With Cheek by Jowl now rebranded as Cheek (a bistro with no tasting menu), and the newly opened Cloudstreet pitched at a high level, the contender for best value-for-money tasting menu in the Amoy Street neighbourhood (by that, we also include Telok Ayer and Club Street) might just be the four-year-old Maggie Joans.
Just as well that you revisit them again now for the Gemmill Lane restaurant recently welcomed a new Australia-born head chef: Zachary Elliott-Crenn, who trained at the two-hatted Cutler & Co, Melbourne, and three-hatted Vue de Monde, Melbourne, before seeking greener pastures in Europe, ending in London. Of his stints in London, Elliott-Crenn spent the last two years as head chef of the one Michelin starred Portland.
If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because the 30-year-old native of Canberra did a collaboration with Maggie Joans earlier this year. Perhaps the short stint gave him an opportunity to understudy the city’s ingredients and the modern European approach of his current employer. For judging by the five course tasting menu he dished out at dinner, the new-to-Singapore chef has picked up the baton quite effortlessly from his predecessor, continuing Maggie Joan’s tradition of serving bistronomy-style sharing plates using local market-sourced ingredients (as much as possible).
For $95++ a head at dinner, perhaps you would expect to dive right-in to the meal. But no, Elliott-Crenn keeps his approach in Maggie Joans suitably gastronomic by serving a loaf of house-made sour dough and a trio of snacks, of which two items are notable.
First, he makes good on affordable local chicken liver by serving it as a parfait “cigar” – chicken liver parfait and quince jam piped into a cigar-shaped feuille de brick (pastry roll) coated with candid pistachios. It’s good enough to make one wonder if the more pricey and buttery foie gras is always necessary.
Chef Elliott-Crenn started his career in Australia as a pastry chef and his deftness in this department shows in the butternut squash financier, a finale snack embedded with creamy macadamia nut puree and topped with French mimolette cheese floss. Oh, it’s a mess to eat but the mish-mash of flavours (buttery, light-caramel and creamy) makes every bite an absolute delight.
The impression does not – thankfully – stop at snacks for Elliott-Crenn has a line-up of courses that give humble market-sourced ingredients that frisson of excitement.
Ribbons of grilled carrot strips caressed with smoked grapeseed oil are matched unusually with a disc of confit egg yolk and micro red mustard, and dressed simply with olive oil, Chardonnay vinegar and housemade white miso mayonnaise. A well-made salad indeed assembled, uniquely enough, with carrots that needed no higher praise than a clean plate and zero leftovers.
Elliott-Crenn’s take on prawn cocktail is just as satisfying. To make this dish his own, he dresses the school prawns in a British Marie Rose sauce using housemade ketchup and housemade mayonnaise, and serves it with salmon roe, slices of Granny Smith green apple and a riot of Romaine lettuce chiffonade and dill drizzled with olive oil. The addition of the chiffonade of lettuce here makes all the difference, a perfect foil indeed to savour the more heavy-on-the-palate offerings that headline the dish.
Perhaps the greatest highlight of the meal, apart from the financier that is, is the second main dish. Under normal circumstance, you’d be served the Black Angus rump steak, which I imagine would be delicious. But if you come in a group of four and ask nicely, Elliott-Crenn might just serve you his specialty roast chicken. By no means ordinary, this chicken is first pan-seared to get the skin to crisp-up, then brushed with a glaze of Chardonay vinegar, chicken jus, pink peppercorn and juniper before it’s tossed into the oven for a finishing roast so that when it arrives at the table, the chicken breast is moist and its skin crisp, if a little spicy and gritty from the specks of peppercorn. Served with a head of butterhead lettuce and a side of a pithivier made from the bird’s leg that’s been carved out after roasting, shredded and mixed with carrots and cherry vinegar, this could well be the city’s fanciest roast chicken service. The lip-smacking pithivier, in particular, makes this roast chicken an interesting proposition. Priced at $80++ on the a la carte, it’s well-worth a splurge in case you opt for the a la carte.
I reckon that for a non-local chef to serve papaya in a dessert, he must be really bold. It’s not something I’ve seen in restaurants anywhere but here we are, having sliced papaya on olive oil cake and crème fraiche topped with a scoop of house-made tarragon ice cream.
This goes to show that your value-for-money meal at Maggie Joans also promises a wee bit of adventure, one that will make your trip to the car park-less Club Street extremely worthwhile.
110 Amoy Street, #01-01 (Entrance from Gemmill Lane) Singapore 069 930; +65 62215564; maggiejoans.com