In 2014, a hitherto unknown Singapore chef named Jason Tan debuted on the grounds of a colonial house at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and swept us away with his banging course of “My Favourite Vegetable” – Cévennes’ Onion Four Ways. Served as part of his Gastro-Botanica cuisine, this onion course forever changed our perception of an allium that had up until then been accustomed to taking a supporting – rather than starring – role. Still, curious diners questioned how a cuisine so generous with meats and seafood could well be botanically-driven.
This question, it seems, has just been answered by way of Gastro-Botanica 2.0 in the 26-seat Restaurant Euphoria (“Euphoria”), Tan’s latest contemporary French outing on Tras Street with his partner and the establishment’s creative director, Arissa Wang.
Corroborating on this botanical theme, the shophouse space is dressed like a lush indoor garden and evocatively designed with Tan’s signature vegetable, the onion, in mind – think concrete walls with gigantic brass onion peel-like inlays, a 6-metre-long stainless brass-coated light installation whimsically-designed to evoke the silhouette of onion petals and onion-like layered panels fronting the stand of the bar counter.
This attention to detail goes right down to the major touch points in your dining journey – the custom-made wooden receptacles, the Japanese wood-fired ceramics that cradle the onion tea and the hand-forged Damascus steel knives with wooden hilts the likes of Indonesian Macassar Ebony, Colombian Bulnesia Arborea, Dragon Chinese Juniper and Japanese Oak
All these details would have been in vain if Tan’s Gastro-Botanica 2.0 were a mere shadow of its former self. I’m happy to report that far from being a “mere shadow”, the rebooted cuisine puts the spotlight on a botanical concept that is watertight.
While chiefly drawing on the French techniques that have informed his French-grounded cooking career thus far, Tan eschews the foundational mother sauces of French haute cuisine at Euphoria. Instead, he anchors his cooking on an array of proprietary Gastro-Botanica Essences, i.e., four meatless sauces made purely from botanical extracts and reductions, seasoned with seeds, olive oil, white wine, red wine, fruit zest, salt and butter.
The process is anything but easy. They start with 30kg of over 30 varieties of these botanical ingredients, taking two whole days to distill them to just 2 litres of essences, namely Légumes Demi-Glace (a brown sauce of celery, celeriac, carrot, onion, button mushroom and tomato), Légumes Vin Blanc (a white sauce of carrot, shallot, onion, fennel, ginger), Légumes Emulsion (an emulsion of three different cabbages and onion), and Légumes Essence (a clear sauce of onion and kombu).
Unlike how the Cévennes’ onion course once singularly headlined Tan’s Gastro-Botanica cuisine, the Gastro-Botanica Essences, so named La Symphonie de Légumes, now form the backbone of Euphoria’s cuisine. This means that you will taste the essences, and variations of them, regardless of which menu you choose – the six-course Secret Garden of Euphoria (S$208++) or the eight-course Journey of Euphoria (S$258++).
Truth is, Tan has planted “My Favourite Vegetable” course in the bigger menu and for good reason (if you were him, wouldn’t you?). But he has also specially crafted a less elaborate onion course for the small menu, one that fleshes out five different types of onions – Cévennes’ onion, red onion, pearl onion, yellow onion and spring onion – on a plate in a celebration aptly named Oignon Jamboree. A towering mound of Cévennes’ onion and smoked eel parfait encircled by balsamic vinegar-pickled pearl onion petals fanned out over yellow onion puree with a finishing pour of red onions-brewed Légumes Essence infused with spring onion oil. Succinctly capturing the essence of Euphoria on a plate, the dish is refined in presentation, clean in taste and it fully expresses Tan’s deepening relationship with onions. To complete the luxe experience, Tan ‘salts’ the mound of parfait with a generous spoonful of house labelled 4-month-aged Kaviari Oscietra Prestige caviar – currently served exclusively at Yannick Alléno (Paris) and Tate Dining (Hong Kong) only.
Iranian saffron and whipped cream-enriched Légumes Vin Blanc makes its entrance as a finishing pour in the ensuing Lobster course. While the steamed then torched Maine lobster tail is simple yet pristine to the point of perfection, particularly when paired with the richness of the sauce, it’s hotly contested in popularity by an accompanying parcel of coiled confit of burnt butter carrot ribbons slicked in the same sauce. While I would usually pick lobsters over carrots, I find myself in a quandary. If the lingering note of the candied orange zest speckled carrots could cast a vote, it would be the one that tips the balance in favour of the humble root vegetable.
The vin jaune-enriched Légumes Emulsion graces the bold fish course. Two pieces of locally sourced patin fish fillets are steamed, then sandwiched together for a chunkier bite and served alongside sauteed squid strips with savoy cabbage and low fire-fried Japanese ginkgo nuts. While plain yet impressively clean-tasting on its own, the fish has a sweetness and a touch of umami when dressed in the emulsion. Given the cabbages used in the sauce, the pairing with savoy cabbage is not only apt, it serves a textural purpose.
Leaving one of the best for the last, Tan serves Lamb Neck as a finale matched with Demi-Glace poured at the table. The protein is first slow-cooked for 16 hours, then the meat extracted, compressed, smoked, pan-fried and grilled over the bincho so that it is fork tender yet bears a beautiful hint of smokiness. To tame the richness of the lamb, an army of roasted garlic scapes comes to the rescue, giving the meat a mild garlicky counterpoint while a puddle of the same garlic scapes pureed with olive oil and macadamia nut serves as a creamy palate buffer.
There are, of course, dishes with none of the Gastro-Botanica sauces, not least the variations of Sweet Corn dessert and the dosa-inspired Bomba Rice with plancha-grilled geoduck, both delicious in their own right.
But as the press release so rightly put, La Symphonie de Légumes is Euphoria’s raison d’etre. As you savour each of the courses graced by a drizzle of these elixirs, you will come to realise how, with almost no theatre, they intrinsically alter the flavour dynamics on the plate. All for the better of refinement and clean tastes.
76 Tras Street, Singapore 079015
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.