Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Joel Robuchon Restaurant

Having been to all three of Joel Robuchon's finest establishments (Galera, Chateau and Mansion), actually I should not have any particular motivation to visit his latest formal dining place in Singapore. However, I simply have not had any time/opportunity to go to Europe or Tokyo in the past 2 years. I did crave for some great French cuisine at times and the closest one I could think of will be Robuchon's Singapore. As we all know, the island's fine dining places will cost our wallets as much as New York these days. Hence, prior to visiting, I decided that I would devise my own menu in such a way that I would savor as many new dishes as possible. In the initial degustation menu, I have tried more than half of the dishes offered. Thankfully, the restaurant front staffs were all prompt & helpful and Tomonori Danzaki, the Executive Chef, was also flexible in accommodating my request. Finally, my gastronomy adventure became a reality near Christmas time in 2011.

Located in the Resort World Sentosa (the home of Universal Studio and Casino), Joel Robuchon restaurant might not be the kind of place that will attract many crowds especially after people observe the menu and its price at the front of the entrance. The whole restaurants' concept (the foyer, dining room and kitchen) is apparently inspired by Robuchon Vegas with more generous space. It should not be surprised since Pierre Yves-Rochon, the famous French designer, is the leading architect. The restaurant is dressed in mainly beige and black creating a modern and luxurious atmosphere. In addition to the chandelier in main dining room, pay attention to the details the staff set up in the guests' table. My table was meticulously decorated by sparkling crystals and crystal candle stand, essentially everything is brand new. Dining at Robuchon always began with the bread trolley and during the 4-hour meal I had the chance to savor saffron and basil focaccia, milk, rosemary, bacon with mustard and brioche. There was only unsalted butter available with sea salt on the side. Then come, the 14-course degustation menu (it used to be 16 dishes including cheese tray when I ate at Tokyo)

Le Caviar Impérial sur un velouté de maîs glacé tremblotant, croutons dorés (Imperial caviar on a shivering corn veloute served with golden croutons) - Sweet and chilled corn soup was nice to be mixed with salty caviar, sour cream and crunchy crouton while the beef did not contribute much. A decent opening, but not as good as Robuchon's other caviar dish

Le Truffle Blanche en duo mêlé de pomme ratte comme un carpaccio aux copeaux de foie gras (Shaved white truffles and potatoes topped with duck liver carpaccio) - The potato is earthy and tasty; it went well with the rich foie gras, cheese and the rather pungent white truffle. Like it

Accompanied by wine: Bruno Paillard Brut “Première Cuvée” Rosé MV

Le Foie Gras en copeaux, salade de haricots verts mimosa au parmesan (Green bean mimosa salad served with shavings of foie gras and parmesan) - Good presentation, but I wish they would prepare the duck liver differently from the previous dish. Savor by mixing all the ingredients to enjoy the contrast of earthy parmesan, a few vegetal flavors (beans and mushroom) as well as rich foie gras

L’Œuf de Poule mollet et friand au caviar et saumon fumé (Crispy soft boiled egg served with smoked salmon and oscetra caviar) - One of Robuchon's signature dishes. The warm and runny egg-yolk was 'absorbed & balanced' by the salty salmon and briny caviar (served in generous portion). The crunchy pastry also soaked up the soft egg and the cauliflower cream below. An interesting dish to remember and I truly enjoyed it

Le Noix de Saint-Jacques poêlée aux fregolas avec une emulsion coralline (Pan-fried scallop served with fregola on a coral emulsion) - The US scallop was not that sweet; the pasta was a bit hard while the seafood emulsion was alright. Overall, not too bad, but not as flavorful as the one I had in Tokyo

Accompanied by wine: Alsace Riesling “Clos Himmelreich” Domaine Lucien Albrecht 2005

Les Spaghettis à notre façon, œuf à la coque sans coque et une râpée de truffe blanche d’Alba (Homemade spaghetti served with soft poached eggs and shaved Alba white truffle) - An excellent dish. It seemed straightforward yet impressive. The al dente spaghetti was around the poached egg. To make the most out of it: break the egg yolk and mixed it together with the pasta, cream sauce and the white truffle. Then enjoy this delicious dish and its texture and temperature contrast. The stronger the truffle, the better the dish

L’Oursin crémeux tremblotant sous un voile mousseux au wasabi (Sea urchin served in a tender consommé jelly with wasabi cream) - Japanese influence on Robuchon's dish. I've never had uni prepared this way, especially the consomme's texture - quite a new experience. The Hokkaido sea urchin was creamy and sweet while the wasabi was slightly hot

Le Homard en cocotte lutée aux châtaignes et asperges vertes (Lobster in a sealed cocotte served with chestnut and asparagus) - The Maine lobster was not as firm and sweet as its Brittany's counterpart. The lobster taste was enhanced with its own juice; the chestnut added new dimension. It's OK

La Châtaigne en velouté sur une royale de céleri rave à la caradamone (Chestnut soup served on a royal celeriac with cardamom) - The veloute was velvety and a bit sweet. It had crisp bacon inside, was served with cappuccino foam and scented by the alba truffle

Accompanied by wine: Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières Domaine Vincent Girardin 2003

La Sole poêlée à la citronnelle avec une étuvée de jeunes poireaux (Pan-fried dover sole served with lemongrass and stewed baby leeks) - I quite enjoyed the contrast between the lemon grass and citrus. However, the sole was not that firm and a bit bland. I like this dish better when they used 'Le Bar' instead

Le Boeuf l’entrecôte cuite sur du gross sel aromatisé (Premium beef rib-eye cooked on a bed of flavored rock salt) - The Wagyu beef was perfectly cooked at medium rare and delicious, except I found that the fat/skin part was a bit too salty. The beef was put on top of bacon and prepared teppanyaki style. The mushroom, asparagus and mashed potatoes (silky and smooth texture with tasty flavor) complemented the ribeye

Les Pousses de Soja comme un risotto aux yuzu et ciboulette (Soy sprouts as a yuzu and chives risotto) - Nothing spectacular here, just a simple and unique soy bean 'risotto' to wind down at the end of my meal, quite decent actually

Accompanied by wine: Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Beaurenard 2007

Le Parfum des Iles crémeux aux fruits de la passion, granité au rhum ambré, onctuosité à la noix de coco (Smooth passion fruit served with dark rum granite and light coconut foam) - A great tropical dessert showcasing different flavors: sour passion fruit cream, sweet coconut and bitter rum granite. Overall, it's very refreshing

Le Chocolat chuao sable friable aux graines de sesame, nuage de pistache de Sicile (Chuao chocolate served with sesame seeds biscuit and Sicilia pistachio) - The chuao cocoa (from Venezuela) was awesome combined well with the biscuit below. Eat the pistachio ice cream before it quickly melted

Le Moka – Le Thé escortés de mignardises (Coffee or tea served with sweets) - The famous sweets trolley. I had macaroons (lemon and cinnamon), hazelnut cream, chocolate millefeuille, opera and chocolate rhum. I also drank Rosemary tea cut directly from its leaves

Accompanied by wine: Sauternes Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2005

I could confidently say that the food at Robuchon Singapore is as good as its Tokyo and LV counterparts. This is probably expected since the leading Chef Danzaki has been working with Joel Robuchon for nearly 2 decades. He started his apprenticeship in Chateau Robuchon Tokyo in '94, then participated in the opening and becoming Chef de Cuisine at Robuchon Mansion Vegas in '05 before coming to Singapore a year ago. Chef Danzaki described working in LV under Claude Le Tohic was probably the most challenging part of his career. He's a friendly gentleman and obsessed to execute every single dish perfectly. My favorite dishes from this meal are Crispy soft boiled egg with salmon & caviar as well as Spaghetti with poached egg & white truffle. One thing really stood out at Robuchon Singapore is the hospitality offered. The service here is impeccable and the best among all of Robuchon fine dining places. The staffs were courteous, friendly, informative and professional. Since the restaurant was only 60% full, I was often served by the Restaurant manager (he used to work at Robuchon Monte Carlo) and the Sommelier/Assistant manager (he is from Montpellier and happened to recognize me from my visit to Robuchon Vegas). Somehow, the service rendered by these European gentlemen particularly from France suit me the best, probably because they're not only great at making guests feel comfortable, but also knowledgeable and passionate about food - they had many experiences dining at Europe best restaurants. The sommelier also kindly gave me an extra glass of wine as part of my wine-pairing.

The dining room at Robuchon restaurant consisted of a main dining hall and a "winter" garden (don't worry about the rain as it's covered). Diners who have never been to any Robuchon fine dining places will certainly be impressed with the luxurious decor. I even heard that the newly renovated Robuchon Macau au dome has the most incredible atmosphere. However, I find that all of Robuchon's decor has been too similar. I prefer Alain Ducasse's dining rooms, usually designed by Patrick Jouin. One can see & feel different characters and styles between different places such as when comparing Ducasse at Plaza Athenee vs Dorchester. There is no doubt that Robuchon is able to produce top notch dishes. People often recalled their meal at Jamin Paris was the best they've ever had. When the Mansion opened in '05, some said it reminded them of Robuchon's peak performance in the 90's. I was not lucky enough to have the opportunity to dine at Jamin, but from the meal I've had in the past 5 years - I don't think Robuchon's cooking is the best. If any of you have dined at L'Arpege, L'Ambroisie or Le Louis XV, you probably understand what I'm talking about. Anyway, the fact that Robuchon is capable of creating and replicating four restaurants that consistently serve high quality French cuisine is already remarkable by itself.

Please check out the link below for the dishes' pictures,

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 95/100

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Waku Ghin Singapore

Tetsuya Wakuda is one of the most famous chefs around the globe, particularly after his elegant restaurant Tetsuya's awarded as the best fine dining places in Australia and consistently ranked among top 5 in the world by UK's restaurant magazine in mid 2000's. A couple of years ago, Chef Wakuda eventually decided to enlarge his territory by opening the latest gastronomy temple in the Merlion country called Waku Ghin, meaning Silver Metal. Generally, I am not a person who will jump to visit any new top restaurants as soon as they open. On the contrary, I usually doubt any new places that have many hypes and are expensive. After waiting for 6-8 months and reading several consistently positive reviews about Waku Ghin, I finally gave it a try. I made a last minute reservation during the weekdays, fortunately they had an empty spot for the first seating and this way I could skip the credit card guarantee requirement for no-show diners. Like many other fine restaurants in Asia, the dress-code at Waku Ghin is not very strict - any smart casual/business attire is sufficient.

I learned that Waku Ghin, located in the casino wing of Marina Bay Sands, is actually not a replica of Tetsuya's Sydney. It only has a single menu - the omakase consisting of 10 courses. At the beginning, guests will be asked whether they have any food allergies or ingredients they dislike to eat. The dining concept here is rather unique; diners are seated in 2-3 different rooms: beginning at the sake lounge for aperitifs (optional), next you will be seated in one of the Japanese-style Teppanyaki rooms and lastly moved to the main dining room for desserts or relaxing (it has floor-to-ceiling view of the Singapore skyline). The flow of the meal will be as follow - the kitchen would prepare the first 3-4 courses. Following that, skilled chefs would personally cook live seafood & fresh meats/vegetables in front of guests. I enjoyed my first meal so much that I decided to return to Waku Ghin half a year later. I will share the dishes that I had in both meals below

1st meal - Jun '11

Flan of Oyster served with Puree of Bacon and Spinach - The oyster was fresh and briny, it went along with the silky chawanmushi and warm spinach

Marinated Botan Ebi served with Sea Urchin and Oscietre Caviar - Waku Ghin's most popular dish offering generous seafood. The uni was velvety and creamy combined with sweet marinated ebi and a lavish dollop of briny caviar. Not forgetting the rich egg yolk at the bottom - Excellent dish indeed!
Note: I also had this signature dish in my 2nd meal

Slow Cooked John Dory served with Roasted Eggplant - The fish, imported from New Zealand, got weak taste. The charcoal grill eggplant was more interesting in flavor - overall, nothing memorable

Steamed Alaskan King Crab served with Lemon scented Extra virgin Olive oil - A perfect example of simple cooking but delivering delicious result. The crab was prepared on a bed of sea salt served on bamboo leaves while the 'lemon sauce' added a hint of acidity. The result was a succulent and tender crab - pretty much faultless

The first few dishes are accompanied by: 2007 Domaine Leflaive Macon-Verze - Burgundy, France (Well-balanced with fine aroma and citrus notes)

Tasmanian Abalone served with Polenta, Tomato and Garlic cream - The 'greenlip' abalone was still alive. It had beautiful texture with right chewiness. The side dishes represented the summer spirit with fresh cherry tomato and cream's sourness. I like this kind of abalone's preparation better than the one served at Chinese restaurant with 'brown' sauce

Braised Canadian Lobster with Tarragon - The lobster was lightly cooked to produce right texture. The 'sauce', generating deep flavor, was not too rich but very tasty; the broth consisted of lobster bisque, olive oil, tarragon and butter. Great dish in generous portion

Japanese Ohmi Wagyu roll from Shiga prefecture served with Maitake mushroom, Wasabi and Citrus soy - Tender, heavily marbled and scrumptious! One of the best of the night ... the beef is sweeter and milder compared to other Japanese beef. The freshly grated wasabi, fried garlic, earthy maitake and citrus soy were good. There's also charcoal grilled mixed vegetables on the sides. I can easily eat 2-3 more portions of this beef
Note: I had this Ohmi wagyu in both meals. The 1st one even in 2 serving

Accompanied by: 2008 Kooyong Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula - Victoria, Australia (A bit light with some acidity and spicy finish)

Consomme with Rice and Snapper - The clean taste consomme was essentially a double-boiled chicken stock (cooked with many different kinds of veggies). Though not my favorite, I had to say that the clear and aromatic consomme mixed well with the fish

Gyokuro - A fine Kyoto green tea, usually harvested in 2-3 weeks only. The young leaves were 'boiled' at low temperature (about 50 C). Somehow, I like it a lot - smooth and full-body. Again, this tea is applicable in both meals

Granita of Grapefruit served with Chartreuse jelly - The shaved ice granita was delicate. It produced a mixtures of bitter, sour and fresh taste

Ghin Cheesecake - Waku Ghin's signature dessert. Like other Japanese cheesecake, this was light and fluffy. There was a hint of sourness from the lemon curd that enhanced the overall experience. Probably the best cheesecake I've ever had ..

2nd meal - Dec '11

"Like Oysters" Scallop served with Ginger and Rice vinegar - Smooth scallop prepared like an oyster. The inside was vegetables with some yuzu - a light dish for an opening

Grilled Anago served Foie Gras and Zucchini - The salt-water eel was distinctively sweet while the duck liver was rich as expected. Both have soft textures, the flavors were reduced via fresh wasabi and zucchini confit

White Truffle Pasta - The al dente pasta was really good. The alba truffle would have been more effective had they been more pungent and got stronger flavor

Australian Abalone served with Fregola and Tomato - Italian-influence dish. The charred 3-year old abalone was firm yet not rubbery, with subtle sweetness. The basil-laced fregola was delicate and worked well with tomato's acidity. Love the refreshing 'soup' - this dish was better than the abalone with polenta version

The first few dishes are accompanied by: 2009 Goldloch Diel Riesling Grosses - Nahe, Germany

Braised Canadian Lobster served with Couscous and Tagine spice - This dish has Moroccan's flavor. Lobster's claw was a bit too soft while its tail was perfectly cooked. The couscous was good, but the 'stock' (lobster's juice, long pepper and paprika cream) was somewhat very tense. It's hard to go wrong with lobster, but I prefer the one with Tarragon

Somen served with Myoga and Junsai - The Japanese version of "la mian" made of wheat. The soup was chilled with light taste from the ginger and shiso.

Pan-seared Squab served with sauteed mushrooms and spinach - A bonus dish from the chef. The bird was slowly cooked, it's tender & tasty with some gamey flavor. The sauce was salty, but reduced by the chanterelle and spinach. Surprisingly good, I don't often eat good squab/pigeon - of course Passard's version is still the best

Accompanied by: 2007 John Duval Entity Shiraz - Barossa Valley, Australia

Cold Tomato Pasta - No non-sense here. Simply a tasty spaghetti enhanced by vibrant cherry tomato and basil - clean and fresh

Blueberry cheesecake - The sorbet was light and smooth with fresh and rich blueberries. Easy to savor

Chocolate Mousse Cake - A rich, intense and decadent dessert made of exceptional Valrhona chocolate. The texture was silky with some raspberry inside. Almost as good as the lemon curd cheesecake

The dining room is elegant with minimalist decor - some combination of wooden panel and cold steel; guests are seated at bar stools. The restaurants can seat about 25 guests per seating with 2 shifts daily. During both visits on the earlier slot, I noticed fewer than 15 diners eating here. The service was professional but not personal; the staffs would be around you without being noticed/intrusive but as soon as you need something, they would attend your need immediately. A couple of the Tetsuya's maitre d' move and work at Waku Ghin. After settling the bill and just before I left the restaurant, most of the staffs (5-7 of those) were waiting at the entrance door and bowed to you - Japanese hospitality. I was fortunate enough that during my 2nd visit, I had the chance to meet Chef Tetsuya Wakuda himself. Although he was busy and looked tired (just arriving to Singapore), he still took time to meet and talk with me - appreciate that. Chef Wakuda is a humble and approachable gentleman. I even heard that he still cooks in the kitchen, but not on the Teppan rooms, otherwise everybody would ask for him. I was served by Kaz Yagawa, a Japanese chef working for Tetsuya's Sydney, twice. He's nice and very passionate about food. He always listened to my feedback and tried his best to make me happy. He showed concerned when I mentioned my top 5 restaurants in the world and Waku Ghin was not one of them - typical Japanese chef, always strive for perfection. By the way, the restaurant keeps whatever dishes you've eaten - either you want to repeat any of them or chance the whole menu completely.

Overall, I am very pleased with great experiences at Waku Ghin. The food and service have been consistently very good. The cooking is a Japanese-inspired (kaiseki style) influenced by French technique. In short, it's light, clean and simple; chefs focused mostly on the luxurious and fresh ingredients available - many of the seafood were in fact still alive. Sometimes, with the price tag the restaurant charges, diners would expect for more sophisticated dishes. For me, as long as it's delicious in the palate, I will be happy. Is it worth it? Well, kinda yes subjectively. It's simply impossible to find "L'Arpege" or "Ledoyen" in Singapore, thus Waku Ghin, followed by Gunther's, is my favorite place to eat in this island thus far. Please click the following link for the dishes' pictures,

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 94/100