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.
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.
I made a duck breast confit ala sous vide the other night using some leftover duck fat (more on that in a future post). This was the first time cooking the breast meat (as well as deboning an entire duck), and it couldn’t have turned out better. The meat was evenly cooked, incredibly juicy and tender. Normally picky cousin L ate half of the plate for her dinner, and G skipped the sauce that I made. This will definitely be a repeat dish.
Instructions: Dry rub duck breasts with salt, pepper, and thyme for 24 hours. Sous vide 57.5 °C for two hours in duck fat. Then pan fry to crisp the skin. Enjoy!
… you take the opportunity to experiment. Scallops (specifically Hokkaido-originated ones) are at the top of G and I’s favorite seafood list, so it was with mixed emotions that the family was recently “gifted” with a large bag of frozen jumbo scallops. As fans of Top Chef might recall, this particular shellfish is a very different ingredient to work with frozen, and taste-wise they just can never compare to the “fresh” alternatives.
Restaurant Week is now over in Singapore, and for the budget-conscious it was a great opportunity to dine at new (and old) restaurants that might not have been on your must-eat lists. That said, a few of the participating restaurants are worth patronizing normally, and at $35/$55 per set menu during Restaurant Week they are an absolute steal. This explains why a number of places were fully booked a mere 8 hours after registration opened. Fortunately, I was still able to reserve a table at my top to-try for this year, BLU.
Modernist cuisine, or molecular gastronomy, is still a fairly novel field, so it’s always an adventure to try out a place daring enough to fuse laboratory experiments with cooking techniques. While most of us may never have the chance to eat at Fat Duck, Allinea, or El Bulli, at least there are a few restaurants in Singapore like Fifty-three, Novus, and BLU, that incorporate cutting edge techniques to add avant-garde twists to classic dishes. Continue reading
Continuing from part I on spherification, above is an example of reverse spherification that doesn’t take a lot of effort: multi-colored yogurt drink spheres.
Here’s what you’ll need:
For the Bath
- 5g of Sodium Alginate
- 1L of distilled water
Take an immersion blender and thoroughly mix the sodium alginate with the distilled water. Tap water isn’t recommended as your local supply of water may already contain trace amounts of calcium that will react with the sodium alginate. Let the bath sit for awhile for the air bubbles to disappear. Note that the bath is much thicker than water.
Inspired by a conversation last evening with the always entertaining T & A, I did a bit of follow-up research on a topic near and dear: sous-vide and meat. A mentioned that a chef had said that searing helps to trap juices and improves flavor when cooking with sous-vide. It’s a widely debunked myth that searing hels to seal in moisture. In fact, experiments show the opposite to be true. Furthermore, one of the advantages of sous-vide is that it can cook proteins at the optimal temperature to help retain most of its juices, thus making searing for this purpose redundant.
What I did wonder however, was whether searing first before sous-vide had any benefit to the flavor. Afterall, the real reason to sear meat is to give it that wonderful caramelized crust and flavor (via the Maillard reaction). Fortunately, thanks to the internet and Serious Eats, my question had already been answered. In short, no. Searing, pre-cooking, has no noticeable impact on the flavor of the meat, and since you’ll want to sear it after the sous-vide, there’s doubly no reason to do the same thing twice.
And there you have it – searing is still great, but you should just do it at the end.
Additional resources on sous-vide:
Spherification is a technique used for encapsulating liquids within a jelly-like outer shell, made famous by Ferrara Adria (El Bulli). It has since found its way into common use in modern cuisine and is great for adding a nice twist to any dish. Caviar (or salmon roe), is probably the best comparable in sensation- a slightly chewy sphere that explodes flavor and liquid.
The chemistry that makes spherification possible is pretty straightforward: when a solution containing sodium alginate comes into contact with a solution containing calcium a layer of calcium alginate immediately begins to form. This membrane is water insoluble and effectively traps liquid within.
This was one of my earlier experiments using the Sous Vide Supreme- veal shank ala osso bucco with vegetables and a mashed potato. What I liked about this dish was that this and other similar ones could be made into quick and easy meals for those busy workdays. You could cook a batch in advance and then toss the individual portions directly into the freezer (already vacuum sealed) for easy reheat later. Since meats cook at a lower temperature than vegetables, you can toss your veggies and broth in without worrying about overcooking.
This pork belly is based on the Heston Blumenthal sous vide technique for making 36 hour Pork Belly. The brine I used is a simplified version of a recipe from a cooking class at ToTT taught by Stephan Zoisl. Unfortunately, there is no online recipe for the brine, but a quick search on “pork belly sous vide” will return a number of great posts and how-tos (two of which I’ve included below).
The general cooking process for tasty sous vide pork belly is as follows: brine the belly, sous-vide, sear/boil the skin, and serve.