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.

Foodwise, other than the excellent slow roasted crispy pork belly (pictured top), the rest of the dishes were average taste-wise.  Granted, the unique spice pairings were quite evocative (ex. apple and rosemary, earl grey and passionfruit), but as components of larger dishes, they just didn’t mesh.  Basic items were also a letdown.  The potato and yogurt “bread” was tough on the outside and chewy on the inside.  It doesn’t impress me that half of the bread is colored with bamboo charcoal.  Again, food should also be eaten and not just viewed.

The biggest disappointment however was with the signature 40-hour wagyu cheek.  Sous vide cooking is so mainstream these days that the cooking time shouldn’t be the basis for a dish’s wow factor.  That, and it just wasn’t particularly special.  The reduced onion stock left sharp soy sauce-like tones in the mouth, and the cheek was not-so melt in your mouth.

Lastly, dessert:  as you might notice, one of these looks passable, and the other… well… it’s reminiscent of some backwash that one might encounter on the shores of the East Coast.  Ironically, the apple-strudle-thingy was actually the more tasty of our two desserts.  The chocolate wave was a bit too dense, and cousin L makes a much better salted caramel ice cream, as a homemaker.  In short, pass on dessert.

I’ve been harsh in my assessment as I had high expectations for a place helmed by a chef billed as working at such vaunted places as Fat Duck and Noma.  Furthermore, the disconnect between the pricing and level of food is also disappointing.  The pricing scheme for lunch starts at the cutesy price of “$53″, but it’s deceptive since if you want to enjoy dishes like their signature wagyu beef you will incur extra costs from $5-20 per course.  This meant that G and I ended up spending around $70-80 each for our meals.  This “extras” pricing model made me feel like I had committed to purchasing the base model of a car but was compelled to buy everything else to make it comfortable, leaving me wondering where were my damn floor mats at the end of the meal.

In closing, there are better places in Singapore to spend your money for modernist cuisine (or fine dining).  FiftyThree earns a “53 out of 100″.





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