To commemorate special occasions, some chefs write cookbooks, yet others resort to throwing parties. Thankfully for diners who rather eat than read or revel in merrymaking, chef Jason Tan of Corner House has chosen a path less travelled.
In celebration of the restaurant’s first anniversary and the nation’s 50th year of independence, the 32-year-old chef is introducing an 8-course special menu (S$248++). Available for a limited-time only, from 23 July to end August 2015, each course of the menu charts the major milestones in Tan’s career – from the time he toed the F&B industry to his current role as chef patron of Corner House – and ties them to a different chapter in the city’s foodie history.
|Snacks -“yu sheng” fish cracker|
|Ratte potato “begedil”|
To start, Tan tickles your palate with a parade of Singapore-inspired snacks. A smidgeon of yellowtail “yu sheng” on a undulating sheet of fish cracker to pay tribute to the Singapore-style raw fish salad eaten during Chinese New Year. Then, drawing inspiration from the popular Malay snack of begedil (deep fried potato patty), a crème fraiche-crowned patty of fried ratte potato. And to invigorate the palate, a ball of mustard seeds-flecked cucumber sphere packed with the exhilarating pickling liquid of achar (South East Asian pickled vegetables/fruits).
|“Remembering Oyster Omelette”|
“Remembering Oyster Omelette” is Tan’s nod to “orh luak” (oyster omelette), a Hokkien Chinese-style street food of oysters and egg batter that grew in popularity during Singapore’s pre-independence days. Tan re-interprets this with aplomb as plump, deep-fried battered Royale oysters served alongside a gloriously sous-vide egg resting on vegetable emulsion. To match it to its fine dining surrounds, the chef crowns it off with blades of nasturtium and oyster leaves, a scatter of burnt leeks for a deep smoky depth and a dollop of Chinese Kristal caviar for good measure. Even with the extra ingredients, the “orh luak” flavours are unmistakable. Delicious.
|“How Pizza Changed My Life”|
The advent of the 1970s brought with it the deluge of American fast food chains. “How Pizza Changed My Life” is Tan’s interpretation of how he was awed by the “magic” of melding flour, water and eggs when, at the age of 15, he was working as a dishwasher and kitchen help in an Italian eatery. With a pool of mozzarella cheese-encased yeast emulsion serving as the “dough” and toppings of tomato confit, basil leaves and a clump of burrata, this may not be your well-loved thin crust pizza, but it encapsulates the ingredients and flavour profile of one brilliantly.
|“At Picnic With Wagyu Beef Parmentier”|
Hot on the heels of the opening of Singapore’s first air-conditioned food court, Scotts Picnic, in 1982, similar food courts began to flourish. For his commemorative menu, Tan pays tribute to the then famed Scotts Beef Noodles with “At Picnic With Wagyu Beef Parmentier.” Featuring folds of torched Toriyama wagyu flanked by little tubes of rigatoni pasta parmentier (pasta stuffed with chopped wagyu) – instead of noodles – in a shallow bath of east meets west beef broth spiked with pickled vegetables, the dish offers beefy refinement sans the thick gravy and beef balls that we’ve come to associate with the noodle dish. It’s positively different and a definite highlight of the tasting menu.
|“To My Mentor, Monsieur Bompard”|
In the dizzying rise of French fine dining that characterized Singapore’s gastronomic landscape in the 1990s, Tan’s passion for French fare took him to the city’s best kitchens. From Les Amis, Le Saint Julien and Sky on 57 (where he was executive chef until March 2014) to Joel Robuchon Au Dome in Macau, Tan has quietly learnt the ropes. “To My Mentor, Monsieur Bompard” is Tan’s way of paying homage to his mentor, Sir Julien Bompard, with the latter’s famed lobster bisque recipe. True to its reputation, the croutons-studded bisque is as creamy, sweet and robust as it should be.
|“Seeing Green with Alain Passard”|
Proceeding to the 2000s when gastronomic events thrived in tandem with the city’s growing affluence, Tan recalls his 2005 encounter with French culinary luminary, Alain Passard, who had then just announced his decision to remove red meat from the menu. Inspired by Passard’s brilliance with vegetables, Tan endeavours to express the same dexterity with vegetables in “Seeing Green with Alain Passard.” Slow roasted French beetroot topped with candied almonds are teamed with beetroot tartare and wafer thin slices of black radish. Served alongside a disc of confited Cevennes onion blanketed with Manjimup black truffle shavings, it’s an indulgent vegetable dish although it’s not quite the more robust Passard style that we know.
|“Hitting The Sky With Franco-Asian”|
The debut of the Integrated Resorts in 2010 marked a turning point for Singapore’s dining scene; almost overnight, the city became a hotbed for big name chefs like Joel Robuchon and Tetsuya Wakuda. In the same year, Tan scored a position as head chef in the kitchen of Justin Quek’s Sky on 57. His dish, “Hitting The Sky With Franco-Asian,” features Western-style grilled halibut and Asian-style wok-fried squid with trumbetta zucchini in a Quek-inspired aged shaoxing wine sauce. The deep and mellow sauce is exceptional and one that demands an encore. Hopefully it’s not the last we’ll see of it.
As Singapore turns 50 this year, Tan’s celebrates this achievement with “My Singapore Turns 50,” a dish aptly comprising ingredients – like duck, rice, sweet potato, ginger and pandan – used by all races in the city to signify racial harmony. In this dish, the duck is first brined, cooked in via sous vide, then pan-seared and served in a pool of soya ginger broth with pandan-flavoured basmati rice and a dollop of sweet potato puree. We can’t fault its execution but save for the perfectly executed crispy duck skin, the dish is not entirely memorable.
But the concluding dessert, “My Corner Of The World” brings the tasting menu back to par. Tan’s personal ode to his restaurant’s first anniversary sees the creation of a durian dessert which – to some – may taste better than durian itself. A generous scoop of durian emulsion is matched with coffee ice cream, filo pastry, a parcel of bread and butter pudding and finished with evaporated milk – a perfect balance of sweet, bitter, cream, crisp and soggy. It’s delicious to most who eat durians but to those who don’t, it can be life changing in a positive way.
Writing this review feels very much like writing a thesis of Tan’s life-kitchen journey, each milestone represented by a dish in the tasting menu. If reading it makes you think that Tan can really tell a story, a dinner here will show you that this chef can really cook.
Even if you are unable to jump on this SG50 boat-Anniversary boat, Tan’s gastro-botanica menu is well worth a trip to Corner House.
E J H Corner House, Singapore Botanic Gardens, 1 Cluny Road 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.