The dust has long settled since the Michelin red guide’s sophomore edition. It’s time to sit down and re-evaluate our dining options before the debut of its third.
We love the Michelin guide, yes we do: we applaud the restaurants that were rightfully awarded their Michelin stars and read with empathy about the stars that a particular chef wishes to return. But, most of all, we are puzzled at Michelin’s continued and blatant omission of some of the city’s greatest eateries that have contributed one way or another to making Singapore the great dining destination that it is today.
There were things that could have been done better for the guide, not least going over the city’s hawker landscape with a fine-tooth comb before flashing forth a lacklustre list of street food options. But that’s been dealt with, quite gently, in my article for Fine Dining Lovers.
For now, we merely want to pay tribute to those Michelin star/(s)-worthy restaurants that the anonymous inspectors might have overlooked.
For the purpose of this story, we will focus on restaurants that opened more than two years ago.
Ranked No. 12 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2018, this bijou modern Australian BBQ restaurant at Keong Saik Road serves a daily-updated menu centred on foods cooked in a custom-built brick kiln and a trio of open grills. You may come for just a pork sanger in homemade brioche with chipotle aioli or splurge on a full meal complete with stunners like grilled leeks with crushed hazelnuts in burnt butter sauce and fork-tender Jacob’s Ladder steak washed down with an array of bio-dynamic wines from Australia. Reservations are only allowed for lunch and at 6pm and 6.30pm for dinner and the restaurant is generally booked out for two to three months. Advance planning required.
Avant garde cuisine is not uncommon in Singapore but for years, Tipping Club has remained at the vanguard with playful yet tasty dishes by chef-owner, Ryan Clift, who pioneered the then never-before-heard-of concept of cocktails paired tasting menu. Razor clams in a sublime milk-braised Brittany purple garlic broth, a long-time signature, is in a class of its own and the dish of Toriyama beef with Hokkaido burata-infused horseradish, Japanese fruit tomato and kombu-cured wagyu is in itself worthy of a detour to Tanjong Pagar. Of course, no one should miss the scents-driven cocktails menu.
Chef-owner Willin Low single-handedly coined “Modern Singapore Cuisine” that aptly defines his cuisine that draws inspirations from the food that Singaporeans grow up with, be it at home or cooked food from the streets. Hawker fare like laksa influences many of his creations, a highlight being spanner crab ravioli paired with laksa pesto ravioli in laksa broth. But Low is also a lover of all things Japanese and his creation of chopped negitoro (tuna belly with spring onions) in a Thai-inspired dressing of lime and chillies, served with a topping of caviar on scallion oil-fragranced deep-fried roti prata taco marries the two to delicious effect. Low is a sake lover and a qualified Professional Sake Sommelier, the clutch of sakes available on the menu go very well with his food indeed.
Ola Cocina Del Mar
Located on the ground floor of Marina Bay Financial Centre, this eatery by chef-owner Daniel Chavez, the former executive chef of the now-defunct Santi, serves, arguably, the city’s best Spanish fare and is not difficult to see why. A native of Peru, Chavez seeks out the best ingredients that money can buy and creates thoughtfully-cooked dishes with a taste of rusticity like arroz caldoso, a thick and aromatic sofrito-based seafood broth teeming with arroz rice and seafood cooked on the a la plancha. Also, don’t leave without trying Chavez’s dish of fideua, a traditional noodle-based paella served with a la plancha Spanish red gambas, crab sofrito and piquillo aioli. Chavez’s sharing plates tapas are out of this world too, try the tosta ramona – anchovy, dried figs and cherry tomato on warm toast – if it’s on the menu.
When Michelin crowned a number of alumi of Tetsuya Wakuda with a star, they completely left out one standout chef who chose to pursue Japanese culinary art instead of modern Australian. This alum of Waku Ghin is now the resident chef of Ki-sho. Named Kazuhiro Hamamoto, the Kyoto native goes back to his roots where he creates exquisitely crafted dishes with highly seasonal Japanese ingredients like the spring delicacy of firefly squid served raw with nothing but shoyu and a hint of sugar. Another highlight from his omakase is the signature opening signature dish of uni caviar (bafun uni, dashi jelly and caviar pearls with edamame).
In its excitement to showcase modern Australian cuisine by younger chefs in Singapore, Michelin has conveniently left out a middle-aged Australian chef who is nevertheless a strong contender in the comtemporary Australian space. Chef Christopher Millar, culinary director of Stellar at One Altitude, is just as fastidious about his ingredients, buying Tajima Wagyu cuts like tri-tip for a dish that he serves with black radish, truffle mascarpone and olive soil and sustainably farmed Australian jade abalone for another excellent dish that he serves with foie gras and morel mushrooms. Thankfully, a meal here – complete with a panorama of the city – will not cost you an arm and a leg.
No one is as passionate about its seafood as Naked Finn, and we all have Ken Loon, the restaurant’s founder and co-owner to thank. A seafood “nerd”, Loon goes to great lengths to explore seafood varietals and once he’s found what he wants, he puts these seafood through a battery of tests before they appear on his menu. If you come at lunch, try his take on prawn mee but the restaurant’s raison d’tree is its highly-curated array of seafood best savoured via the dinner sets. Think cast iron pan-grilled wild caught baby Indian squid and pan-fried locally farmed barramundi paired with a light but piquant rice vermicelli “bee hoon” topped with sakura ebi.
39 Malan Road Gillman Barracks, Singapore 109 44; +65-6694 0807; nakedfinn.com
Tasty small plates built around prime ingredients matched with a Wine Spectator-approved wine list are the cornerstones of this eatery at Club Street. While the style of service used to be a la carte only, the bevy of food-loving owners introduced a seasonally changing tasting menu last fall that showcases the restaurant’s signature dish of uni on squid ink custard in a spoon against newer creations like fresh lasagna sheets tossed in seafood stock with Parmigiana Reggiano and tomato confit. Head chef, Saiful Aziz, may be relatively new but you know he is in his element by the quality of the dishes he fields.
Tapas may be out of fashion in Singapore but Esquina, which is often mentioned in the same breath with great Spanish tapas fare in the city, is not and the packed room tells its own story. Executive chef Carlos Montobbio hails from Barcelona and, naturally, he brings a slice of Spain and Catalan to diners via the sharing plates like 5J iberico ham on toasted crystal bread rubbed with a wedge of Spanish tomato and grilled Spanish sucrine lettuce served alongsidea puddle of herbed yoghurt with crunchy macadamia nuts. Since early this year, Montobbio has also added a tasting menu, great for foodies savouring the eatery for the first time.
No one knew why the red guide withdrew its star for this Tokyo-Italian restaurant at Tras Street in its sophomore’s edition. Notwithstanding that, this is one restaurant you need to put on your list. Chef-owner, Seita Nakahara, takes pristine Japanese ingredients and serves them in a most unusual style best described as Tokyo-meets-Italy. Bruschetta arrives topped with mountainous tongues of sea urchin while oodles of chilled capellini are served locked in tight embrace with sea urchin and basking ever so lightly in an invigorating elixir of olive oil, yuzu and fermented lemon. Instead of caviar, Nakahara tops the mound of pasta with tonburi pearls (also called mountain caviar in Japan). An omakase here is a study in Japanese seasonality showcased by the Italy-trained Japanese chef with utmost flair.