André, Singapore 2014
Restaurant André in Singapore is peculiar. At first we couldn't understand the concept of its website simply stating "I dreamt about an intimate space, a small olive tree and a quaint little blue door". But as we get to the location, we see an old regal house, with a small olive tree and a blue door. There's no sign— and to everyone walking by, this looks like a "normal house", not one of the best restaurants in the world...
From the concept to its execution, this is chef André Chaing's dream and vision. We walk up the stairs to the second floor where the interior still resembles the feeling of an actual regal house; but with custom made modern interior (with a lot of nordic influences). It's luxurious, but very comforting. It's evident that André wants the diner to feel like it's dining "in his own home".
The attention to detail surrounding the restaurant is once again evident when the wine-list is presented as a vintage-book.
Our short stay in Singapore has made us dine at André for lunch, and we're told there's different experiences between lunch and dinner. The lunch-experience is a showcase of creativity, where chef André prepares a completely "new" menu every day depending on available produce. As Singapore doesn't have a market, all produce is flown in from oversees, and André has a few hours to come up with all the dishes every day— impressive.
We're however a bit hesitant, as we've previously dined at the famous restaurant L'astrance in Paris, where Pascal Barbour famously cooks "what's best" every day, and we were not impressed. André has previously worked at L'astrance (among other restaurants) and is french-trained...
We're greeted by General Manager Stepan Marhoul that initiates the conversation with "so you've travelled a long way to dine with us today". We can't help but love when a restaurant takes the time to "know their diners" before entering. We strike up an interesting conversation and we're happy Stepan is taking the time to make us feel welcome. If we continue with the comparisons with L'astrance, where nobody knew our names and hardly spoke to us— this is on a totally different level, and we hope the food will impress us as much.
The pre-starters immediately showcases amazing skills. It packs a punch of flavour and great use of technique and visuals with the use of twigs and a wood-stump.
The first dish is presented on an impressively sculptured "block". Usually a salad isn't an amazing experience— but low and behold, this tastes really, really great. The dish is crowned with a black bone chicken egg which we state is "the most perfectly cooked egg ever". It's both soft, creamy and firm at the same time— delicious.
The next dishes of cappellini and sweet corn custard tells us that there's true mastery in the kitchen at André. There's a sort of "symphony" when a dish is simply done correctly from start to finish. Everything is cooked to perfection and it tastes so fresh. There's interesting flavours throughout everything; the right amount of heat and with perfect texture. The seasoning and attention to texture is simply exactly as we would like them to be.
As we're treated to the charcoal grilled black cod we're truly won over. Perfectly reduced sauce and burnt cabbage gives a great taste-profile. The next dish of glazed quail is almost equally impressive. We're both saying to each other "I don't want this meal to end".
Our last course is a desert with mandarin, appricot, cinamon and pain d'epices. Texture overload! Every bite is crunchy, soft and sticky... and the fruit-flavours are punchy. Wow, a masterful desert!
As we start to reflect on the meal (it's without a doubt the best "french-style" meal we've ever had) it dawns upon us that André didn't even know what ingredients he had to work with until this morning... André and his team sure know what they're doing. We're confident not many other people in the world could've created better dishes with what was available.
The service during the meal had a good pacing; but some of the servers were a bit too "stiff" compared to the warmth of others. Since the restaurant is located on the second floor (and the kitchen on the first) all servers has to use an ear-piece to communicate with the kitchen. Seeing several guys in black suits with ear-pieces makes them all look like FBI-agents. Our sommelier was however extremely kind, and he really took the time to explain why he chose a specific wine and its characters.
As the meal came to a close André walks around the restaurant to talk to all the guests individually— a trait of someone that cares about the overall experience. As we have a chance to talk to him, we start discussing food-memories, comparisons to L'astrance and our combined affection for Relæ and Christian Puglisi's food. André asks if we want to come and see the inner details of the restaurant— and we surely don't say no to this.
We're shown Andrés collection of Michelin memorabilia; his vast selection of cookbooks and all his acclaimed prices as chef and restauranteur. It's very impressive what he's managed to accomplish already at the age of 36.
As we talk about the concept behind the restaurant it's evident that André is very proud of the message he's portraying of Singapore and its "culinary voice" and "identity". We also learn that the "block" which our first course was served on were hand-crafted by André himself. In his "study" there's several more sculptures which he has made; obviously not only an artist in the kitchen...
If there's a culinary voice that we'll follow closely from now on, it'll surely be André Chaing! This restaurant was his dream— his concept and his passion; and we can feel it in everything; all the way from the small olive tree...