Jaan, Singapore – so much more than the view
Please note that chef Julien Royer has moved on to his new venue, Odette, with Kirk Westaway now in charge of the kitchen.
It had been a few years since we’d been whisked to the 70th floor of Singapore’s highest hotel, the Swissotel The Stamford and taken our favourite table for two next to the windows at Jaan.
The last time, Taiwan-born, French-trained Andre Chiang presided over the kitchen and the food was nothing short of extraordinary. Since he established his own Restaurant Andre in Chinatown, we’d not considered going back to see what had happened to Jaan – until now.
The buzz around young gun French chef Julien Royer was consistently good. Rising to #22 on the 2013 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list was enough for Greedy Girl to put aside her dislike of heights and make a booking.
There’s always a risk dining at a restaurant where the view is this good. The last time we were at Jaan, Marina Bay Sands was in the final stages of construction, so didn’t have the nightly laser light shows to distract us. Last night, Greedy Girl is very happy to report, the lasers passed us virtually unnoticed – the food commanded our complete attention. First up was a selection of amuse-bouches. This was a chicken mousse pastizzi with a dab of coriander creme on the top. On the little silver spoons, a piece of Danish eel was topped with kombu (seaweed) jelly.
Also on offer, a tiny pissaladiere with anchovy and olives, served in an opened anchovy tin.
And finally, a take on hummus, made with lentils, aubergine and chestnuts, served with rice crisps.
We were recommended to eat the hot items first, so the pastizzi and pissaladiere went down the hatch. The pastizzi had crunch and softness and the coriander provided a welcome (unusually for Greedy Girl) counterpoint. The little anchovy pastry was lightness itself and very tasty. We then moved to the eel and kombu – an absolutely delicious little morsel, and finally to the hummus which was a taste sensation.
But there was one more to come – an incredible cepe mushroom sabayon. Lurking beneath the light custard was a lovage reduction, portobello mushrooms, walnuts and fried buckwheat. A mushroom tea was poured at the table over the top. Our server recommended to take a couple of spoonfuls to get the full range of ingredients and then to drink the rest down. The fried buckwheat was a revelation – a light, crispy delight that popped in the mouth. All these were washed down with Moet et Chandon Brut and it was a very, very good start.
Interestingly, these little dishes came out before we’d actually selected a menu for the evening. Our delightful server Caty said we could have a number of degustation options, or a la carte. The tasting menus varied from five courses to 10 and there is also a special vegetarian tasting menu. We opted to go right down the middle with the Menu Prestige – seven courses plus amuse-bouches, pre-dessert and petits fours.
Greedy Girl did ask for a substitution – not to have the hay-roasted Bresse pigeon. Having tried to eat pigeon on several occasions, she has never enjoyed the very strong and gamey flavour. The lovely Caty tried to talk her around, saying the dish was, in fact, the chef’s signature course. Greedy Girl was not to be dissuaded and, unfortunately, the pigeon is served for a minimum of two, so gluttonous husband had to miss out as well. Ne’er mind.
Julien Royer, just 30, and from the Auvergne region of south-central France, practices what he likes to call ‘artisanal cuisine’. There was no doubt, even from the amuse-bouche that he has mastered the techniques of classic French cooking and given it a modern, Asian-influenced treatment.
The first dish of the menu proper was heirloom tomatoes with an ‘artigiana’ burrata (Italian cow’s milk cheese), served with a black truffle and olive oil paste spooned at the table. A beautiful medley of tomatoes, including some tiny Japanese varieties was offset by a breathtakingly cold tomato sorbet, the softness of the cheese and dotted with some lovely herbs. The truffle (from Manjimup in Western Australia) flavour was rather lost, however. Still, it was a very pleasant opening plate.
Next was crab and obsiblue ‘shell’, served with avocado, apple and salmon roe. This was a tangy dish. Obsiblue is a type of shrimp, usually eaten raw. All the flavours worked well together, including a touch of wasabi and some fronds of dill. The apple gave the dish a further dimension. This was served with battens of toasted sourdough and a seaweed butter. Delish.
We were in for a touch of theatre next – rosemary-smoked organic egg.
The egg is cooked at 60 degrees celsius for 55 minutes and presented with drama on a special wooden box overflowing from dry ice. It’s accompanied by a glass dish full of smoked potato, chorizo, iberico ham and buckwheat grains. The egg is masterfully dropped into the glass (without the yolk breaking) and the range of textures and flavours is truly divine. Not a skerrick remained.
Next up was a foie gras from the Landes area of south-west France, noted for its duck production. This was served with slices of ‘Mara des Bois’ strawberries, cultivated in France to give a similar flavour to the wild fruit. There was also a tiny disc of a strawberry sugar crisp on top. At the table, the server poured over a dashi broth. The foie gras was beautiful and, initially, the strawberry was a welcome inclusion but it did tend to dominate the dish. Greedy Girl didn’t mind it but gluttonous husband found it a bit overpowering.
The fish course was confit wild brill, served with crayfish, poached Gillardeau oysters and summer vegetables. Although an attractive-looking plate, this was the one dish of the evening that didn’t really excite the tastebuds. There was a lot going on. The crayfish, oysters and brill were all quite strong flavours and neither Greedy Girl or gluttonous husband thought they worked together. A garlic foam was poured on the dish at the table and while the moisture was welcome, again, it wasn’t terribly cohesive. The summer vegetables included broad beans, broccolini and some unusual leaves.
Our final savoury course was the replacement for the pigeon. Our server, Caty, had communicated such enthusiasm for the food, we were convinced we needed to come back at some point to give the pigeon a try. But not this night. Our dish was pork belly with girolle mushrooms, cherries and mushroom ketchup.
This was seriously good. The mushrooms and slightly vinegary element of the ketchup worked a treat with the soft, oozy pork and the tang of the cherries. Greedy Girl wanted to lick the plate clean but luckily she had some amazing onion brioche to hand to mop up every last smudge. An utter triumph. If the pigeon is a better dish, then perhaps Greedy Girl needs to give it a chance.
We decided against the optional cheese course, feeling rather full and were shortly presented with our pre-dessert. The sorbet was made from an incredible array of fruits – guava, mango, passionfruit, orange and kaffir lime. When Greedy Girl was typing in her notes on her iPhone, dear old auto-correct wanted to change ‘kaffir’ to ‘haggis’. Now that would have been a taste sensation. The sorbet was served with a coconut mousse, batten of coconut meringue and dried banana chips.
While fresh, tangy and light, it just paved the way for the Best Chocolate Dessert Ever. OMG. This was called ‘Choconuts’ and was the most amazing Guanaja mousse lava cake (an extra-bitter Valrhona chocolate) with a Karukera (rum from Guadeloupe) sorbet, peanut butter, hazelnuts and chocolate flakes. Apparently this is the fifth incarnation of the dessert – our friendly chef updates it from time to time although that seems like a travesty to Greedy Girl who considered it sweet perfection on a plate. Hmmm. Can she get back there before the sixth incarnation is revealed?
Finally, we were treated to some petits fours. Rosemary and chocolate lollipops, ginger, lemongrass and popping candy popsicles, raspberry sable biscuits and melon with kaffir lime. All hoovered up. All delish. Rosemary and chocolate – who would have thought?
At the end of proceedings, the British sous chef, Kirk came out to greet us. He was running the kitchen in Royer’s absence – apparently the young chef was recently married and is on an eating tour to gain further inspiration. Greedy Girl applauds him, Kirk and the team. It was an exceptional meal.
From the very start of the evening, Greedy Girl was reminded of Jean-Luc Rocha’s cuisine at Cordeillan Bages – there were a lot of parallels, both in terms of produce and style. Greedy Girl remarked that the chateau in the Medoc region should be on every foodie’s bucket list. So should Jaan. It was just that good.
Swissotel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Road, Singapore