|Corner House @ Singapore Botanic Gardens|
Barely three months after the April 2014 demise of Au Jardin, a new French restaurant has come into being on the grounds of the much-loved black-and-white colonial bungalow (circa 1910) at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Named Corner House, for E J Corner who resided in the property for 13 years during his 16 years tenure as the Assistant Director (1929 to 1945) of the Botanic Gardens, the heritage building continues to hold court majestically from its perch on a grassy knoll near the Visitor Centre. Its interior, however, has benefited from a minor facelift under the wings of new owner, Renny Heng of Wine Culture.
|Claret Corner on the ground floor of Corner House|
Looking all bright and cherry, the ground floor now features a marble-clad bar, a reading corner with lounge seats and a semi-private 8-seat Claret Corner next to the wine cellar.
|Upper deck dining room at Corner House|
Up a flight of staircase, the upper deck retains the charm of its predecessor with the same glass-clad windows proffering lush views of the wooded surrounds. But in place of starched linens, the tables are sheathed in faux leather and these are paired with plush armchairs upholstered in textured fabric of neutral tones.
If the now-defunct Au Jardin were the grand dame of fine dining, Corner House is swiftly rising to the occasion with its dainty French-inflected cuisine – aptly named “gastro-botanica” – that comes complete with a parade of amuse bouche and petit fours, all deftly executed with aesthetics so exquisite that diners may be left wondering if a native French were at-the-helm.
Not that it hurts. Chef-patron and co-owner, Jason Tan, was the 2008 champion of Bocuse d’Or Singapore and an alum of Julien Bompard @ Ascott, Robuchon a Galera (now known as Robuchon au dome) and Sky on 57. If Tan were once deemed a relative unknown in the fine dining circuit, a recent dinner here confirms that he will not stay under the radar for long.
Following in the footsteps of its fine-dining brethren, Corner House eschews the a la carte in favour of a quarterly changing 8-course Discovery menu (S$248++, 8 courses excluding amuse bouche and petit fours). For those with a lesser appetite, there is a 4-course set (S$98++) and a 6-course set (S$148++) where diners can pick from a selection of 12 items (appetizers, starter, main and dessert) of which 4 items require a top-up charge of between S$12 to S$18.
|A signature at Corner House: Cevennes onion done 4 ways|
From the Discovery menu, Tan showcases a quarterly-changing interpretation of his favourite vegetable via a mini degustation – Cevennes onion done four ways. First, the mildly sweet onion puree is served with sous-vide egg and topped with grated Manjumup black truffles ensconced in a hollow Cevenne onion shell. A wafer-thin crisp onion tart topped with onion confit and Parmesan follows, as does an onion chip. To conclude, onion tea infused with earl grey-spiked silver needle is served tableside crowned with an emulsion of onion confit.
Carabinero prawn, a Tan signature, follows. Instead of playing a star role, the Carabinero takes on secondary importance in an artful composition alongside tomatoes in various postures: quenelle of tomato with red capsicum sorbet, tomato cloud topped with olive oil caviar, a whole plum-marinated cherry tomato and a whole cherry tomato marinated in Thai basil and honey. Taking centrestage on the plate is a dramatic display of deep-fried, dehydrated prawn whiskers crowned with Kristal caviar from China.
The botanical aspects of the cuisine take a backseat in the ensuing courses.
|Maine lobster, riso pasta, squid|
Maine lobster is slow poached and served on a savoury toss of riso pasta, cubed squid and puffed chopped soba. A sliver of burnt leek that tops the dish lends a smoky depth to the mound while a cloud of apple cider emulsion cuts any hint of richness.
|New Zealand cod “crispy scales”|
New Zealand cod arrives majestially skin-side up with a crown of crispy fried scales – flanked by shiso flowers – unveiling moist, oil-bathed flesh. Resting below the heap is a riot of savoy cabbage, petit pois and baby carrots basking in a pool of creamy Vin Jaune egg-less sabayon. Even if you don’t love cod, this may get you hooked.
|Free range chicken in surf and turf sauce|
The free-range chicken dish is also a winner. Moist and succulent, the sous-vide chicken breast and compressed chicken thigh arrive in an intoxicating surf-and-turf sauce of prawn stock-flavoured chicken and veal jus with foie gras butter skirted by a sprig of burnt Romaine lettuce.
|Foie gras a la Chinoise|
The oriental-style foie gras soaked in braise liquid is decidedly less impressive, let down by miserly portion (even by haute standard, it’s miserly) and an awkward marinate. However, we have no complaints with the accompanying mango puree and pickles.
|Cocoa “pebbles” is a work of art|
We reckon the dessert of cocoa “pebbles” is more visually appealing than it is delicious but
there is no denying that it’s a work of art: lemon curd embedded in cocoa “pebbles” on coarse chocolate soil with mandarin sorbet “shimeji” and shimeji pickled in lemon syrup.
Corner House has performed beautifully on its debut and, thanks to stable mate, Wine Culture, its 600 label-strong wine menu is no less impressive. But “gastro-botanica” is a bold name for a cuisine that should rightly put the spotlight exclusively on vegetables and strictly, on that score, its name underdelivers.
Notwithstanding that, Tan is a class act.
“Gastro-botanica” or not, Corner House is going down in our books as one of Singapore’s best new openings in 2014.
1 Cluny Road, Singapore Botanic Gardens (Nassim Gate), E J H Corner House, Singapore 259 569 | +65-6469 1000 | cornerhouse.com.sg
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.