When chef Andre Chiang announced in the middle of this year that he was leaving Jaan to open his own restaurant, the news was met with mixed feelings.
It was wonderful that the Taiwan-born chef, who was then wowing diners at the fine-dining restaurant at Swissotel The Stamford, had decided to put down his roots in Singapore instead of leaving the country after his contract with the hotel expired.
But at the same time, one could not help wondering how he would fare on his own, without the support of a five-star hotel that seemed to set no limit on how much he could spend sourcing the fine ingredients that were essential to his cooking.
Whatever doubts I had, however, have been dispelled after dining at Restaurant Andre two weeks ago.
The 30-seat restaurant, which opened on Oct 10 in a small three-storey building in Bukit Pasoh next to the New Majestic Hotel, gets it right on every front.
The design of the restaurant is tasteful, done in a blend of classic and contemporary elements that is stylish but not trendy.
The staff are professional and friendly, evidence that good service is not impossible in Singapore if restaurateurs make the effort to recruit, train and reward good staff.
Most important - for what is to many foodies the most eagerly awaited restaurant of the year - is that the cooking is excellent.
Chiang has not only met all expectations but even surpassed them in some aspects. I found my meal there even better than his last menu at Jaan.
There is no a la carte order at the moment, only a chef's menu called Octaphilosophy comprising eight courses, plus cheese and dessert, priced at $198 and $288 a person.
These are based on eight elements: Pure, Salt, Artisan, Texture, South, Unique, Memory and Terroir. They are also the names of the dishes, which seem to make little sense - until the food arrives.
The concept is rather clever actually and will guide the chef in creating new dishes later on. Pure, for example, is composed of ingredients in unadulterated forms, with no added seasonings.
For my dinner, the dish is made up of a Hokkaido scallop ravioli wrapped in scallop paste. This sits in a consomme made with purple basil flower, purple shiso flower and purple cauliflower. With no salt or any other seasoning, the main flavour is the natural sweetness of the scallop enhanced with a tinge of vegetable sweetness from the consomme. Pure flavours indeed.
For Salt, it is all about products of the sea, seen in an oyster "Cadoret", a plump shellfish from well-known oyster breeder Jacques Cadoret in Brittany, in fresh seaweed and seawater jelly and served with wild long pepper and bits of pickled Granny Smith apple dotted around the plate.
By the third course, my dining companions and I were starting to get the idea behind the names. So while two of us puzzled over South, another pointed out: "It must mean south of France, where the chef once worked."
And she was right. The dish was chilled langoustine risotto served with a fig salad, salt-crusted rockfish and an heirloom tomato sorbet - all of which came from the south of France.
Ideas are one thing, but what makes dining at Restaurant Andre memorable is how the chef combines the ingredients so well that everything comes together so harmoniously.
Nothing is boring. Flavours jump at you immediately, even when it is an unseasoned dish such as Pure.
Every mouthful brings more pleasure on the palate, as various components on the plate trigger different sensory reactions, all of them good.
The components are certainly varied, ranging from an arborio rice crackling with charcoal vegetable in Texture matched with risotto made from finely diced Japanese surume squid, to a Singapore-grown black chicken egg baked in salt served with Iberico Jabugo ham and Alba white truffle in Unique.
Every course brings new surprises, and one wishes they could keep on coming although by the last dish, we were stuffed.
But there is always the next time. Though for most of us, that could be a while. Besides the hefty bill, the reservations list is also already full for the next few weeks.
Which made it all the more unforgivable that the night we were there, a table of five had failed to turn up - without bothering to inform the restaurant.
One hopes they had a very good reason for such bad behaviour.
LifeStyle paid for its meals at the eatery reviewed here.
I love every dish but the flavour of the sea in the combination of oyster "Cadoret" with seaweed and seawater jelly makes me think of crashing waves and holidays abroad.
41 Bukit Pasoh Road, tel: 6534-8880
Open: Tuesdays to Sundays, 7 to 11pm
Price: $198 and $288 a person
This review was first published on Nov 7, 2010.