Saturday, February 16, 2019

Odette Julien Royer

Ever since the closure of Joel Robuchon Sentosa and Restaurant Andre, Odette is arguably the best restaurant in Singapore in terms of serving modern French cuisine; Les Amis should be the island's finest delivering classic French fine dining. Odette, opened in the late 2015, was the collaboration of its patron chef, Julian Royer with the Lo and Behold group. It took me some times to have a full meal here because as I observed online, the dishes served at Odette were very similar to the ones Chef Royer created during his days at Jaan. I expected a few years after the opening, Julien Royer would establish his own style given the freedom / power that he has as the owner of the restaurant. I was invited for a business lunch (it was satisfying) earlier in the Spring of 2017, then more than a year later, that's when I decided it's time to have a dinner to savor supposedly Chef Royer's "most proper meal".  

Restaurant Odette is named after Julien Royer's maternal grandmother who taught him a lot about respecting top produce / seasonal ingredients and cooking fundamentals. 5 years has passed since my dinner at Jaan ... I found Chef Royer was more confident and the cuisine has evolved. Nowadays, his cooking received some influence from Japanese cuisine and he often used Japan's top ingredients. In addition, he was more bold about taking advantage of utilizing Asian spices on the dishes. Julien Royer (still) liked to start the meal with the 'same' amuse-bouche: mushroom tea with Cep sabayon and Cep brioche. It was consistently good, creamy and tasty with earthy mushroom flavors and rather flaky brioche. For the bread, I tried 3 flavors - onion chestnut, black truffle brioche and sour dough - they're accompanied by normal butter as well as butter with pork lard and pancetta. Odette provided 2 tasting menu and I picked the non-vegetarian one. Below was more details info about my meal: 

The Tasting Menu

Hokkaido Uni served with Spot prawn tartare, Mussel cloud and Royal Schrenckii caviar - Prawn tartare and sea urchin have been proven as a potent combination, however the highlight for me was more of the airy and creamy mussel cloud that delightfully balanced and held other elements together. On the side, there was squid ink toast with uni on top - I truly tasted the sweetness of uni here more than the one inside its shell; a wonderful appetizer with plenty of umami flavors.

Trondheim Bay Scallop served with Horseradish, white balsamic, Pickled onion and dill - The fresh bay scallops were sliced and served a la sashimi accompanied by seaweed butter & rice cracker. The green 'sauce' below was horseradish while the dill oil was on top. It was simple and clean with a little sweetness; an interesting dish but would not be my favorite way to prepare scallops.

Heirloom Beetroot Variation served with Salt-baked beetroot, Stracciatella 'artigiana', and Honey - Eating a better beetroot than the one served at L'Arpege was nearly impossible. However, the kitchen played smart by presenting differently and adding more elements. For instance, the soft and silky Stracciatella gave some sweet and milky flavors that somehow worked well with the beetroot. The combination of honey, pomegranates and smoked beetroot were quite tasty. The frozen & gelato beet were not as bad as I thought. Overall, it was a very satisfying and well-deserved signature dish though I don't necessarily want to repeat it for the next time.

Organic Egg Capellini served with Light Comte cream, Hokkaido uni and White Alba truffle - It has been a trend for many high end restaurants recently to ask for supplement for dishes involving truffles; Odette practiced such method as well. The positive consequence was that the Alba truffle shavings were usually generous. Moreover, it was of good quality in terms of both flavor and aroma. The pasta was solid with decent taste, somewhat al dente but unfortunately really 'sticky'. The sauce consisted of 24-month old Comte cream and a little hint of chicken jus was light and delicious whereas the sea urchin was barely noticeable (perhaps only as an accent to the dish). A rather sophisticated pasta dish with satisfying flavors but with a little issue on the capellini's texture.

Foie Gras 'Comme Un Pho' served with Jade tiger abalone, Bbq eel dashi and Yuzu - The eel was torched in front of the guest; the abalone was so little that it's "almost irrelevant". The variations of clean & light dashi with several vegetables (such as spring onions, mints, coriander, tarragon, nasturtium leaves etc.) induced the idea of pho. The soup with fragrant veggies and a few layers of textures was my favorite part of this dish while the duck liver in a hot soup, made it less 'fatty'. Chef Royer seemed to like serving foie gras inside some kind of broth even several years ago in Jaan.

Wild Atlantic Turbot served with Butternut squash, Yari ika and Thai veloute - The beautifully cooked Turbot was kinda tasteless / under seasoned but it had flaky & lovely texture. The tender squid was slightly sweet and the mussel was alright. The main flavor of the dish was mainly derived from the moist Thai veloute and a little mussel jus. Many high quality ingredients were good but I did not find they worked too well together with the (strong Asian-influenced) sauce here.

Pigeon 'Beak To Tail' served with Jerusalem artichoke, Kampot pepper and Black garlic - This dish has always been the pride of Julien Royer. It was sourced from Brittany, specifically from Fabien Deneour. The bird was first grilled, then smoked. It was meticulously cooked with pepper, rosemary and garlic. After a short presentation, the kitchen would later prepare the pigeon in 3 ways.
The breast part was perfectly executed - tender and flavorful. The addition of delicately aromatic and mildly spicy/sweet Kampot pepper covering the meat made it almost ethereal. The crisp leg confit was tasty as well. Lastly, the liver parfait with a little sherry vinegar, pigeon jus as well as Jerusalem artichoke completed the overall enjoyment of this remarkable dish. It was even better than Chef Royer's hay roasted Bresse pigeon in the past.

Lemon Tart served with Sable breton, Meyer lemon and Basil - The crunchy Sable breton became the base for this dessert. The pleasant & tangy Meyer lemon curd was a bit sweet. The Basil could be detected on the white foam and sorbet. It might not reach the high note of earlier dishes, but it was a decent dessert to close the degustation menu at Odette. 

The service at Odette was above average when compared to other restaurants at similar level in Singapore. The front team managed to strike a balance between being formal and friendly; the staffs (even at the junior levels - the ones without any jacket/blazer) were warm and sincere. When explaining the dishes, they were confident and not robotic. The conversation sometimes involved the personal view / sharing from the team, indeed a few small details often made a difference. The wine selection was quite good. Since I usually only drank 2 glasses, my concern was more about the "pairing". I had a glass of 2016 white Sancerre and a glass of 2013 red Cote Rotie.

Besides JR restaurant under Chef Danzaki, I think this was my most delicious French meal in Singapore - technical-wise, Andre might be more superior, but I was more fond of the taste at Odette. I might not love all of them, but the signature dishes here such as the pigeon, beetroot and uni caviar were remarkable. The problem was probably that if Julien Royer is unable or unwilling to make changes and create new dishes that are at least equally flavorful, I would hesitate to return anytime soon as I usually like trying new items. It's not wrong to keep the same dishes over the years (including mushroom tea, rosemary smoked egg etc.), but I'm afraid the current state might not be sufficient to earn the 3rd Michelin star. For the pictures, please click Odette Autumn '18

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 94.5/100

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Hajime Osaka

Hajime, located in Osaka, is possibly the most famous Japan's restaurant outside Tokyo. It's consistently ranked in the top 50 of the world best restaurant, according to the restaurant magazine. The restaurant was quite small and there were only 2 tables occupied on that Monday evening - mine and another local couple celebrating something. Despite this fact, the restaurant still strictly insisted on banning the use of any form of cameras. The decor was minimal with relatively high ceiling. Haijme Yoneda, the chef-owner, was an engineer and a good painter. There were clearly reflected on his innovative and artistic creations: the dishes, on the one hand, were intricate and beautifully plated and on the other hand, (they) were precisely executed in which the location of the sauces and side dishes were carefully placed down even to the millimeter. 

Nature and earth were the main themes of Chef Yoneda's culinary creations. The presentation was no doubt one of the finest I've ever witnessed with strong emphasize on the "right" texture and temperature. However, the dishes sometimes lacked in flavors / being delicious. The kitchen often put on one too many combinations where one might have difficulties to appreciate the 2-3 main ingredients per dish. The amount of work and effort put on each dish was incredible. For this dinner, I went with my mother. We shared the standard menu; I also ordered the non-alcohol drink pairing.

Menu chikyu tono taiwa (Dialogue with the earth) - Summer 2018

Note that: since pictures were strictly prohibited in Hajime, I could not remember much details for each dish

Natsu no hoka (Forget the summer heat; cool) - Corn and vanilla. The opening featured various small items such as baby corn in which the "hair" could be consumed, delicate corn bread as well as cold and tasty corn soup

Seimei (Small lives) - Hirame chips, kazunoko and ayu in the sphere 'bread' form.

Iso (Rocky coast; sea forest) - Oyster, kelp, murukai, quinoa, broccoli etc. The sea-flavored oyster went well with sour cream and cucumber; there was uni with broccoli, unusual; fresh blue mussel was combined with tomato and olive oil. The last small bytes from the menu

Mizuumi (Lake; school of fish) - Biwa trout, mango and sorrel. The cooked trout was very soft. The fish was integrated with bitter sorrel and refreshing & sweet mango + apple
Drink pairing: balanced ginger ale mixed with various spices 

Chikyu (Planet earth) - Spinach, komatsuna, burdock, okra, buckwheat, white radish, butter squash, dill, yuzu, sweet potato etc. There were more than 70 different vegetables-grains-herbs used, served with shellfish foam - the only non vegetarian aspect. Hajime's signature dish and the presentation was indeed spectacular. Since there are so many different ingredients, the enjoyment was more about texture variations and plenty of subtle flavors. It was interesting and very good, obviously inspired by Bras' gargouillou
Drink pairing: extracted essence from mild flavor of ripened tomato

Umi (Sea; flow and relation)
Flow - Nodoguro, coriander and egg plant. Pleasant fatty blackthroat seaperch with seaweed dashi
Drink pairing: refined gyokuro with sweet umami flavor

Relation - Langoustine, uncured ham and suppon. Delicious big prawn & mantis shrimp served with a few different sauce showing the chef's French technique
Drink pairing: abstract vegetables flavor, in which carrot was the most noticeable

Hakai to douka (Destruction and assimilation) - Foie gras, hazel and pumpkin. Creamy liver, simple and flavorful
Drink pairing: fragrant extraction of ancient brown & red rice

Kibou (Sprouts for life; hope)
Dew - pine. Bitter pine sorbet to clean the palate

Mother earth - Beef, beet and parsnip. Lean Hiroshima beef, cooked on one side only; solid
Drink pairing: sparkling hinoki water

Sky - Quail, black garlic and wild rocket. The quail was tender with more assertive flavor than chicken; decent
Drink pairing: blackcurrant that's supposedly mimicking red wine

Shinryoku (Fresh leaves; wild flowers) - Milk, olive oil and yellow carrot.
Drink pairing: Koshu grape with a mixture of sour, tannin and sweet flavors

Tsuyu (Rainy season; rain sound) - Grapefruit and sake. Refreshing and slightly bitter grapes on lotus leaves

Ai (Love; spread to the world) - Strawberry, raspberry and peach. Flavorful with some crunchy textures
Drink pairing: coarse tea in golden yellow color with some bittersweet taste

The drink accompaniment worked kinda well and was thoughtful - it's especially more challenging to do it without any alcohol. The cooking technique applied at Hajime was meticulous with elaborate presentations. I found the meal to be thought provoking and satisfying intellectually but it did not affect me emotionally or made my sense of taste really joyful. That being said, it's a good and sophisticated meal experience. The service was polite and professional but rigid, rather cold and kinda robotic. It worked similarly when I met the chef ... Yoneda-san shaked my hand with smile, that's it. He did not even ask about how the meal had been. If I got to choose for another creative meal from the same city, probably Kahala was a slightly better option with warmer and more sincere hospitality from the host and staffs + the food produced more flavors in the mouth albeit technically not as stunning as the one generated here.

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 94/100