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Not The World’s 50 Best Restaurants..

Not the world’s 50 best restaurants..

Had I but world enough and time, trotting the globe to eat wouldn’t be such a crime. I am a self-confessed World’s 50 Best Restaurants junkie. I find it commendable that the list is streamlined towards unearthing innovations where (occasionally) no ordinary foodie has reached. There is a catch, though. “Innovation” does not always guarantee “satisfaction”, and no “satisfaction” often means a “waste of time”. But, who am I to judge? I am an amateur eater, have made it to only 21 out of 50 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2012 and some other odd ones that are now off the 2012 list. Also, given the effort chefs and the restaurant teams have put in to make their establishments a success (and the fact that everybody has his/her own preference), it would have been too mean to publish my carefully selected top 10 “waste of time” list. (Personal email exchange is welcomed).

So, I am having this instead – a very personal “Life-Changing 10″ restaurants in an alphabetical order. These places have somehow changed my personal view on cuisine at different points in my life and I have no hesitation to return to these places.

(NB: To understand how my preference works, I’m pro innovation, hate over-complication and I also love food that retains a touch of comfort. I am usually inclined to appreciate subtle and no-fuss flavours).

- AQUA -
Wolfsburg, Germany

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Chef Sven Elverfeld not only refines but redefines what humble German cuisine is to firework effects. In Chef Sven’s hands, “Candy Apple” was made entirely of sugar crust and shattered with a touch of a spoon to reveal ethereal yogurt foam (precisely as sour as a Granny Smith) and caramelised pecan core. The watery essence of apple underneath bound the dish together. My meal at Aqua was full of these brilliantly executed, non-alienating surprises.
On #Worlds50Best: 22
More photos here.

 

- L’ARPEGE -
Paris, France

Visited: Winter 2010/11 & Winter 2010/11 (Twice)
Why: Not that I don’t love red meat but it is chef Alain Passard’s take on vegetables that is a classical revelation. I still remember my plate of root vegetables with cous cous and argan oil at L’Arpege – the exuberant crunch, the acidity and sweetness from multi-textured root vegetables cooked by various means. This is innovation but this is also firmly grounded in classical French techniques.
On #Worlds50Best: 16

 

- Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare -
New York City, USA

Visited: Spring 2012
Why: Chef Cesar Ramirez rocks this tiny space, an appendix to Brooklyn Fare supermarket. He not only has fine eyes and unlimited budget to fly in the premium fish in the world but he also has the greatest and most creative mind, with huge respect to Japanese sensitivities, to dazzle 16 odd diners with (arguably) the BEST seafood in the world. I still recall Red Snapper served sliced with rich but cleansing ponzu sauce and toppled with crispy snapper scales or utterly rich and creamy sea urchin with yuba, wasabi and dill. As CTBF runs a no photo policy, I was only naughty enough to snap a shot of chocolate truffles at the end. (Lame, I know).
Not #Worlds50Best (This is unbelievable!!!)

 

- Faviken -
Jarpen, Sweden

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Youthful and talented, chef Magnus Nilsson makes the most of his adverse environment to create a spectacular “real food” meal, paying respect to the raw beauty of the produce, the ways flavours should naturally be maximised, and the gastronomic timelessness as opposed to flashy and fashionable cooking. Cod “lightly brushed with honey and fried in a dry pan” had the burnt sweet crust that immersed itself with the firm sea-sweet fish. The pairing of carrot cooked in “almost burnt sour milk” and spruce and alcoholic vinegar jelly was striking and effective. Apart from the food, the setting at Faviken – embraced by sleepy mountains and a tranquil lake – is purely magical.
On #Worlds50Best: 34
More photo here.

 

- Hedone -
London, UK

Visited: 5 times since its opening
Why: My first meal at Hedone was not successful but there was this minimal but otherworldly piece of mackerel (with salad and Japanese dressing) that enticed me back to try more of chef Michael Jonsson’s cooking. This is the place to go for upper-crust produce prepared minimally to enhance its natural flavours. Chef Michael’s approach, I’d describe, is French with a touch of Scandinavia, where he originates, while his best of dishes range from Cevenne Onion with Pear, Scallops with Radish and Squid Ink and Venison with Foie Gras and Chestnut Veloute.
Not #Worlds50Best (I foresee Hedone to be on the list in just a matter of years).
More photo here.

 

- Mugaritz -
San Sebastian, Spain

Visited: Spring 2011
Why: My overall meal at Mugaritz was deceptively simple and with the unmissable regional Basque influences. “Fake Saffron Rice Just Rested” looked like juicy pumpkin seeds and was served in rich saffron sauce and toppled with white bread crouton. “Nails and Flowers” featured a crystalised sugar cone as translucent as a raincoat, with milky ice cream, chocolate nails and edible flowers. The topicality does not stop the meal to resonate the universality of emotion, and by the end of the meal, the ‘techno-emotional’ cuisine of Andoni Luis Aduriz left me in a nirvana of sort.
On #Worlds50Best: 3 (I was rooting this to be no.2!)
More photos here.

 

- Nahm -
Bangkok, Thailand + London, UK

Visited: 3 Times in Bangkok, Countless in London since 2008
Why: For a Thai who has grown up and become jaded with Thai food, Chef David Thompson is an inspiration. His delicate touch and stubbornness to the long-standing tradition both preserves and revolutionises Thai cuisine. While meals at Nahm London are, at times, inconsistent and restricted by means of daring audiences, its Bangkokian flagship pushes boundaries to the max. Say, a refined version of Pla Rah Song Kreung (rotten fish) for upper-class urbanites. In London, Nahm is the only restaurant where I can find the rarest of Thai desserts cooked to absolute perfection. Next year 2013 in Singapore it would be interesting to see how Nahm fares on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
On #Worlds50Best: 50

 

- Noma -
Copenhagen, Denmark

Visited: Spring 2010 & Autumn 2011
Why: I first went to Noma with zero expectation or knowledge about the restaurant (before #Worlds50Best fame) and the meal ended in subliminal reverence. Chef Rene Redzepi is a nationalist genius and his creations are well matched with taste, imagination and artistry. I don’t think I need to say much else.
On #Worlds50Best: 1
More photos here.

 

- Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua -
Beijing, China

Visited: 4 times since 2010
Why: This is the ultimate North Korean restaurant of the finest produce and the most impeccably trained kitchen brigade. Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua stands for the opulence of the old world unpolluted by globalisation (one of the very few things that closed countries such as North Korea benefit from). While the kitchen does not intentionally push boundaries, the culture in which we live in and our familiarity with the modern world makes this meal something of a rebellious, retrospective experience. Snapping Turtle was dissected, reassembled and simmered in medicinal ginseng stock, while Dog Meat Hot Pot featured braised roulade of dog’s legs toppled with some ground nuts, spring onions and an infusion of tomato and chilli sauce.
Not #Worlds50Best

 

- Shinji by Kanesaka -
Singapore, Singapore

Visited: Winter 2011
Why: I have never embarked on a proper gastronomic adventure in Japan and having been on this side of the world (where good Japanese food is scant) I lost interest in such cuisine. Shinji by Kanesaka (praised by my much better eating friend) in Singapore rekindles my faith in prime Japanese produce with premium sushi-making skills to match. I still dream of Oshino-san’s Uni Risotto, which involved a mashing of sea urchin with sushi rice (an estimated 2:1 ratio) until the rice turned creamy and golden and a toppling of chopped tuna belly. The pure, savoury, sea-like custard-y thing passed through my nose and throat at every spoonful – simply the raunchiest bowl of food I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Not #Worlds50Best
More photos here.

 

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Shinji by Kanesaka, Singapore

Springy, squeaky, squishy, squid-y…

There are a limited number of vocabulary to describe an out-of-this-world sushi experience. (I won’t attempt it). Let’s just say that if you think you can die for sushi and happen to be in Singapore, Shinji by Kanesaka is the place to be. This small sushi bar with an awkward shopping arcade setting at Singapore’s iconic Raffles Hotel is the only oversea outpost of two-Michelin-starred sushi master Kanesaka in Tokyo. The lengthy bar made from 200-year-old Hinoki tree can seat just short of 20 diners. Two sushi chefs take their corner and craft one of the most exquisite sushi tasting menu outside Japan. The setback in price is imminent (as in Japan and anywhere else in the world). At Shinji, the omakase starts at 220SG$ (£111), 300SG$ (£151) and 450SG$ (£226). There are cheaper options at lunch hours from 75SG$ (£38). But, in return, you are pampered with world-class ingredients, an unforgettable experience and (for me at least) a trauma I can’t eat decent but normal sushi ever again…

Sitting down I found myself more lucky than diners on the other side of the sushi bar; I was being looked after by “Master Chef” Koichiro Oshino (the no.1 there and who worked previously as sushi master at 1-Michelin-starred Yamazato at Okura Hotel in Amsterdam). My “Omakase Shin” menu started precisely at 12pm and three hours later my former sushi encounter ruptured and metamorphosed into a heavenly pursuit of otherworldly pleasure.

Here were the extremely “high”-lights. The first stunner was superbly fresh hairy crab flown in from Hokkaido. The whole crab was cooked and shelled; then the meat from the whole crab was tightly packed back into the shell and left to marinate by and in itself. The result was the most intense and naturally crabby taste and scent (despite its being a cold dish), while the meat itself retained delightful fluffs. This dish was served with light vinegar dressing. There were some “secrets” in the dressing which Oshino-san mentioned but never revealed. The next “wow” was fuku/blowfish tail deep fried in light batter – my first experience of eating this infamous poisonous fish – garnished with pickled shallots. The fish itself was firm (imagine the meat of half a sea bass squeezed into a tiny tail/ not so dense as monk fish) but relatively tasteless. The greaseless batter with acute seasoning of salt therefore was a way to elevate the taste. So was the shallot sweetness with a zingy aftertaste. Abalone (as big as my palm!!) was steamed for five hours and marinated in another “secret” which looked a watery soy infusion. Taste-wise, it was the most tenderised abalone I’d ever eaten. The slivers sprung and squeaked a little (a cross between cuttlefish and oyster mushroom I’d say). The “secret” helped maximise not only sweetness but also unpolluted seawater taste. This minimal approach made this abalone taste much nicer than the supreme one at Lung King Heen. Then came the ark clam, which was bigger than a toddler’s fist. The finely sliced and scorched meat stilled moved before it was meticulously but swiftly pressed onto the sushi rice. Not an ordinary ark clam sushi. The flesh snapped as I was chewing and released a pure, robust taste. The minimal brushing of soy sauce was precise and glossy.

The last of the highlights was this tiny bowl of sea urchin/ uni “risotto”. The process involved a mashing of sea urchin with sushi rice (an estimated 2:1 ratio) until the rice turned creamy and golden. It was then toppled with soy-infused negitoro (here made from either o-toro or chu-toro with chopped spring onions) and freshly grated wasabi. My eyes were glowing at Oshino-san when he was making it. Unfortunately, he handed over the sea urchin rice to my neighbour expat (lucky bugger!), turned to me and giggled in my despair (at this point he warmed towards my appreciation of his sushi and we joked a bit). I had to wait for an interval of not-as-eye-wateringly-amazing sushi until given the sea urchin. It was insanely velvety – everything I conjectured from the way it was made but beyond. The ooze-y tuna fat seeped into the yolk-y urchin; the vinegar hint from the rice added a subtly fine touch to these premium ingredients. At each spoonful, I could smell this pure, savoury, sea-like custard-y thing passing through my nose and throat; I started shaking my head (a sign of utterly bemused approval when I discover otherworldly dishes never before experienced) and was on the verge of tears when I licked off the last drop of uni from my spoon. It was, very frankly, the most memorable dish of all cuisine that has ever gone down my throat.

Apart from this were many sushi nigiri, nearly all of which were bitefuls of revelation. The photos (see “disclaimer” below) are posted in my Facebook here.

“disclaimer”
The Skinny Bib has grown too much and I’d rather pay for meals than for storage, so I will link long posts to MY Facebook PHOTO ALBUMS instead. They will be accompanied with descriptions, of course ^_^


 

GO FOR: World class ingredients and pomp.
RATING: 5/5
INNOVATION/COMFORT: Both.

SHINJI BY KANESAKA

02-20 Raffles Hotel Arcade
1 Beach Road
Singapore
189673

Tel. +65 6338 6131

www.shinjibykanesaka.com