FiftyThree is at best a mid-tier european restaurant masquerading as modernist cuisine. The decor is a pleasant spartan rustic; the service is generally good, and the dishes are nicely plated. The failure however is in the taste of the food. One can’t help but feel that so much time was spent in planning on how to “wow” patrons visually, that the chef in the process neglected to “wow” gastronomically. Back when this place opened in 2008, there wasn’t much to compare against, but now with the likes of Novus and especially Restaurant André, there’s really a sense of fatigue to this former must-go destination for molecular gastronomy.
The last time we dined at the space that is now Brasserie Les Saveurs, it was still the trés upscale dinner buffet at the St. Regis. Now, this former all-you-can eat shrine for gastronomes has been reinvented as a classic French restaurant. While not the most exciting culinarily-wise, it’s a solid choice for a date night or a special occasion. This particular evening, it was S & L’s anniversary, and they invited a group of us along to help celebrate. Overall the food was not too bad, with the highlights being a made-to-order steak tartare, dessert, and the Michael Buble-esque lounge singer that kept us well-crooned all evening.
It should be of little surprise that G and I would choose Japanese for our “last date night meal in the foreseeable future.” While we have never tried Goto, recommendations from a few trusted sources convinced us that this might be the closest to dining in Japan that we would experience locally. Other convincing factors include: the chef/owner, Goto Hisao, is the former chef of the Japanese Ambassador, and as a geek, how could I possibly pass on a restaurant named thusly. Skipping to the conclusion: we were very impressed. While dinner here is not cheap, if you’re in the mood for high class kaiseki- this is the place to visit.
Wild Honey is reminiscent of a local hipster coffee shop replete with deep sofa-chairs and the latest trendy design magazines for your perusal. Their specialty is serving breakfast items from around the world all-day. While the food may not be mind-blowing fantastic or truly “authentic”, the dishes that we’ve tried so far have mostly been satisfying. The one big drawback is due to the cafe’s relative size, it gets packed early. By 10am on the weekends, expect at least a 20 min wait.
G and I stumbled upon Matsu awhile back on our way to eat at Torisho Taka (they are neighbors). The restaurant serves mid-ranged Japanese-French fare in a semi-formal setting, equally appropriate for a date night or business lunch. Since the set menu prices seemed reasonable and the reviews online were generally decent, we decided to try a little fusion one weekend.
The lunch prices are comparable to lunch deals available elsewhere (or next door for that matter), but diners have a few different price options to choose from for more variety or courses. Since this meal was breakfast/lunch, we elected to order the “Matsu Set” – a six course meal for $58.
If there is one must-try restaurant in Singapore, it’s André. Do yourself a favor and eschew the fine-dining “chain” establishments at MBS and RWS. Instead, try a place that is uniquely Singaporean and deservedly world-class. The New York Times recently listed Restaurant André as one of their 10 restaurants worth a plane ride, and it is also one of only 3 restaurants from Singapore on the top 100 list. Despite having been opened for some time, the restaurant still commands a 4 week reservation time. The wait however is more than worth it as André is the epitome of what fine dining should be – personal, flawless, and memorable.
The restaurant is a cozy 30-seater that only accommodates one service each evening since the 10-course meal can last 3+ hours. There are no set menu options, but as our party of four experienced, dishes can be substituted or adjusted quite radically on demand. The service here leans more towards warm and casual, always present but never a distraction. Towards the end of the evening, Chef André makes the rounds, spending time chit chatting with the diners and happily answering questions. Even though there were other diners around, the personal attention from chef and staff made us feel like we were the only guests that evening.
On one of the rare family nights that everyone agreed to try some place new, we decided on Torisho Taka (since last minute reservations at Kazu are nigh impossible for large groups these days). G and I had been there for lunch and found the food to be quite good, and as the sister restaurant to Aoki, one would expect a certain level of excellence at Taka. Their specialty is sumiyaki, with cooked dishes as a secondary attraction. The ingredients are fresh and primarily from Japan.
G and I have a fondness for mom and pop restaurants. Back home, we had Tekka, run by an elderly Japanese couple in their sixties. While we’ve come across a few places like that here, none have made an impression quite like Ooi. The restaurant is run by an adorably friendly obasan with her chef husband, the creator of straightforward and downright tasty meals. It might just be our new favorite (but pricey) spot for a good Japanese home-cooked meal.
Hidden in the basement of Cuppage Plaza, it’s unlikely that one would happen to stumble upon Ooi. This could explain why it’s filled predominantly by regulars, and why we were the only new faces that evening. It’s a small restaurant, seating maybe 20 people. The wife, Hiromi-san, alternates serving dishes, chatting with the guests and taking shots of shochu. Fortunately, she has two other staff to ensure that food is promptly served and drinks always filled.
Last year’s World Gourmet Summit featured some notable personalities including a special appearance by Ferran Adrià and one very particular chef from Japan who transported everything including water for his guest stint in Singapore. The latter might sound a bit absurd, but if you’ve ever had the pleasure of dining in Japan, you might appreciate how difficult it is to reproduce those tastes and textures abroad. This year, Shinichiro Takagi, chef/owner of Zeniya had the dubious honor of presenting the cuisine and ingredients of his region during this tumultuous time in Japan.
Chef Takagi hails from Kanazawa, capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture, which, if my memory serves me correctly, is home to great seafood, historical attractions, and celebrities Hideki Matsui and “Chairman Kaga”. While this region on the western part of the main island was unaffected by the recent disasters, imports of food items from Japan has become much more strict, and as a consequence many ingredients meant for Takagi’s menu were unable to be shipped. This meant that many substitutions were used for this meal that ultimately diluted the experience of each dish.
G and I dined at Absinthe a few months after it had opened. That meal was one of our most memorable dining experiences in Singapore thus far. So, we were excited to have an opportunity to return as well as introduce T & A (A’s review here) to “that French place” that I had raved about forever.
Our second visit, while enjoyable, didn’t quite have the impact or warmth as the first. Like most other restaurants in Singapore, popularity can change a place, seldom for the better. Gone is the amazing hospitality that G and I first experienced, replaced by remarkably efficient yet cold and distant service. So much so, that the staff hardly said a single word to us the entire evening (not even bothering to explain each course), yet they diligently refilled our water and addressed our few dining issues quickly and graciously. While I can no longer recommend Absinthe for remarkable service, the food is still quite good, well thought-out and executed.