What makes a new restaurant compelling? For some, it’s the on point interior. For others, it’s the ravishing food. In some cases, it’s down to who’s running the kitchen. In truth, rarely do all three factors collide. But at the newly opened Cloudstreet, it’s all of the above, plus service by the city’s most sincere and hospitable couple.
The couple in question is Cloudstreet’s Sri Lanka born, Australia-trained chef-owner, Rishi Naleendra, and his wife, Manuela Toniolo, who rebranded their one Michelin-starred Cheek by Jowl to a bistro, Cheek, last year (effectively stripping themselves of their hard-earned star) before embarking on this project to realize Naleendra’s life-long dream of building a restaurant concept that not only reflects his heritage but heralds his coming of age as a chef.
Joined by business partner and general manager, Gareth Burnett, and sommelier Vinodhan Veloo, the team has pulled out all the stops to design a smart and cosy boutique hotel-like setting at this shop house space at Amoy Street. From the recycled metal 14-seat counter, the gigantic aged mirror flanked on both sides by a pair of vertical gardens, the buzzy open plan kitchen backed by an panel of electrifying-green bricks, to the fabric-drapped chandelier that drops down from a glass-ceilinged airwell, the upcycled mahjong tables that double-up as dining tables, each contrasted with a rich confection of plush velvet chairs, the mish mesh of textures and colours all go to show that the curators not only have good taste, but also work with deep pockets. Throw in the specially commissioned artworks from Australia, and the odd art pieces sketched by Naleendra himself, and you have, arguably, the most well-designed new restaurant in Singapore, to be enjoyed by a maximum of about 35 guests at any one time.
Now, all these labour would have been in vain if Naleendra’s cooking, best described as Australian-inflected with Sri Lankan accents, does not match up. Oh but it does. Although the flavour nuances are not always what you would expect or are accustomed to, you know the down to earth chef is out to impress and thankfully, he has more than enough tricks up his sleeves to make this opening performance a tour de force.
From the 7-course dinner tasting menu ($198++), you are welcomed with a quartet of snacks, amongst them a grilled Coffin Bay oyster cocooned in bincho-smoked betel leaf served in the mollusc’s shell with finger lime and fresh pressed coconut milk. This alone is worth singling out for its nod to Naleendra’s birth place and wink at his training ground down-under, but also for its unique cocktail of acidic, creamy and mineral flavours. Not a bad place to start.
For those familiar with Naleendra’s cooking DNA at Cheek by Jowl, the one and only returning dish of wild New Zealand venison tartare should come as no surprise. The chopped venison is marinated in sherry to give it a sweetish depth, then tossed with pickled cashew nuts for textures, and fermented plum and wasabi for that mild whiff of funk. Its all seems pretty normal until you bite into the crowning army of basil oil-compressed baby zucchini “coins” and taste the textural contrast, then you are reminded once again that this is one amazing mound of tartare that many others will be compared against.
Western Australian marron is nothing new and neither is Naleendra’s treatment of it, i.e. grilling its tail over the bincho in marron head butter so that its flesh imparts a deeply savoury and nutty note. But Naleendra makes this dish his own by serving the shellfish atop a thick pool of aromatic Sri Lankan yellow curry flecked with millets, made lighter by a topping of celery and fennel salad. The pairing is most unusual, yes, but it’s the chef’s way of telling his story about flavours that he grew up with that truly strikes a chord.
The meat course of grilled lamb saddle is also a standout. Served rare with a deliciously charred lid of lamb fat rendered over charcoal, it arrives alongside a quenelle of spring onion sambal, another quenelle of mint, coconut and green chilli puree and, last but not least, a riveting morsel of charred radicchio wrapped with Sri Lankan young jackfruit (polos) curry. Even if this is not the best lamb dish you’ve had, it’ll be one that you remember (who can claim to have lamb with polos curry here?)
The unexpected matching of ingredients and flavours get a lift with spot-on pairings by sommelier, Vinodhan Veloo. His 350 label-strong wine list, comprising mostly old world bottles and some stellar minimum intervention wines, is structured like a magazine with clear-as-day descriptions so informative and engaging that I was tempted to slide it into my bag for recreational reading. But the journalism-trained sommelier is not a one-trick pony, his repertoire of non-alcoholic beverages too deserves a stage. For your lamb saddle, Veloo suggests a riveting glass of light, acidic (almost to the point of biting) and sparkling drink of yoghurt whey with fermented jackfruit and cardamon water. You could opt for wine pairing ($128 for 5 courses, $158 for 7 courses) or non-alcoholic beverage pairing ($78 for 5 courses, $98 for 7 courses). Both are exemplary but if I were you, I would do half of each.
Desserts are not an afterthought, considering that, for palate cleanser, you’re served not just goat’s cheese sorbet but the same sorbet in fermented watermelon juice with a well of basil oil. That itself outdone by the brilliance of a most unusual dessert of mascarpone yoghurt caraway parfait with honeydew sorbet and white grapes granita. As if that were not enough, there’s also a savoury-sweet dish of porcini served multiple ways, a dessert that is unique as it is polarising (it’s not down my alley but I know there are many who rate it).
Uniquely enough, Naleendra’s bread service arrives not at the commencement of the meal, but right before the meat course. And it’s not yet another sour dough but a sticky and sweet dark stout bread with molasses and liquorice, served alongside Echiere butter so delicate that you would need to slather a good helping to actually taste it on the bread. Now, tell me, how do you forget a bold bread service like this?
For those wondering if Cloudstreet were a more expensive rehash of Cheek by Jowl – it isn’t. While Naleendra’s cooking DNA is evident from start to finish, Cloudstreet is a more refined, heartfelt, bolder – even storied – articulation of Naleendra’s dreams. One that needs to be experienced to be understood.
84 Amoy Street, Singapore 969 903; +65-6513 7868; cloudstreet.sg