|Alma by Juan Amador at Goodwood Park Hotel|
What do you make of a restaurant that serves Spanish-based modern European cuisine prepped with Asian spices?
This is a question best answered by visiting Alma by Juan Amador (“Alma”), a new restaurant formed by the Oso Ristorante Group in consultation with Juan Amador, a German-Spanish chef who last helmed the 3 Michelin-starred Restaurant Amador at Mannheim, Germany, before closing it recently in favour of an upcoming move to Vienna.
Taking over the space – almost lock, stock and barrel – formerly occupied by Gaia at Goodwood Park Hotel, Alma looks elegant and quietly austere, much like its predecessor. Save for the repetitive clones of paintings that adorn the walls, nothing much has changed.
The menu by chef de cuisine, Christophe Lerouy, a French native, promises to bring diners on a “multi-sensorial tasting of various dishes focusing on the gustatory system, senses and high culinary art” – a tall order indeed.
There are two a la carte menus, one “tradicion” and another “evolucion” but if you rather leave your meal to chance, the Surprise Menu is a good place to start.
Priced from S$68 for 4 courses to S$148 for 8 courses at dinner, the Surprise Menu features items from “tradicion” and “evolucion” as well as spot dishes created just for the day. Technically, the chef decides what you eat but we pushed our luck with the 6-course menu (S$108) and made a request to taste 3 specific dishes (foie gras ice cream, pigeon in purple curry and brick in the wall) from the “evolucion” menu, leaving chef to decide on the rest. Lerouy served us dishes exclusively from “evolucion”.
Dinner commenced with no signs of snacks or amuse-bouches in sight, just bread-in-a-sack served alongside a lovely dip of extra virgin olive oil.
The opening dish lived up to Alma’s promise -pistachio dust-flecked foie gras ice cream (S$18 on the a la carte) basking in a pool of mango gazpacho that was refreshing as the morning dew. The combination of sweet, savoury and creamy flavours, whilst unusual, worked like magic, with texture from the pistachios thrown in for good measure.
|Scallops, hazelnuts, turron|
The ensuing dish-of-the-day sustained the high – pan-seared scallops with sliced cauliflower, crushed hazelnuts and turron (a Spanish nougat-like candy made with almonds, honey and egg white) in a fragrant and creamy langoustine bisque perfumed with lime, coriander oil and turron puree. The hit of acidity from the lime, sweetness and crunch from the turron, more textures from the hazelnut and cauliflower, plus savouriness from the broth left us hankering for more.
The momentum dipped with the arrival of the salmon (S$24). The fish was cooked via sous vide and served in a cocktail of green tomato-based Bloody Mary with a clump of apple and celery chunks on one side and a dollop of lemon-accented celeriac puree on the other. The pungency of the salmon weighed in even as we sipped on the Bloody Mary, which was undecided about whether it should be an alcohol-packed cocktail or a refreshing broth.
It hit a low with duck liver (S$18), our second serving of foie gras in a sitting. Apart from committing tasting menu faux pas, the generous parcel of pan-seared foie gras was busy juggling a mound of Thai-inspired som tam toppings (peanuts, shredded raw papaya and deep-fried shrimps) whilst attempting to pledge allegiance to the chef’s Spanish heritage with a drizzle of PX vinegar dressing.
|Pigeon, Mango, Coco, Purple Curry|
The pigeon (S$32) offered a brief respite. Touted as the dish that won Amador his third star in Germany, the pigeon breast arrived lightly dusted in a layer of ginger bread, yielding a crisp texture that was beyond reproach. The condiments and sauces, however, offered fodder for confusion, with the dollops of coconut and mango puree overwhelmed by the intensity of the hibiscus-accented “purple curry” perfumed with cocoa. On its own, the curry was rather adorable but we were less optimistic about its pairing with the poultry or the pureed fruits.
We were also neutral towards the “Brick In The Wall” (S$18) dessert – spiced milk cake encased in beetroot “walls” crowned with raspberry sorbet and variations of raspberry and beetroot meringue. It was a pretty dessert at best.
While kitchen execution by Lerouy was immaculate, the fusion of flavours at Alma felt like the aftermath of a western chef’s whirlwind tour around Asia. If this dinner were anything to go by, Alma lives up to its promise of bringing diners on a multi sensorial journey but the Asian fusion ride does not guarantee to be a smooth one.
Hopefully, the “tradicion” menu will offer a less bumpy ride.