Friday, March 18, 2016

Octaphilosophy at Restaurant Andre - Singapore's Best Restaurant!

Restaurant Andre, where to begin? Chef Andre's charming little outpost has reigned undisputed as Singapore's Best Restaurant for years. Andre's background is as cosmopolitan as is this city - born in Taiwan, raised in Japan, and honed his culinary craft in France before putting down roots in Singapore. His cuisine, predominantly fine nouvelle French, doesn't come cheap though - so the darling and I have been waiting for a special occasion before paying a visit to his understated, simple, 500-year-old-tree-in-the-courtyard joint on Bukit Pasoh road!

Restaurant Andre

The dining area is gorgeous and elegant, but yet retaining a smart casual vibe - so it's not as intimidating as some other more traditional French restaurants. Service is cheerful and friendly; and the wait staff (helmed by Chef's wife, Pam) are the most well-trained that we've come across anywhere in the city.

Dinner here is centered around Octa-philosophy: Eight concepts which Chef Andre believes best describe his cuisine's DNA. These are: Pure, Salt, Artisan, South, Texture, Unique, Memory and Terroir. Eight concepts, eight courses, two very hungry stomachs. Challenge accepted!

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy

For the wine lovers among you, Restaurant Andre's got a really unique wine system: they only serve chemical-free wines, and if you opt for the wine pairing monsieur sommelier doesn't tell you what the wine is until after you've imbibed. The darling and I are teetotalers and so we try out Chef's somewhat experimental fermented juices instead - an elderflower-based 'white' and tamarilo and basil 'red.' The juices were certainly ... interesting, but were perhaps a bit of an acquired taste.

Restaurant Andre Wine List

Fermented juices and still water in hand, we ready ourselves for the first of our eight courses. Except that it doesn't quite come. Andre whets our appetites instead with a number of appetizers (or "snacks," as the waitresses call them). Perhaps "a number" is a bit of an understatement - turns out we got ten snacks in total. What's on the menu varies from season to season so you're unlikely to get the exact same nibbles we got. One constant: All the snacks are to be eaten with fingers; perhaps Chef's way of keeping the dinner fun and not too formal.

Of course, with the sheer number of items there is some variability. The items that stood out: Wild Mushroom Tart, "Fish and Chips" (deep fried mini fish wrapped in thin potato strips) and Assorted Chips (Swiss Chard, Savoy Cabbage, Potato skin). Probably our favorite snack among them all was the Black Dough Fritters, amusingly and amazingly served up hiding in a pile of charcoal, eaten with a delightful bell pepper and ama-ebi (sweet shrimp) dip.

Restaurant Andre Appetizers / Snacks
Restaurant Andre Appetizers / Snacks
Restaurant Andre Appetizers / Snacks
Restaurant Andre Appetizers / Snacks
Restaurant Andre Appetizers / Snacks
Restaurant Andre Appetizers / Snacks

The first concept is Unique: A multi-layered, multi-flavored concoction of spicy (horseradish), sweet (sweet corn), and savory (almond and vanilla). I think this course is where Chef tries to push boundaries and experiment with radical flavors and textures. I'm not so sure that this particular experiment was successful, though - I ended up not being able to quite make up my mind whether it was good, or what story Chef was trying to portray.

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Unique

Pure is up next. This concept concentrates on the purity of the ingredient: using as little cooking or seasoning as possible to let the ingredient take center stage. Today's ingredient: Cucumber puree, sliced Cucumber and Cucumber flowers, sweetened with sea urchin, crab meat, chamomile jelly, and earl grey dusting. Refreshing, crunchy, delicious.

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Pure

Chef Andre uses the Salt course to give us a crash course in seasoning: "Can you make a dish salty without using salt?" Yes, you can. Natural salt and umami from thin-sliced squid and konbu kelp combine to more than adequately flavor the bed of creamy mashed potatoes underneath. Divine.

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Salt

In South, Chef Andre showcases the ingredients and flavors from the South of France, which had the biggest impact on his cooking career. On today's menu is a scallop-noodle-chee-cheong-fun draped over char-grilled lobster (in place of oysters which we don't eat), with vinegary jus and watercress foam for a little acidity.

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy South

Artisan pays homage to lesser known ingredients farmed by smaller producers. Today we get introduced to a root vegetable named the 'topinambur,' or Jerusalem Artichoke, in a very earthy topinambur and mushroom broth, complimented by flavors of the sea - vegetables cooked with shima aji fish, clams, and caviar. It's a terrific combination of the hearty, slightly bitter, earthy flavors and the salty, umami seafood, and we found ourselves lapping everything up.

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Artisan

With Texture, Andre toys with our senses by introducing a wild mushroom risotto with shaved white truffles. Sounds yums, no? Well ... except for that fact that the truffles are actually a type of cheese, and the risotto is actually pasta, not rice. Hiding in the middle of all that pasta is an egg yolk injected with chicken stock - poke, mix, eat, enjoy!

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Texture
Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Texture

Now we come to Memory, which is the only constant dish on the otherwise ever-changing menu. This Foie Gras puree with Black Truffle coulis dates back to 1997, and was Chef's first original creation when he first started his career in France. It's an amazing dish, and one that's definitely stood the test of time.

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Memory

Finally, Terroir - the flavors of a specific time and place. Tonight we're having pigeon, and the presentation is tres superb. The waitresses first bring out the pigeon, roasting in a mountain of coffee beans, wood, stones and a few other ingredients that we didn't catch; indescribably amazing aromas wafting out of the pot.

It's then, sadly, taken back to the kitchen for plating, and amusingly enough we only get back two small slices of (juicy, tender, not-too-gamey) pigeon meat. Where'd the rest of the bird go? Oh well, what we lose in quantity is made up for in quality - the accompanying unagi jus and dehydrated, crispy onions and other vegetables are delicious beyond words.

Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Terroir
Restaurant Andre Octaphilosophy Terroir

We're pretty stuffed by this point - each of the dishes may have been small in isolation, but we've had a lot of them. It's OK though, because it's a known scientific fact that humans have a separate stomach for a dessert or two. Or - in the case of Andre - nine separate dessert items served in three batches.

The first one - cold pea ice cream and green tea chocolate, contrasted with warm green tea foam. The darling and I loved the green tea flavors but ... peas? In a dessert? Definitely the weakest link in the culinary chain for us.

We also got a second pre-dessert: A palette cleanser of muscat grapes on almond cream, swimming in melon juice.

Restaurant Andre Desserts
Restaurant Andre Desserts

The main dessert brings the meal to a playful close - with Andre's DIY cake. Naturally, this isn't really a heap of unbaked flour, sugar, butter, chocolate and a raw egg. The flour is actually a crumble, hiding some sugary nuts underneath; the sugar cubes are actually marshmallows. It's an oh-so-fun, light-hearted and playful dessert, but we have to say the taste didn't quite live up to the presentation.

Restaurant Andre Desserts

Finally - the petit fours. Do you still call them petit fours if you actually get six items? No matter. A somewhat strange omission was any offer of an after-dinner beverage - surely petit fours should normally be served with some sort of coffee or tea?

Anyways, we thought the kaya toast macaron and the churros were pretty interesting!

Restaurant Andre Desserts

While writing this blog post, one thing was quite clear - the darling and I don't yet have the breadth of experience with top-class restaurants to properly appreciate and review Restaurant Andre. Yes, we have dined at some pretty nice places - Kaiseki at Kichisen, or Jaan, or Les Amis, but Andre really is a level above. Nevertheless, even with our limited palettes we can say that Andre is by far the best restaurant that we've ever visited.

With a grand total of 27 items served (28 if you count the complimentary 'happy anniversary' cake), there's bound to be some misses among the hits; but by and large most of the items were heavenly and sublime. Dinner doesn't come cheap, of course, but in our opinions it was well worth the price paid. Oh, if you're not quite willing to jump in the deep end, Andre does serve up a smaller and cheaper menu for lunch.

Restaurant Andre is at 41 Bukit Pasoh Road. Reservations strongly recommended; non-halal.


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