There is a certain satisfaction about charting the career of a chef — from the first encounter of the promising ingénue as he sends out tentative dishes, then watching him find his feet as his confidence grows, following his evolution over the years from one restaurant to the next, and marking his progression at each step.
The opening of Restaurant Euphoria in the midst of Chinatown’s bristling foodie strip, Tras Street, is the latest salvo from Jason Tan, a full six years after he powered into Singapore’s hyperactive dining scene at Corner House. Prior to Corner House, Tan spent several years as a journeyman at Julien Bompard’s Le Saint Julien and Macau’s three-Michelin-starred Robuchon a Galera.
Here, in a slick dining room burnished with brass and stone — sinuous decorative lines that are meant to evoke the layers of an onion — and cut through with tufts of faux greenery, the 38-year-old chef finally parlays the early promise of his career into a full-fledged masterclass in which disciplined flavours are fused with imagination and flawless technique.
The confidence of the menu and the sure-footedness of the staff owe much to the fact that Tan and his business partner Arissa Wang — JTAW, the culinary design studio the pair co-founded, dressed the space — have self-financed the entire venture. In one fell, perhaps foolhardy, swoop, they have freed themselves and the kitchen from the diktats and restraints of nosy co-investors.
So, has it worked? you ask. The short answer is, yes, and more.
Corner House made Tan’s name with its emphasis on vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits anchored by a mod-French sensibility — a philosophy he dubbed “gastro-botanica”. Euphoria’s MO swings the pendulum even further left by recreating the mother sauces of French haute cuisine entirely with — quelle surprise — plant-based ingredients.
Painstakingly and sometimes over several days, Tan plunders at least 30 kinds of vegetables to create an entirely new armory of foundation flavours. “Each vegetable and preparation brings out its different characteristics, allowing us to build layers of flavours and nuances for flavour creation. A cabbage that is used raw or cooked will give sweetness, but when juiced and reduced, it develops an umami akin to dried seaweed. The same vegetables that are sweated in a pan will produce cleaner flavours, and when roasted, deeper robust sweetness,” Tan explains.
The resulting four new mother sauces, which Tan has named “La Symphonie de Légumes”, are a revelation for both the purity and the depth of the intensity of their composite ingredients. More so when Tan then layers over them a surf and turf combination of Wagyu beef, Perle Noire oysters and finger lime, caramelised Cévennes onions and plancha-grilled mirugai.
Both the omnivore and vegetarian tasting menus teem with unexpected flavours and textures. Bomba rice is sweated with sweet onions and capsicums before it’s deglazed with white wine and pan-fried. The earthiness of Wagyu tartare gets an unusual lift with yuzu and the warmth of banana shallots.
The quotidian bread course, disguised by its moniker “mochishire”, arrives in the middle of the meal and with just one bite, you immediately understand why this restaurant is booked up a month in advance. Like a benign Dr Frankenstein with a raging culinary fetish, Tan has dared to stitch a mochi to a Yorkshire pudding. That is, if you can imagine a Yorkshire pudding made of olive oil, tapioca starch and milk and topped with ground almonds, Gruyère and egg whites in the first place. It’s delicate, it’s salty with an undertow of sweetness, it’s creamy and it’s puffy light all at once. Here, in one mouthful, is all you need to know about Tan’s outsized talent and ambitions.
Then, out of nowhere comes a tile of snowy patin, a commonly discredited fish that, in Tan’s hands, is transformed by sautéed Savoy and an emulsion of Beijing cabbages and white onions.
And like every dish you’ve had so far, you smile and silently applaud your good fortune at being around to watch — and taste — the trajectory of this uncommonly talented chef.
76 Tras Street; restaurant-euphoria.com