food, glorious food

Travel Through Asia And Europe With These 3 Restaurants

We review some of Singapore’s newest — and hottest — restaurants, and find ourselves on a gastronomical trip across the world.

Travel Through Asia And Europe With These 3 Restaurants
The Crab Poppadum at Corner House.Corner House

01 | A Singapourien Experience at Corner House

Expectations run high when dining at Corner House at Singapore Botanic Gardens, where chef-patron Jason Tan recently handed over the reins to new Executive Chef David Thien. I imagine most diners are curious to see what Thien does with the formidable legacy carved by Tan, under whose unique “gastro-botanica” cuisine Corner House attained – and retained – a Michelin star.

Bordeaux-born Thien makes an ambitious debut with what he calls “French-Asian cuisine without shackles”, marrying classical French techniques with (often surprising) Asian accents.

Corner House exec chef David Thien.Corner House

The starters are prefaced by deliciously crisp squid-ink-streaked youtiao, sourdough and curry-potato-infused brioche rolls that recall freshly-fried curry puffs. These are even more delectable when generously slathered with the accompanying ochre-hued sambal belacan butter, which thankfully merely hints at its main ingredient’s natural funk.

A trio of starters – which draws inspirations from Singapore to France – sets the tone for dinner, and includes a vadouvan spice-dusted crab poppadum and a neat brioche sandwich of comte cheese and otah paste mixed with New Caledonian shrimp.

Each bite is a window into Thien’s peripatetic history. Thien has Alsatian, Corsican, Chinese and Mauritian roots, was raised in Reunion Island and has cooked at Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe and Singapore (which he moved to in 2007). Each of Thien’s dishes is filled with continent-spanning memories that are at turns nostalgic and inventive, the understanding of which is aided by illustrated notecards that detail each course’s ingredients and inspirations.

Archards from Corner House.Corner House

A scallop dish includes a jade pool of liquefied, Chinese-chive-like p’tit l‘ail, which Thien’s father would pluck from the family garden before tossing it with hot noodles. Achards – a dish of pickled Mauritian vegetables encircling a granita of their pickling juices – represents Thien’s fascination with the etymology of a dish with iterations in Mauritius, Singapore, Indonesia and India.

“After living in Asia, my palate has shifted towards textures, sauces and broths,” says Thien, whose philosophy is borne out in East-West takes on Mont Blanc (with Japanese azuki beans subbing for chestnut), sambal stingray (Japanese flounder with an “Asian meuniere sauce” of Indonesian rempah and French tomatoes) and a delightful yet divisive dish where orange tongues of sea urchin hide a mound of diced taugeh (bean sprout) “risotto”. And the tinkering continues – Thien is currently reimagining Korean seafood pancakes and that ugly duckling of local cuisine, the century egg.

Ultimately, dining at the “new” Corner House is a bit like watching Crazy Rich Asians – it’s an enjoyable experience filled with fun-to-spot Singaporean elements, but one refracted through an unmistakably foreign lens. Nevertheless, as an avid foodie traveller grounded by Covid, I look forward to rediscovering our local favourites through Thien’s eyes.

Visit their site here for more details.

02 | Kirk Westaway’s Pop-up Pub

A Casual British Summer (at Anti:dote cocktail bar until 13 September) is Devon native Kirk Westaway’s paean to that most delightful of seasons in the UK, when the drinks are sparkling, berries burst with flavour and dining is best enjoyed en plein air.

“I was brought up as a vegetarian, so I have fond memories of picking vegetables and fruits in the garden with my sisters and family, and then eating them right there,” says Westaway, who has created a “capsule” version of his menus at one-Michelin-star restaurant Jaan by Kirk Westaway, which is known for its contemporary British cuisine and reopened 19 August.

Starters include a rye sourdough bread accompanied by Devonshire butter, along with tangy cucumbers and addictive crispy cheese wafers.

Jaan fans will recognise the Marinated Heirloom Tomato dish, a zingy, refreshing assembly of sliced and tartare-style tomato, served with a dollop of basil sorbet. The Grilled Scallop is a highlight, served with hispi cabbage and a brown sauce made from reduced chicken stock, butter and caviar that won’t win Instagram but scores for its velvety mouthfeel and moreish, umami flavour.

The Fish and Chips – cod enrobed in London Pride Ale batter packs a potent beery punch but loses points on the batter’s soggy interior. The accompanying chips (made from Maris Piper potatoes) however, are a revelation. Blanched in brine, dried for 10 hours and then deep fried, these hit that sweet spot of crunchy exterior and creamy, fluffy interior.

For dessert, the Eton Mess is a careful tousle of British strawberries and Devonshire clotted cream, which along with several other dishes in the menu, comes adorned with herbs and flowers grown in the rooftop farm of Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford.

Anti:dote is known for its superb drinks and the Pimm’s Cup, with a scoop of cucumber sorbet that changes the cocktail’s flavour as it melts, is a must-order.

Visit their site here for more details.

Zouk Singapore

03 | From Dancing to Dining at Zouk’s Capital Kitchen

Pandemics call for pivots – especially when it can mean life or death in the beleaguered nightclub industry.

“With clubs closed for the foreseeable future, it was crucial for us to pivot our business model to allow us to evolve in the current climate,” says Zouk Group’s CEO Andrew Li, whose response was to transform Zouk’s premium bar and lounge into Capital Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant that expands the offerings of its RedTail Bar. Capital Kitchen appeals to its hip patrons with its crowd-pleasing selection of Asian and Western favourites, like porridge, fish and chips and chicken wings. The space, which is flanked on one side by tasteful vitrines of objet d’art and throbs with the untz untz of pop music, also provides welcome succour for those experiencing clubbing withdrawal.

I try the crab meat tartare, perfectly crisp deep-fried cauliflower croquettes topped with a wodge of crab, and a precious few orbs of caviar. A pan-seared scallop dish, which comes topped with ikura (salmon roe) is both hit (well-cooked scallops) and miss (the pallid and watery cauliflower puree lacks any flavour to make an impression).

Faring better is the Black Angus Margaret River Steak, which features 70-day grain-fed Angus beef. Steak can be a crapshoot at entertainment venues but Capital Kitchen gets it right, with our steak cooked evenly medium-rare. And don’t miss CEO Li’s (or should I say @Liski_Li’s) personal contribution to the menu, a Fiery Gamberi Aglio Olio, spaghetti with garlic, prawns and chili padi.

Five Guys burgers are available by request and desserts include home-bakery Paparch’s popular Burnt Cheesecake.

Orders for food and drink are placed via tablets, and ours had a glitchy interface that made scrolling difficult. Staff are enthusiastic, and none more so than Head Bartender Ashwin Raj. Of his three bottled cocktails (which skew sweet), our pick is the vodka-spiked Asam Guava, served in glasses rimmed with asam (sour plum) powder and granulated sugar. “It’s inspired by my grandmother, who’s great at making blends and used to mix asam powder with chilli,” says Raj. A kiss of chilli would have in fact been a nice finishing touch.

Visit their site here for more details.

Related Stories