Singapore fine dining – the joy of Odette
Singapore is a hot spot for food – everything from the humblest hawker stall to some of the very best fine dining the world has to offer.
For many years, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband jumped on a plane at least three times a year to go eat their hearts out in Singapore. As other destinations have come to the fore, Singapore has slid a little on the list of priorities, especially with cheap flights to so many other Asian destinations from Australia.
But for the first time in 18 months we were back and lapping up the many and varied foodie experiences this amazing city-state provides. While we’re far from food snobs, we have a preference for the high-end and Singapore fine dining is often as good as it gets.
Love was in the air in Singapore on Valentine’s Day. It seems every able-bodied individual was on the streets with a bucket of long-stemmed red roses wrapped in cellophane hanging from their arms. No doubt they had plenty of takers but Greedy Girl was far from disappointed to not receive a floral tribute on this most romantic of days. They make her sneeze. End of story.
Much more romantic was the prospect of a world-class feed. We headed for Odette, housed in the spectacular heritage National Gallery of Singapore building down near City Hall. Interestingly, the building also is home to the Supreme Court, a museum and a number of other high-class eating and drinking establishments. Definitely a multi-purpose destination.
Trying to fit in a little extra incidental exercise before stuffing ourselves with exceptional food, we decided to take the excellent SMRT system to City Hall station and have a leisurely walk past St Andrew’s Cathedral down to the restaurant. Getting drowned by a passing rainstorm was not on the agenda and when we arrived at Odette’s entrance, we were rather bedraggled. We moved off to the restrooms to towel off and, when we sat down in the light and bright restaurant, the staff were kind enough to offer Greedy Girl a warm (and dry) wrap to put around her cold shoulders.
Odette is the labour of love for French chef Julien Royer. We’d eaten his food previously at Jaan, atop the Swissotel the Stamford, just a short walk from his current digs. Royer is a protege of legendary French chef Michel Bras at his famed fine dining establishment Laguiole. During his tenure at Jaan, Royer took it into the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants; the staff were eagerly anticipating the announcement of the 2017 list (in Greedy Girl’s hometown of Melbourne) in the hope that Odette (named after the chef’s grandmother) would make its debut.
The main restaurant floor abuts a bar area and the kitchen. There is also a separate private dining room that seats up to 12 people. Being Valentine’s Day, it was hardly surprising to see the restaurant set up for tables of two. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband gratefully settled into a crescent-shaped upholstered banquette and proceeded to dry out their clothes and hair.
There are a number of menu options – a ‘business lunch’ where diners can choose options from four courses, a standard degustation and a vegetarian degustation and the Valentine’s special – eight courses featuring the chef’s signature dishes. No surprises what Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband plumped for.
Ordering a bottle of delicious Vouette et Sorbee champagne (which we’d enjoyed previously at Dinner by Heston in Melbourne, as a great champagne to go with a tasting menu), we were promptly offered some little snacks to start our fine dining journey.
We were recommended to start from the bottom up. First was an onion cream tart, followed by a fluffy whipped piece of Comte cheese, a pita bread stuffed with an aubergine mix and topped with olive oil pearls and finally a honey and mustard tart with lentils. All were delicious and primed our tastebuds.
The amuse bouche followed. This was a variation on a dish we’d had at Jaan – the chef’s cepe mushroom sabayon with mushroom tea. Underneath the foamy top is a selection of mushroom slices plus toasted buckwheat – deliciously crunchy. It’s a sensational dish. We were offered little mushroom brioches on the side. Greedy Girl ate every skerrick.
As we awaited the start of the menu proper, a bread selection was brought to the table, accompanied by a housemade butter and a pork fat spread topped with jamon. If that wasn’t decadent enough, the ‘bread’ selection consisted of truffled brioche, some onion and cheese brioches and a rye sourdough.
Now, bread is a bit of a trap in a tasting menu. Greedy Girl tends only to use it to mop up remnants of sauces but the truffle brioche was just too good. They went in a flash and gluttonous husband promptly ordered another round. Bad, yes, but bad in a good way.
It was time to start the first of our eight courses. We began with Hokkaido uni (sea urchin) with a Trondheim bay scallop tartar, a mussel ‘cloud’ and Oscietra caviar on top. Such a pretty dish and so incredibly well balanced. Of all the sea urchin we’ve eaten, we’ve never enjoyed it as much as in this combination. The dish also featured some Granny Smith apple and that gave it a sweetness and crunch that was utterly perfect. An unqualified yum.
We then moved to the dish at the top of this post – a celebration of avocado, served with dill, creme fraiche, blood orange segments and what the waiter termed a cucumber ‘nage’ – the pool of green sauce you can see. This is most often used as a poaching liquid for seafood and then served up thickened with some cream. The skill involved in cutting ribbons of avocado is not to be underestimated. It was a fresh, vibrant and delicious dish and the little punctuations from the blood orange and creme fraiche were very welcome.
We then moved to langoustine. Presented on a handmade plate, this was a stunning dish. The langoustines were accompanied by textures of Jerusalem artichoke, samphire and a gel containing bergamot. What a plate of food! The crispy artichoke was particularly good. Another yum.
The chef has a great knack for varying the intensity and richness of his dishes. Next up we had an incredibly rich plate, a confit organic egg yolk ‘tart’. Here’s how it arrives at the table.
The tart is topped with a disc made from black truffle and another from incredibly thin and crispy filo pastry. Lifting those off reveals the joys underneath.
This was a combination of jamon, Cevennes onions and the egg, which oozed forth in all its vibrant lusciousness when pierced with a fork. So good, so rich, so decadent.
We moved back to a vegetable dish – this was asparagus ‘Domaine Saint Vincent’ with a vin jaune emulsion (from the Rhone region of France) and glazed morel mushrooms – so good! The asparagus was resistant to the bite and the morel mushrooms built in flavour in the mouth. Scrumptious.
We were seriously starting to struggle but there was still a lot more to come. Next up, we moved to fish. This was described as ‘Kinmedai’ – a Japanese snapper, served ‘comme en provence’ on top of grilled fennel, tomatoes and a deep and satisfying bouillabaise. Gluttonous husband commented he wished he could get that depth of flavour into his stock. Poured at the table, the wait staff (who were excellent throughout and obviously incredibly well trained) managed to create an attractive pool on the side of the fish, which had a crispy skin. So many times Greedy Girl has dined out on the promise of crispy skin, to see it go soggy when a sauce is poured over the top. Not this time. Delish!
Our final savoury course was a quail and foie gras ‘duo’. The quail breast had been rolled and stuffed with foie gras. The waiter sliced the little sausage at the table and placed half on each plate. As he did so, he warned that it might ooze out – not that there’s anything wrong with that! It was served with a barley risotto, a delcious jus gras, chanterelle mushrooms and slices of black truffle. OMG. So good. The only quibble for Greedy Girl – not enough foie gras. She didn’t communicate this at the time but in conversation with gluttonous husband later, he said his piece had an enormous quantity. Drat! Obviously it had settled in ‘his’ half of the breast.
As our final savoury course, we asked the wait staff if we could finish our champagne before dessert was served. As you’d expect in a restaurant of this calibre, that wasn’t a problem at all. Our delightful waiter did check back with us a little later to ask if we were happy to have our palate cleanser served before the last of the bubbles. All good.
That was a rather odd combination, it had to be said of pumpkin, earl grey, apricot ice and matcha (green tea). It wasn’t Greedy Girl’s favourite she has to admit and gluttonous husband also marked it way down his list. Still, if you’re going to have a dish that you don’t particularly relish, probably the palate cleanser would be the one.
As the champagne was drained, we were brought our dessert. The wait staff had already asked if we’d like coffee and suggested having it after the sweets (another big tick – very smart individuals!). Greedy Girl had already expressed the hope of having a chocolate dessert and that was granted. This was various textures of guaranja chocolate with a little caramel thrown in and a foamy chocolate sauce piped over the top by a chef as it was served. Delicious, but quite heavy.
Gluttonous husband was brought the standard dessert for the tasting menu – a celebration of lychees with almond, rose and hibiscus. He commented how fresh, tangy and light the dish was – a perfect foil for the rest of the menu. Importantly for him, it wasn’t overly sweet. He was well pleased.
Shortly thereafter, our espressos arrived – a single for Greedy Girl and double for gluttonous husband, plus a selection of petits fours – grapefruit meringues, canele de Bordeaux, mango jellies and some salted caramel toffees. All delish, especially the grapefruit meringue which was a revelation.
And we were done – we weren’t the last table to sit down but we were certainly the last to leave, having savoured this exceptional food for the best part of three hours.
Julien Royer is obviously a chef with an exceptional palate, matched by incredible technical skill. Greedy Girl fully expects Odette to make it into the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – with a bullet. If you’re in Singapore, treat yourself. It’s world-class cooking.
National Gallery of Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Road