, as though the meat had been soaked in brine.
The steaks in the tasting of New York sirloin ($195) – comprising a piece each of USDA Prime (120g), America Kobe style (120g) and Japanese wagyu from Saga Prefecture (60g) – had been rubbed with an over-salted mix too before being grilled.
Which was a pity because the pieces of meat were grilled perfectly: cooked on the outside and pink inside, leaving them tender and juicy. But one had to struggle to taste them as sodium chloride overwhelmed the palate.
Still, cutting down on the salt should prove no challenge to someone who seemed to have done everything else right. So after dinner, I gave my feedback to chef Joshua Brown, who looks after the kitchen here.
When I returned a couple of nights later, invited this time, the American Kobe style sirloin ($150 for 225g) was perfect.
The beef from the Snake River Farms in the US comes from cows that are a crossbreed of Japanese wagyu and American Angus, and had the wagyu’s marbling combined with the Angus’ full flavour. The knife sliced through the slab of meat like it was butter, yet it was not as fatty as Japanese wagyu.
I usually find it hard to eat more than 100g of fatty wagyu at a time, much as I love it. But I easily finished more than half of the American kobe-style sirloin.
A selection of side dishes were available to go with the meats and the creamed spinach with fried organic egg ($18) was to die for. The combination may sound odd but the fried egg, broken up and mixed into the vegetable at the table, went marvellously with it. I ordered it on both nights.
Desserts, too, were flawless each time.
The Valrhona chocolate souffle ($24) was my favourite. Not only was it perfectly puffed over a heart of molten chocolate but, at the table, the server made a cut in it and spooned in scoops of whipped fresh cream and coffee caramel ice cream. Delicious sin, indeed.
LifeStyle paid for its meals at the eatery reviewed here.