Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Top five zero-rated dining experiences in Singapore

With the announcement that the first three-Michelin-starred restaurants from Europe to set foot in Singapore have now opened, here's a quick round-up of the top five starless gastronomic adventures before Mr. Michelin and his cronies come to town.

5. Tiong Bahru Boneless Chicken Rice (#02-82, Tiong Bahru Food Centre). I am wondering, after all the free promotion this establishment gets from my blog, whether they would print me a t-shirt. Mr. Michelin should try obtaining the chilli sauce recipe. I am sure the response would be similar to Charlton Heston at an NRA Rally: "From my cold dead hands."

4. Ju Shin Jung (West Coast). If you like grilled meats, seared to perfection at your table and accompanied by 101 small plates of crunchy Korean 'tapas', this is the place for you. The quality of the meat is divine, the staff are attentive and there's nothing quite like stinking out the taxi ride home with the smell of BBQ on your clothes. Post-meal shower essential.

3. Si Chuan Dou Ha (60th floor of UOB Plaza). The view of the Marina is hard to beat: the stunning Marina Bay Sands, the Fullerton Hotel and the Esplanade glint by day and by night. If fiery food is your forte, pluck a couple of the four chilli rated dishes to tantalise your taste buds. Beware though, you should opt for some of the more sedate dishes to balance out your meal lest you turn into a fire-breathing dragon at the table. Thankfully, the tea ninjas are always on hand to put out any manageable explosions. The mesmerising act of pouring water from an incredibly long spouted kettle into your tea cup will take your mind off the burn. Deliciously challenging.

2. Kuriya Penthouse (Orchard Central). If you are adventurous and you like the taste of Japan, you must try the omakase (tasting) menu here. After ascertaining any particular dislikes or allergies, the chef will take you on a journey through some of Japan's finest and most unique ingredients. The menu changes each week and is also designed for each guest. The staff are well-versed in exactly what you are eating, can recommend wines to accompany your meal and know when to interrupt your adventure to clear, serve and pour. You can opt to enjoy your dessert on the terrace overlooking the Istana Park and you will be pleasantly surpised at the spread the chef p√Ętissier has put on: wonderful flavoured mousses (have as many as you like) and your own selection of fresh fruits from an enormous basket.

1. Tippling Club. Whilst the other picks have specialised in food from Singapore, Korea, China and Japan, Tippling Club surpasses them all by offering a delectable journey across the gastronomic globe. The ten course tasting menu is the essential order of the day and the fact that each dish is assembled within viewing distance adds a unique je ne sais quoi. Chef Ryan Clift and Head Bartender Matthew Bax carefully note whether you have dined there before in order to shape the menu to your extraordinarily special dining experience. Mr. Michelin - I dare you to avoid awarding at least one star to this neat little club.

I am a firm believer that if the food is exquisite but the service is poor, any meal will be immediately tainted. Somehow, the sourness of a face can turn my food bitter, and it's not just all about smiling. Service that is (i) over-zealous (constantly clearing my barely dirty plate in a Chinese restaurant or topping up my wine glass after just one sip) or (ii) lost in translation (staff unable to explain menu items and getting the orders wrong) are two of my biggest bugbears in Singapore. WHY can serving staff not understand the key points of their job? I think this will be biggest challenge in Singapore for these new Michelin kids on the block.

Find me a waiter that can explain to me why I should try the 2005 Chablis rather than the 2006 White Rioja or exactly what is in the funny looking foam on my plate and I shall shake him by the hand. Sadly, for the most part, servers here have thrown out their brains along with their staff handbooks. Thankfully, a new reality television series, Can You Serve? may be able to infiltrate this nation of surly staff. The very fact that it exists is testament to my dining woes.

Having said all this, I am very excited at the prospect of our next 'special occasion' when I shall surely plump for one of these Singapore-side Michelin-starred experiences. Having tried Michelin-starred maze and The Harwood Arms in London, I am au fait with what the accolade means for my taste buds. However, at S$50 for dessert, I would want Mr. Savoy himself to feed it to me. Mr. Michelin, if you're reading, please pass on the message.