Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A review of Aura, National Gallery Singapore (4 Hands Kitchen)

👍 Imaginative Dishes, well-balanced flavours and textures. Gorgeous dining area.
👎 Nothing much ... except maybe for the fish.

Last week the darling and I spent a few hours in Aura's super gorgeous dining room, stuffing ourselves on terrific Italian fare from both resident chef Beppe de Vito, and visiting chef Luigi Taglienti (who hails from one-Michelin-starred Lume Restaurant in Milan). Although Aura itself isn't Michelin-starred (yet?), Chef Beppe's other Singapore restaurant - Braci - is also one-starred, so we go in with pretty high expectations!

Aura National Gallery Singapore

To start - warm, buttered foccacia bread, served with a delightfully fragrant extra virgin olive oil (though strangely, no balsamic vinegar).

Aura National Gallery Singapore Focaccia Bread

The dinner then properly starts with the first amuse bouche: Chef Luigi's White on White (Passion fruit cream sandwiched by rice crackers & topped with edible flowers). Flowers, as always, are really just for show (they're pretty much tasteless), but the airy, light, crisp rice crackers & just-the-right-hint-of-sour passion fruit cream really do whet the appetite.

Aura National Gallery Singapore White on White

Chef Beppe's amuse bouche is the Uni and Scallop, which - as you may have guessed - is Uni and a Hokkaido Scallop. Topped with caviar and wrapped in a shiso leaf. I'm not really sure that Italians traditionally eat uni and scallop like this, but there's no need to complain when the bite tastes this good: Creamy, briny, sweet, salty ... and that nice ever-so-slight pungent flavours from the shiso leaf.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Scallop and Uni

We move on to the first of the hot dishes then, with Chef Luigi serving up a Squid Scampi in Black and White: Tender, juicy scampi with mushroom, sunchoke (jerusalem artichoke) puree and a pork jus. Probably the standout plate of the night for us.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Scampi

Chef Beppe then serves up his Coho Salmon, White Asparagus and Wild Garlic. The salmon was cooked ever so slightly to a 'barely rare' temperature, which was amazing texture-wise. The asparagus was likewise also delicious. We didn't like the crisp skin, though. It seemed to have been cooked and then flattened in the dehydrator, which did result in it being terrifically crispy, but also tasting too much like scales.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Salmon and White Asparagus

We continue again with Chef Beppe's dish: Lobster Tortelli, Fava Beans, and Yuzu Salmoriglio. This was another terrific hit. Perfectly portioned and textured tortelli with just the right amount of well cooked lobster meat. The accompanying lobster broth was perhaps just a tad bit salty, but nevertheless had an amazing depth of (lobster) flavour.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Lobster Tortelli

Chef Luigi's Seabass and Celeriac, however, was a little anti-climactic. The fish itself was juicy and at just the right temperature, but seabass is a very mild tasting fish, and its flavours were totally overpowered here by the strong tanginess of the celariac.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Seabass & Celeriac

The final hot plate of the night ended with Chef Beppe's Kagoshima Wagyu, Kale and Wasabi Oil. As you'd expect from a proper wagyu steak, it was juicy and sinfully oily, and seasoned with just the right hint of salt. The accompanying kale (crispy and light: probably deep fried) and kale puree were nice, but really our opinions are that good steaks are perfectly able to hold the stage alone without needing any supporting cast at all.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Kagoshima Wagyu

For dessert, chef Luigi's rendition of a Black Truffle Tiramisu was a revelation. The truffle-laced mascarpone cream was came in a chocolate / fingers / biscuit-like casing, sprinkled with chocolate powder and topped with more truffle. Utterly delicious.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Black Truffle Tiramisu

And finally to end the night: Chamomile Tea (complimentary) and Petit Fours of Olive Oil macaron, chocolate tart, and limoncello-laced strawberry.

Aura National Gallery Singapore Petit Fours

For just under a hundred (nett) per person, we thought that the dinner was good value, and thoroughly enjoyed all the dishes (except for the seabass)!

Aura is on the fifth floor of the National Gallery Singapore (which, by the way, has free entry for Singaporeans and Singapore PRs). Reservations Recommended; Non-Halal.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Superb Roast Duck and other ducky dishes at Duckland, United Square.

👍 Extremely well executed Roast Duck, with great balance of fat and crispy skin.
👎 Dining area is very busy and noisy.

A really short and sweet post from us today, covering one of the Tung Lok Group's most recent contemporary restaurant concepts: Duckland!

Duckland Menu

Located in the basement of United Square, Duckland's signature dish is - of course - the Roast Irish duck, but it also has quite a number of imaginative east-meets-west crossover-style duck-themed dishes. Being a shopping mall restaurant, the dining area does tend to be a bit busy and noisy, but at least reservations are accepted so you don't have to queue.

Duckland Restaurant

Speaking of said crossover dishes, we started off with the Duck Liver Terrine (s$15), served on crispy toast and rum-infused marmalade. It's a delicious starter, but it does take a little time to get used to combining these Western flavours with the Eastern style main course.

Duckland Duck Liver Terrine

The star of the show is - naturally - the Roast Irish Duck (s$28 half, s$50 whole). Duckland's execution is superb: The breast portion of the duck is sinfully fatty (as you'd expect from the Irish duck), but the skin of the leg/drumstick area is crisp and delicate: almost as crispy as a good Peking duck. Seasoning is on point, too.

Duckland serves their roast duck with raspberry jam, sriracha, and mustard, but we very much preferred just having it with the gravy made from the duck drippings.

Duckland Roast Irish Duck with Duck Rice

Duck Rice (pictured above) is an s$2 add-on; Duck Broth (pictured below) is a s$4 add-on. We'd recommend adding on the rice (to have a Roast Duck Rice "feel"), but we felt that the duck broth was somewhat mediocre & uninteresting.

Duckland Duck Broth

Unfortunately it was just the darling and I visiting, so we didn't have the stomach to try the other items on the menu. When we return we've got our eyes on the Duck Confit & Waffle and the Duck Fried Rice. Oh, and if any of your dining party doesn't eat duck, there are also non-duck dishes like the Good ol' Fish and Chips and Irish Lamb Stew.

Duckland is at B1-09&64/65 United Square Shopping Mall, and opens daily. Reservations recommended; Non-halal.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Alma by Juan Amador: A Citi Four Hands Kitchen Review.

👍 Imaginative, Asian-fusion'ed European Cuisine. Service is warm and inviting.
👎 Tonight's dinner a tad inconsistent: A few dishes were a little on the weak side.

For April 2019 Citi's 4 Hands Kitchen moves back to Goodwood Park Hotel's Alma by Juan Amador, where resident Chef Haikal Johari hosts Le Normandie (Bangkok)'s Chef Arnaud Dunand Sauthier! The two chefs hold 3 Michelin Stars between them, so the darling and I were pretty excited to be back to try out their 6 course dinner menu!

The dinner starts off with some Snacks, which include a one-bite Strawberry chips with salmon roe and sour plum sauce, Foie gras mousse with apple jelly, Fish tartare cracker, and chili-spiced Prawn tartare cracker topped with frozen yuzu powder. We especially liked how the richness of the foie gras mousse was cut by the tart apple jelly, and the contrast of flavours, textures and temperatures in the Prawn tartare.

Alma by Juan Amador Snacks Alma by Juan Amador Snacks
Alma by Juan Amador Snacks

To cleanse the palatte before the start of the dinner proper: Alma's Potato Bread with Smoked Butter. It might be a bit strange to fawn over bread, but this is one of the better presentations we've come across. The bread's served in a box on a bed of warm coffee beans, which keeps it warm and provides an amazing coffee aroma at the same time. The smoked butter is pretty damn good, too.

Alma by Juan Amador Bread

Onwards to the first course, then: the Monkfish Liver, served with beetroot, beef tartare with gochujang paste, and mustard ice cream. Truth be told I'm not entirely on board with ice cream as an appetizer - it's difficult to undo almost two decades of "no ice cream until you finish your food" brainwashing - but otherwise this appetizer was delicious and decadent.

Alma by Juan Amador Monkfish Liver

We then move on to one of Chef Arnaud's signature dishes: Caviar Et Oursin (Caviar and sea urchin with potato foam and champagne sauce). This was probably the standout of the night for me: The Potato foam having substantial body to carry and hold together the briny umami and textures of the caviar and uni (buried at the bottom, strangely enough).

Alma by Juan Amador Caviar et Oursin

Next up was Asperges Vertes Pertuis: Roasted Green Asparagus with Anis and Olive Oil 'fruiteee noire.' According to the server the asparagus was cured for 6 hours prior to a slight roasting on the grill. It was a well cooked stalk, but overall we didn't think the asparagus brought enough to the table, even with the accompanying sauces.

Alma by Juan Amador Asperges Vertes Pertuis

Moving on then to the Maquereau de Ligne: Wild Caught French Mackerel with Fennel, Anis, and a Liquorice-based sauce. Yes, liquorice. If you are one of the few people who like the taste and aroma of liquorice*, more power to you. I am not one of those people, however, and so I ate the fish and greens without it.

* The darling disagrees vehemently. She argues that my prejudice against liquorice tainted my judgement, and that the mild pungence actually complemented the flavours of the mackerel and fennel perfectly, so this was the standout dish of the night for her.

Alma by Juan Amador Maquereau de Ligne

The last savoury course is instantly recognizable as Chef Haikal's handiwork: Ohmi Beef with Ramson (wild garlic), Gobo (burdock root), Yuzu Kosho, and a crispy potato stack. The Ohmi naturally was delicious - it is one of the big three Japanese Wagyus alongside Matsusaka and Kobe after all. The accompanying potatoes, gobo, and vegetable were also nice, but I didn't think the dish needed the watercress sauce so I left it untouched.

Alma by Juan Amador Ohmi Beef

Wild Strawberry headlines the 6th - dessert - course, atop umeshu jelly, chantilly, and smoked koshihikari rice puffs. We quite liked this fruity, not overly sweet dessert.

Alma by Juan Amador Wild Strawberry

Before we say good night, though, we have a cup of (included in the dinner price) coffee & tea alongside Alma's Petit Fours:

- Chocolate cake with Pear jelly
- Green tea tart
- Raspberry with Gochujang square
- Jackfruit and passion fruit macaron

Alma by Juan Amador Petit Fours

The 'sticker price' of s$218++ (per pax) is a little high considering that Alma usually only charges s$158++ for its 6-course degustation dinner menu. However with Citi's discounts we ended up paying s$109++, which is pretty good value, and we left the restaurant well fed and more or less extremely satisfied.

Alma by Juan Amador is at Goodwood Park Hotel. Reservations recommended; Non-Halal.