Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, visits Tetsuya Wakuda's new restaurant in Singapore.
I once dated a guy who halfway through our relationship was grumbling about having taken me to the best restaurants in Sydney and the expense that I had incurred on his credit card.
"I should have started in the mid price range and then I could have worked my way up to the top. Now you’ll be expecting five-star three-hat restaurants all the time.”
I looked at him like he was crazy. "What makes you think I would have dated you if you had started in the middle range?”
(It’s not strictly true. My first date with Mr NQN was bad take away pizza. But then I thought Mr NQN was much more fabulous than this guy.)
But in any case, I couldn’t help thinking about this ex of mine when I arrived in Singapore to be whisked away to dinner at Waku Ghin, Tetsuya Wakuda’s new restaurant in Singapore. With food completely unlike his Tetsuya’s restaurant in Sydney and only seating a mere 25 people at one time, it was something that I was more than curious about. And when Mr NQN took my place at the Waku Ghin dinner in Sydney there was much gnashing of the teeth and moaning as I was committed to another event. But no matter, I finally got to try it here! It’s no ordinary dinner, costing about $S400 ($A307) per head, but it has a clear emphasis on Japanese cuisine as opposed to the French Japanese cuisine at Tetsuya’s.
We walk into the Marina Bay Sands complex. There are shops from Miu Miu, Gucci, Chanel and the mother lode, a Manolo Blahnik shoe shop. We make our way up to the second floor where we look down and see floors and floors of the casino. I’m not one for gambling, but because they allow for smoking here some of the cigarette smoke does end up in Waku Ghin, so there was a bit of sniffling throughout the night from yours truly who is allergic to cigarette smoke.
There is an illuminated sign above the doors and white drapes on the outside giving it an almost 'closed' look. But then the doors swing open and a battalion of staff greet us. And given that the restaurant seats 25 there has got to be at least 25 staff in both the kitchen and on the floor.
The restaurant experience was said to be one where you move from one table to another, but in reality it is much less complicated than that. There are two seatings, one at 6pm and one at 9:30pm. The diner is led to a room where the savoury courses are brought out (about eight in total) and then you adjourn to another room for the dessert courses. I was envisaging much more getting up and down so I am relieved given my heels!
We are seated in front of a long grill plate and facing a wall with protruding wood blocks. Ghin means silver in Japanese and for this restaurant it is represented in the knives, the grill and even things like fish, which feature prominently on the menu. Shortly after we arrive we settle in with a glass of NV Pol Roger to soothe the nerves after travelling.
The first course is a seasonal Japanese fish called Sayori, or needlefish, with Nanohana and Japanese strawberry. Now I usually run screaming from savoury dishes with strawberry in them. I don’t mind some fruit but strawberries are not a favourite with savoury. This changed my mind completely.
The diced strawberries imported from Japan (and yes they come from the South where the earthquake hadn’t affected things) are sweet but subtle and paired with a sashimi of sayori which is a firm, white-fleshed fish with the iridescent skin still on, all served with nanohana, which are mustard flowers that give it a savouriness that the sweet strawberries need. There are also subtle flavours of chives and basil.
The marinated botan ebi (prawns) with sea urchin and Oscietre caviar is a spectacular looking dish indeed! I remember seeing sea urchin when I lived in Japan, and how I’d gently touch one of the spikes realising how sharp they would be if one stepped on one in the ocean. This dish is pure creamy texture. The botan or spot prawns are marinated but retain that creamy raw texture and the rich sea urchin roe combine beautifully with the soft, salty Oscietre caviar. This is a dish that must be slowly savoured with the mother of pearl spoon (a must with caviar). The botan prawn is a real delicacy – they are found in the seas surrounding Japan at depths of 300-500 metres – which is prized for the texture of the meat which is usually eaten raw.
Tetsuya has a longstanding relationship with Petuna, which produces the ocean trout in Tasmania, and the signature dish is the confit of ocean trout. This is a different version of the confit of trout that is slow cooked and sits on a rough puree of peppery wakame seaweed, wilted witlof with orange zest and wasabi. The witlof is a slightly bitter but lovely match to the creamy ocean trout. It comes with a side salad of leaves and finely sliced green apple. We’re given chopsticks and a fork and knife with all courses although this dish would probably be best eaten with the fork and knife.
Now Alaskan king crab legs are always going to impress and even more so when a chef comes out and shows how to cook them on the teppan grill. Sous chef Inoue sets down some sea salt, some grapeseed oil and adds water. He then places the crab legs on the grill, tops them with fresh bamboo leaves and then puts a copper bowl on top of it all to cook it. A few minutes later he counts down, "3… 2…1...", and opens the cloche to reveal the cooked crab legs. They’re soft, sweet and perfectly cooked with an aromatic accent of yuzu (like a cross between lemon and mandarin). And ladies, he is single! Well some of my travelling companions did ask…
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