Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dining in Singapore - The Delightful JAAN

I rarely ate at the same hotel that I was staying in, unless the meal came as part of the room package, but for this Saturday in Singapore I decided to try one of the restaurants under the same roof, some 40 levels up from my hotel room.

JAAN is located on the 70th level of the Swissotel The Stamford as part of the entertainment complex known as The Equinox. It's a very intimate restaurant with only a handful of tables (so yes reservation is a must), hidden away from the rest of F&B outlets on the same complex (which occupy the 69 and 70th floor) and essentially the crowd. As you can probably imagine, from the restaurant you can't ask for a better view of this amazing city-state of Singapore - on one side you have full view of the newly developed esplanade and the Marina Bay Sands complex with its unique boat-shape skypark on top of the 3 towers, and on the other side you can see as far as the whole East Coast if the sky's clear. And on the day I went, the weather's perfect and they gave me a table by the window despite this is a last minute reservation. Yay - guess eating at the same hotel you stay in has its advantage.

This place specializes in "Artisanal French Cuisine", as they described, and for lunch hours, only prie fixe menus were offered - though you still have a choice of a 3-course or 5-course option, or better yet, an 8-course tasting menu which is done omakase style - at chef's mercy, so to speak. Saving myself the agony of having to pick (or give up) some of the interesting choices, I decided to leave the decision to the chef and went for the tasting menu.

A perfect amuse bouche should be the one that impresses the hell out of you, the one that pushes the limit of what the chef can do from his/her kitchen, hence set the right tone for the rest of the meal, and this is exactly the one good example. Better yet, it's a 4-course amuse bouche, with food in different shape or form, presented in 3 small plates. While my favorite is the smoked eel served on a wooden spoon (with pickled apple and kombu jelly on top), I also love the hummus with nutty flavors from the chestnut paste that was put into the pureed "le puy" lentils. Originally designed to eat with the crisp which came in one of the small plates, I kept the jar on the table throughout the meal and ended up finishing the hummus as the dip for the bread, an alternative to the unsalted Bordier butter. (and in case you wonder, the other amuse bouche dishes were a cantal cheese cromesquis topped with tarragon sauce, and crispy chicken skin with curry yoghurt)

Just when I thought that's already an impressive quartet of amuse bouche, the waiter brought me yet another one - this time it's a cep sabayon with wild mushroom tea. The "tea" was presented in a French press and poured to the glass espresso cup at a table - sure it's a fancy way of serving, and practical too - the strong and dark-colored wild mushroom consomme released the wonderful earthy aroma as it came into contact with the lighter flavored mushroom sabayon, with fragrant lovage threads, crushed walnut and black truffles on top.

The real lunch menu began with quail and foie gras ballotine coated with crumbs of toasted poilane (a kind of grainy bread), which was served with mashed medjool dates, maple reduction, and torn endives. It's rich and complex and beautifully presented. I wouldn't have asked for a better "salad" in any lunch.

Apparently the 55-minute smoked egg is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant and I understand why after trying it myself. The egg was poached in its own shell at 62C for 55 minutes (hence the name of the dish), then rosemary smoke was infused, and the egg was brought out in the shell with much fanfare in a carton box with dry ice smoke and all that. Before serving, the egg was poured into a glass already filled with jerusalem artichoke, chanterelles, a slice of roasted jamon iberico and porcini crumbs. I could even smell a hint of rosemary smoke as it was placed under the glass bowl for more dramatic effect.
The combination of ingredients in the Seared scallops was very preculiar. Pan-seared scallops coated with a rich "bread and butter" crust, then paired with pieces of pickled grapefruit, mashed pumpkin (with an additional candied slice on the side) and fir vinaigrette. The result is a very unusual combo of different flavors and texture. Preculiar, but in a good sense.

Compared to other courses, I am not a particular big fan of the confit arctic char dish - the fish was cooked sous vide, and sides were actually cauliflower came in 3 ways - shaved and placed on top of the fish (similar to how parmesan is usually served), finely chopped (like a cous cous) and served with butter-poached crayfish and as a quenelle of mousse on the side. It's a creative attempt by the chef to play with same ingredient with different forms and cooking methods, and there's nothing wrong with the texture of the fish and the sides, but I guess my reservation came from the fact that  the taste of both the arctic char and cauliflower were rather "subdued", and that one plus one didn't bring out much flavor of the entire dish that I expected. Perhaps putting crayfish or better yet lobster as the main feature of the dish (instead of the fish) would have helped - at least that will give the whole dish a new dimension of firm flavors.

If I see the fish course as the only little hiccup of the meal, the chef definitely redeemed himself immediately with the main course of four different cuts of kurobota pork, cooked in 4 different ways. On top of the plate is a braised pork belly coated with deep-fried shallots, followed by the char-grilled ribs, then the slow-cooked and tender pork cheek, and at last the pork trotter deep-fried into a croquette. My favorite was a toss between the pork belly and the cheek - you can't go wrong with the fat and rich meat plus the crispy crackling, but the cheek glazed with its own jus reduction was tender and with an intense flavor too. And oh yes, the dish came with a tiny bit of vegetables on the side.
After the pre-dessert of a citrus trio (foam, mousse and candy pops all in one dish), I was presented with a painting - well, I mean the main dessert. It's almost like a piece of art in abstract style. Called "Choconuts 2012", the dish comprises of chocolate (Jivara) mousse, thin slices of chocolate (like a mille feuille), powdered caramelized peanuts, toasted and shaved almonds, and a generous portion of macadamia nut icecream. It certainly marked a beautiful and delicious end of this long but enjoyable meal.
Other than chef's creativity, another thing to command about this restaurant is its fine service. It's as good as any hotel or restaurant you would expect around the world, starred or not starred. For me sometimes it's the small thing they did that made me smile - I know I didn't come to the wrong place when they offered me a choice between Badoit or Chateldon for water (water list is always my benchmark for first impression at a fine-dining restaurant), and at the end of the meal, just when I was about to ask for a copy of the menu so I know what I ate (since there's technically no menu), they have it prepared already, wax-sealed in an envelope. Throughout the meal, Max the restaurant manager on duty and his wait staff team took good care of me - I never even had to raise my finger or turn my head for one sec for anything I need. As a lone diner sometimes it's easy to feel ignored but definitely not this time for me.

Headed by the young and promising Chef Julien Royer since late last year, I expect even better thing to come at this restaurant as he started to settle in his new position. And for me, I can't find a better way to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon (also take into account that it's probably one of the few fine dining European restaurants that open on Saturday afternoons in Singapore, just so you know)

when? May 12 2012
where? JAAN Restaurant, 70th Floor, Swissotel The Stamford, Singapore
menu highlights: Kurobuta Pork in 4 Ways

1 comment :

karine said...

The smoked egg looks very interesting!