Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi: Food Capital of the East

As far back as I can remember, Singapore has always wanted to be the food capital of Asia. I wasn’t always convinced but in 2010 I finally conceded the point. But even then I had my doubts. Shouldn’t Tokyo with its many Michelin-starred restaurants have this distinction? How about Bangkok, where it’s hard to eat badly? And what about Hong Kong, which has excellent international restaurants and the best Chinese cuisine in the world?

But time has worked in Singapore’s favour. Bangkok is still in trouble

to recover from the pandemic. Hong Kong itself has had huge problems. And the language makes Tokyo a closed shop for non-Japanese.

Singapore, on the other hand, exploded. This is partly linked to the decision of the global financial community to make the city its Asian base. There are as many Masters of the Universe (to use Tom Wolfe’s expression) in Singapore as in London. They know good food and they are willing to pay for it. And in the era of Crazy Rich Asians, even local Singaporeans are far wealthier and more sophisticated than they were a decade ago.

The pandemic kept me away from Singapore for two years, but when I returned for a quick trip last month, all I did was eat.

Chef Kazu Hamamoto runs one of Singapore’s hardest-to-reach restaurants

On my very first night, I was taken to Revolver by its owner and flagship, Sameer Sain. (Full disclosure: Sameer Sain and I co-founded Culinary Culture; a nonprofit that honors Indian chefs and reviews restaurants.) Revolver is now one of Singapore’s hottest restaurants. It serves a new type of Indian cuisine, using only different types of fire cooking techniques.

The chef is Saurabh Udinia, whom I have admired for years. Saurabh stunned us with his hits: the famous Scotch Egg, a superb Lobster Manchurian, Short Rib in a Nihari Reduction and the restaurant’s signature Kulchettes, small stuffed kulchas with toppings such as the Malabar Crab.

The next day, lunch was held at another restaurant in Sameer, Hamamoto (named after its chef) which consists of a single counter behind which the chefs work. You eat Omakase, which means you get what the chef decides to give you.

Gaggan Anand Serves His Greatest Singapore Hits Appropriately Tweaked

Japanese cuisine is complex. By now most of us know that the sushi rolls we get aren’t really Japanese, and the food we eat at fancy, modern Japanese places isn’t very Japanese either, but is based on a cuisine more or less created by chef Nobu Matsuhisa. in America. The problem is that authentic Japanese haute cuisine relies on flavors so delicate and subtle that Nobu or Zuma lovers don’t always like it.

Hamamoto does real Japanese food but he tweaks it slightly here and there without altering its basic character to make it accessible to people like me who don’t have the experience to appreciate traditional Japanese food. The meal was, as I expected, quite spectacular and it was a joy to see Chef Hamamoto working with his hands and preparing the food from across the counter.

Odette’s menu boasts a brilliant reimagining of that old standby, the floating island

Dinner was an unexpected treat. Rishi Naleendra is the only Sri Lankan chef to ever win a Michelin star. I had been to Cheek By Jowl, one of his other restaurants that served Rishi’s version of French bistro cuisine. So I was surprised to find that his current restaurant serves really elaborate cuisine in a very relaxed setting. The food takes all of Rishi’s influences from his childhood in Sri Lanka to his teenage years in Australia to his years in Singapore and uses classic and modern techniques to bring it all together. I was dazzled. Rishi deserves a second star which I think has to be on the way.

The fire-cooking trend of which Revolver is an example usually dates back to a restaurant called Etxebarri in Spain run by Basque chef Victor Arguinzoniz. Firedoor in Sydney, which I wrote about here in 2016, descends directly from Etxebarri. Burnt Ends, the hugely influential Singaporean restaurant, adopts the same principles but makes it something of its own.

I had never been able to get a table at Burnt Ends but they recently moved to a bigger place so I was able to get in.

At Odette, waiters, managers and even chef Julien Royer check each table throughout the meal.

To say the food was outstanding would be an understatement. Chef Dave Pynt extracts so much flavor from each ingredient by clever use of fire that I was amazed at his ingenuity.

Among my favorite dishes was a leek dish and a type of steak called Onglet by the French. It’s a very tasty cut but it’s usually not very tender. I don’t know what Dave Pynt does, but his version was meltingly tender: the best tab in the world. It is in these simple ingredients (leeks, marrow, cheap steaks, etc.) that the chef’s transformative genius is manifested.

As you may know, Gaggan Anand has a very successful pop-up restaurant in Singapore at the Mandala Club. It’s so popular that I think Gaggan will probably open a full-time restaurant in Singapore.

Chef Dave Pynt of Burnt Ends has transformed the way chefs use fire

All the Gaggan classics were there the night I went, most with new twists: the yogurt blast, the charcoal, the ghwar, etc. with something sweet; he went with strawberries here. But there were also lots of new dishes, including a fabulous onion rice with a perfect crab curry.

Gaggan was in Bangkok when I went, only the second time in years that I’ve eaten his food without the benefit of the spectacular performance he used to put on every night (first at Lab then at G’s Spot). It was not the same: Gaggan’s personality was always at the center of the experience. But the food, overseen as always by Rydo Anton, was excellent and if Gaggan stays in Singapore, I’m sure a Lab-like experience will be added as well.

There are plenty of fancy ingredients at Burnt Ends, but Dave Pynt’s genius is most evident when he works magic using cheaper cuts of meat.

My last dinner in Singapore was at one of the best restaurants in the world. Having eaten a meal he cooked in the Maldives a month ago, I had no doubt that Julien Royer was a chef at the top of his game. Despite everything, I was surprised by the good performance of Odette, her three-star restaurant. The service was not only faultless; it was also warm and friendly. Different servers and managers came to each table (as well as Julien himself) throughout the meal and you got the feeling that the whole restaurant was welcoming you. There was no sense in which high rollers and VIPs received special treatment: everyone was treated with the same warmth.

You’re never supposed to forget the experience of dining in a three-star Michelin restaurant. Alas, too often you do. But no one will forget an evening at Odette’s.

As for the food, it was everything you’d expect from a great chef: Julien’s signature slow-cooked egg, an intense pigeon dish, a brilliant reimagining of that old standby, the floating island, and so much more. .

At Revolver, Saurabh Udinia serves Scotch eggs, Manchurian lobster and the famous Kulchettes

Odette is truly one of the best restaurants in the world. Like all great restaurants, it transports you to a dreamlike state where everything is perfect, every bite is delicious and you feel soaked in a warm and luxurious fragrant bubble bath.

The next day, before catching my flight, I had a quick lunch with my old friend Vladimir Kojic, (Gaggan’s sommelier) at Saurabh Udinia’s counter in Revolver. The food was even better than the first night I went. Saurabh is clearly onto something here.

Just like Singapore. Finally: undisputed gourmet capital of the Orient!.

The opinions expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, March 13, 2022

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