SINGAPORE - Most restaurants increase their prices after receiving Michelin stars. But Beni, the Japanese- French restaurant given a star in last year's inaugural Michelin Guide for Singapore, cut them instead.
That is not the only change. The restaurant, which closed late last year after a change in ownership, has moved from the fourth to the second floor of Mandarin Gallery. It re-opened early this month.
While the menu concept remains the same, the interiors are totally different in the new space, which is where Hashida Sushi used to be (the two restaurants swopped locations).
Instead of the former U-shaped seating counter where 15 diners face the chef - and one another across the room - you now find a sushi counter-style of seating for eight. In addition, there are two private rooms, each providing table seating for eight diners.
You no longer have to spend the meal watching the faces of other diners or having to keep your voice to a whisper if you do not want the whole restaurant listening in on your conversation.
Even better, prices have come down in some instances.
02-37 Mandarin Gallery,333 Orchard Road, tel: 9159-3177, open:noon to 3pm, 7 to10pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Food: 4/5 stars
Service: 4/5 stars
Ambience: 4/5 stars
Price: From $68 for lunch and $178 for dinner
There is no a la carte menu, and while lunch remains at $128 a person for the seven-course Degustation menu and $228 for a five- course Precieux one, there is now an additional four-course Lunch Experience at $68.
Dinner - which used to be $298 a person for seven courses - is now cheaper at $178 for six courses and $258 for eight courses. This comes without any compromise in the quality of the food.
Head chef Kenji Yamanaka, who has been running the kitchen since Beni opened in 2015, applies French cooking techniques to Japanese ingredients - which you will find in many fine-dining contemporary Western restaurants - except that his dishes have a more Japanese slant than what you will find at places such as Odette or Restaurant Andre.
I have dined at Beni twice in the last two weeks, first unannounced and then invited, trying a different menu each time. Both times, I leave happy.
The more expensive menu offers not just more courses, but also more pricey ingredients such as amadai (tilefish) and Ozaki wagyu.
But that does not necessarily mean the cheaper menu is not as good. I enjoy dishes such as kinmedai (golden eye snapper) just as much, because the fish is matched beautifully with lumps of lobster meat and slivers of black truffle.
Both my meals start with a little glass of gyokuro tea, a brew with a strong umami flavour that tastes almost like a stock. The leaves left in the cup after you finish the tea are then eaten with a bit of sea salt and olive oil. They come across a little like a bitter seaweed - odd, but not unpleasant.
Then comes a duo of amuse bouche, which includes an item that is inspired by the roasted peanuts found on the table at Chinese restaurants here - roasted peanut puree drizzled with olive oil and charcoal salt, and finished with crushed roasted peanuts. It is not as addictive as plain roasted peanuts, but is a laudable nod to local culture.
The menu items are what really shine. The Ozaki A5 wagyu - a high-grade beef from Miyazaki prefecture that boasts good marbling without the richness - is my favourite. It is lightly roasted and served with Hokkaido potato mousse, purple potato chips and a Madeira sauce, and that is all it needs in order for its beautiful flavour to come through.
Amadai is presented as a fillet with the fish skin and scales intact. It is roasted Japanese-style on just the side where the skin is, allowing the heat to penetrate the meat slowly, while turning the scales to a cracker-like crisp. Served with braised white beans, buckwheat, turnip confit and a Noilly Prat vermouth sauce, it shows how the best in Japanese and French cooking can come together in one beautiful dish.
If you need further confirmation, the pan-seared Hokkaido scallop with celeriac confit, black truffle dressing and a squid-ink biscuit will do it. The sweet scallop, cooked just right, works well with the varying textures of the other ingredients on the plate. The squid-ink biscuit, which reminds me of a piece of black coral, also dresses up the dish very nicely.
From the cheaper menu, I find dishes such as a wild mushroom tartlet - a simple pastry topped with pieces of assorted mushrooms - to be delicious.
There is also a soft-boiled organic egg with Cevennes onion, which I like. The onion, a prized variety from France, is prepared in different ways such as in a cream sauce and as a paper-thin chip.
For me, the new Beni is an improvement in many ways. I shall be very surprised, therefore, if it does not retain its star. Or even gain a second one.
•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke
•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.