Back in the days, before we had Iggy’s and Restaurant Andre, there was Les Amis. It was one of two restaurants that I would visit every other week for a quiet lunch or for a wine-fueled business dinner with vendors. Founded in 1994 by chef-owner Justin Quek and a handful of business partners, Les Amis gained renown quickly as much for Quek’s refined French cuisine as for its repertoire of French wines. But 10 years after the restaurant’s meteoric rise, Quek left in 2004 for greener pastures in Greater China, returning only in 2010, at the invitation of Marina Bay Sands, to helm Sky on 57 as Principal Chef. In mid 2017, Sky on 57 shuttered for remodeling and Quek duly vacated his perch, only to re-open in the basement of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands early this July.
Quek’s new debut takes on dual personalities – JustIN Flavours of Asia, is a casual eatery that dishes out luxe local fare along the breezy boardwalk of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands; and more excitingly, Chinoiserie, a 70-seat Chinese-inspired French fine-dining concept with five private rooms located in a windowless dining room one level down.
Chinoiserie recalls Quek’s glory in Les Amis by way of starched table linens, white-glove service and glorious French-made, Chinese artist-designed porcelain in an elegant space that will not look out of place as a modern French restaurant. But, as its name suggests, Quek is returning to his root via a cuisine that imparts Chinese (sometimes Asian) flavours using seasonal ingredients cooked with the French techniques that Quek is known for. Best of all, it is as refined and clean-tasting as I remember his French cooking to be.
For a dish that best reflects Chinoiserie’s philosophy, look no further than the OCBC special dish of Chaoshan-style ayu, a seasonal river fish from Japan. Heralding the arrival of summer, the sweetfish is often served grilled in Japanese cuisine but Quek begs to differ, preferring to showcase it Teochew-style. The French-trained chef deftly debones the bigger-than-palm-sized fish, carefully stuffs it with scallop mousse as well as girolle and black trumpet mushrooms enveloped in Puning fermented beans and a light dose of chilli and garlic, ties the stuffed fish in three parts with chive and steams it whole. It arrives at the table in a shallow pool of superior broth with the flesh of the ayu still soft and moist, perfectly counter-pointed by the invigorating flavours of the stuffing. For the most of us who have only tried the sweet ayu in Japanese restaurants, this out-of-the-box preparation is not only intriguing but remarkably refined and deliciously compelling.
In the same OCBC menu, Quek revives his Sky on 57 signature of duck foie gras xiao long bao (soup dumpling). Make no mistake, these are no garden variety xiao long bao – the minced pork and foie gras dumpling is gently suffused with a delicately savoury truffle consomme bound by a paper-thin skin; the pair of dumplings served in a carrot juice-infused golden broth of Jinhua dry-cured ham that teems with a clean-tasting savouriness.
For mains, you get a choice of Quek’s now-famed wok-fried lobster hokkien noodles or the duo of meats. Those who are already familiar with Quek’s take on the former is hereby gently prodded to explore the latter – a round of nam yu (red fermented bean curd) braised short rib matched with juicy lobes of garlic and chillies-flecked wok-fried veal sweetbread, both speaking richly of Quek’s intended French-Chinese DNA for Chinoiserie.
But you don’t have to wait until mains for a taste of Quek’s Chinese-French flair. To lull you snugly into his camp from the first few bites, his trio of chef’s platter features a thick slice of Teochew-inspired terrine of pig’s ear layered against the congealed braising liquid of braised pork and, I would surmise, pork aspic.
If you’ve missed Quek’s cooking at Sky on 57 all these years, despair not. For to truly experience the return of Singapore’s prodigal chef, it’s Chinoiserie that you’d need to be.
Chinoiserie offers this special OCBC Gastronomic Adventures Menu at lunch and dinner for S$200++ for five courses from now till 20 November 2018 for OCBC Cardmembers. VOYAGE cardmembers may opt to have the four-course pairing at a special price of $98++ (usual price $136++). For more information on OCBC’s exclusively curated menus, visit ocbc.com/gastronomy.
Galleria Level, B1-15 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore 018 956; marinabaysands.com/restaurant/chinoiserie
This post is presented to you in partnership with OCBC
© Evelyn Chen 2013