Restaurant Andre, Singapore – eight paths to food heaven
UPDATE: Restaurant Andre was awarded two stars in the first ever Michelin Guide Singapore, 2016.
When Greedy Girl found Taiwan-born chef Andre Chiang in Singapore a few years ago, it was a revelation – on a number of levels. Notorious for her dislike of heights, his restaurant (then called Jaan par Andre) was on the 70th floor of the Swissotel.
The table was by the window (another no no) but, most remarkably, rather than feel uncomfortable the phobia was very quickly forgotten the moment the dishes started to flow. It was the most interesting, flavoursome, exciting food Greedy Girl had tucked into for a long time. The Singapore visit was a stopover on the way to France in 2010. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband immediately booked a table for the stopover on the way back.
Again, they weren’t disappointed but a bit shocked when the delightful German sommelier (more on her later) informed them that Andre was winding down at the Swissotel. It was his final week in the kitchens. We enquired as to what his next move was. Apart from a diplomatic ‘he’s looking to do his own thing’, we were in the dark.
Greedy Girl’s love of Singapore is widely known in her circles. Several trips came and went. Google searches of Andre again pointed to him opening his own establishment but were frustratingly light on detail. Finally Greedy Girl resorted to the ultimate in cyberstalking. Finding ‘Andre Chiang’ on Facebook, she sent him a note. Within the hour, the chef had responded with details of his eponymous restaurant a noodle’s throw from Chinatown.
Restaurant Andre is definitely his own thing. Housed in one of the old colonial buildings on Bukit Pasoh Road, the restaurant itself is cool, stylish, quirky. The food is like coming home. That’s a strange sentiment given the innovation shown in the dishes. The ingredient combinations are not outlandish and weird (et tu Pierre Gagnaire?) but fresh, invigorating and unexpected. Andre showcases his ‘Octaphilosophy’ – eight gastronomic interpretations that sum up his approach to cooking.
This was Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband’s third visit to Restaurant Andre, now approaching its second anniversary, and the physical style is unchanged. Dark timber stairs rise to a pale, cool dining room. Whimsy is provided by a number of very woolly black and silver sheep. All the girl sheep, we were told, are upstairs and the boys downstairs. For this visit, our table was flanked by Lulu and Lily. We asked Andre about the significance of the sheep on our first visit. His response was disarmingly charming – he just liked them.
There are some dishes Andre has kept from his days at Swissotel and even earlier – one dish featuring foie gras was created during his formative years training under some of the greats of French cooking but, again, more on that later.
Admittedly, for an eight-course tasting menu, this is not an inexpensive place to dine – however, there are also a number of mind-bogglingly good amuse bouches and four (count them, four) pre-desserts. For the first time on this visit, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband tried the wine pairing rather than their standard bottle of champagne and ‘sticky’ with the dessert.
And there leads into the story of how gluttonous husband rid himself of the habit of asking for a ‘sticky’ with his pudding. The first visit to Jaan par Andre with the aforementioned delightful German sommelier. “Could I have a sticky?” gluttonous husband asked. She nodded, turned tail and returned a few moments later with a thimbleful of toothpicks – Stickies for you, she said (insert charming German ‘Shtickies’ here). Giggling gluttonous husband had to apologise for the Australian trait of calling everything by a nickname or abbreviation and explain it was our colloquial term for dessert wine, but I digress …
Restaurant Andre serves only French wines and good show, given our first glass was a boutique champagne blanc de blancs, extra brut (Ulysse Collin) to go with the amuse bouches – first a dish of caramelised olives – more than caramel, it was almost a sugar coating. Very different, quite startling in the mouth and down they went.
Then came something we have seen in various guises before – Andre’s plate of ‘snackings’. The most divine patatas bravas you will ever eat, a crisp, dehydrated porcini tart, ‘fish and chips’ (where Greedy Girl ate her first ever crispy fish tail), masala chicken skin, and an Aji tartare served with Japanese chives. All incredibly yummy. The champagne did not last long washing down those treats.
Then came the first of the ‘octaphilosophy’ dishes, being Pure. As a note of explanation, there is no menu, but rather a list of what the various elements of octaphilosophy mean. Diners have the opportunity to rule out particular ingredients. One of Greedy Girl’s was oysters (cooked OK) and beetroot. Gluttonous husband is, naturally on a seafood diet (see food, eat it).
‘Pure’ is essentially a dish that is not ‘cooked’ and has no seasoning added. It was a zucchini gazpacho served with a quenelle of fromage blanc, prawns, mussels and caviar. Extraordinary. The vivid colours were delightful and the taste fresh and balanced.
The next dish ‘Salt’ showcases the briny taste of the ocean. This is where Greedy Girl deviated from the standard, which featured oyster tartare. Her dish was a quenelle of smoked eel mousse and caviar on top of a herb coulis/custard. The eel taste started out strongly but mellowed quickly. Greedy Girl could have easily eaten the lot but agreed to give gluttonous husband a taste. He was beguiled by his, the menu’s prime interpretation of salt – the oyster tartare, topped with a green apple mousse, trout roe, sea coral, sorrel and mushrooms. It was an incredibly pretty dish.
Greedy Girl was persuaded to have a taste – it was far from unpleasant for someone who doesn’t eat raw oysters but just a taste was plenty – a revelation though was that the wine, a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley, really came to life with the dish, whereas didn’t have any near the same impact with the eel dish.
Next up was ‘Artisan’. How do you get people to eat their veggies? By presenting them like this. Braised heritage aubergine was combined with some duck’s tongue and cocks comb. It was served with crispy salsify on aubergine cream. So delightful, fresh and a wonderful mix of textures.
Chef Andre has a great affinity with the south of France and the influences came through in the next dish, aptly named ‘South’, where he tries to capture the flavours through a mix of fresheness, acidity and what he terms a ‘dose of the rustic’.
A stack of round dishes is placed in front of the diner and separated to reveal heirloom tomatoes, tomato sorbet, herbs and a pan seared scallop, while on the right is a homage to seafood – sea urchin risotto presented with a slice of sea bass, a cube of spanish mackerel topped with crab foam and a carpaccio of hamachi, a Japanese fish. This was paired with a viognier/rousanne blend from the Cotes du Rhone. Both ‘sides’ of the dish were masterfully executed although Greedy Girl found the mackerel a little too strong for her taste. Gluttonous husband to the rescue!
We were then ready for ‘texture’. We had tasted this dish in similar guises with Andre before, where an entire ‘risotto’ and accompaniments were all made from squid. This dish once again featured the ‘squid risotto’ with squid ink crisps, dotted with petits pois sitting on a smear of cauliflower puree. Delicious and far from heavy.
The next dish was named ‘unique’. Andre dsecribes this as the possibility of experiencing a common ingredient another way or savouring an exotic ingredient. This version had both. It was barracuda (Greedy Girl is humming the riff from the song by ‘Heart’ as she types), served in tiny ‘rolls’, the fillet stuffed with barracuda tartare and pan seared.
It was interspersed on the plate with green apple disks, three textures of artichoke, parsley puree, black olives, onions and shallots – every day ingredients (well, maybe not the artichokes). Andre holds a special place in Greedy Girl’s heart for his fish dishes. A needle fish dish sampled at Jaan par Andre on the first visit still holds the record for the most amazing fish she has ever eaten.
Only Paul Bocuse’s sole with bruleed cream sauce (and let’s face it, the fish was pretty much just a vehicle for that decadent sauce) comes close to knocking the needle fish off the the top rung. The barracuda was very, very good and apparently tough to find, given it’s almost exclusively hunted as sport fish.
It almost defies the diner when faced with such an exotic species, to contemplate what they’d do if they didn’t enjoy it. Happily, this has not happened to Greedy Girl who estimates chef Andre must have a pretty amazing palate. The wine pairing for these dishes was a gamay from Beaujolais for Greedy Girl and a chardonnay for gluttonous husband. Apart from the Leeuwin Estate art series, Greedy Girl has not met a chardonnay she enjoys and so happily deviated from the standard pairing.
Next up is ‘memory’ – a truly French creation that would be the pride of any three Michelin starred eatery. It’s been a feature of every Andre meal Greedy Girl has consumed, with good reason – he’s been making it since 1998. A ‘reduction’ of foie gras is combined in a high-sided glass bowl with black truffles. Flecks of truffles offer a moment of resistance to the bite. It’s sublime. Greedy Girl used the last skerrick of her bread to mop every morsel. This was paired with a peppery, intense grenache/syrah from the Roussillon region in the south-west of France.
The last of the eight is ‘terroir’ which is described as ‘masculine and unpolished’. This was wow on a plate. Two slices of rare French duck sat on a bed of herbs, carrot puree, mushroom caviar, dehydrated olives and mustard seeds with a medley of green vegetables and top with a splash of jus.
Gluttonous husband has always regarded rare duck with suspicion, having experienced too many chewy dishes. This was not at all chewy. Soft, moist, it went exceedingly well with the puree, mushrooms and mustard seeds. The greens caused Greedy Girl momentary alarm when she chomped down on something very bitter. Gluttonous husband searched his plate and found a ‘baby’ brussels sprout leaf.
Greedy Girl is reminded of the occasion when, on leaving Melbourne’s Vue de Monde she and gluttonous husband were introduced to chef Shannon Bennett. Not a lover of greens, Greedy Girl had been amazed that she had just consumed broad beans – and liked them. She asked if he would be able to pull off a similar miracle with brussels sprouts. His response: ‘I don’t cook what I don’t eat’. Greedy Girl likes his style. Needless to say, gluttonous husband hoovered up the remaining veggies.
And so, it was time for dessert – you’d think. An optional cheese course was offered and gluttonous husband’s hand went up like a shot. Thankfully it was not in ‘French’ proportions. One cow, one goat, one sheep’s cheese with a range of fruit jellies and delightful handmade crispbreads. Greedy Girl watched on, slightly amazed, slightly bemused.
Andre has a signature dessert – his own construction of a Snickers bar, featuring chocolate, caramel, salt, nuts and nougat (featured at the top of this blog). We’ve had it every visit except for the first dining experience at Restaurant Andre where we quizzed him about when it would be back on the menu. But before we got to lick that plate clean, we needed to do battle with four (count them, four) pre-desserts.
There was a soft burrata cheese and tonka bean meringue served with a drizzle of wild honey. Then we were presented fennel meringues with a cucumber jelly, followed by a citrus ball with the lightest possible creamy filling, snap frozen in liquid nitrogen. The last one was freeze dried berries and citrus served in a bowl again with an amazing light creamy accompaniment.
Could you eat another dessert after that? The answer, naturally, is a resounding yes. The wait staff commented they’d be putting the bowls straight back on the shelf after we’d finished with them, so shiny and pristine were they.
And so to coffee – and petits fours. Two types of lollipop – a Japanese peach and passionfruit and strawberry marshmallow, chocolate popcorn, freshly baked madeleines and tiny grapefruit jellies. Done.
The dining room upstairs at Restaurant Andre has only four tables. There are other seats in a long narrow passage and a chef’s table downstairs next to the kitchen. At one of the other tables upstairs, the diners tried to speak English but kept breaking out in rapid-fire Spanish. Our friendly Maitre D, Stepan, later explained that it was part of the team from the late, great El Bulli, in Singapore plotting their next venture which will be part of the Fullerton Bay development opposite Marina Bay Sands.
Among the diners were the former restaurant manager and Ferran Adria’s trusted lieutenant in the kitchen. Greedy Girl’s jaw hit the table at her proximity to such culinary giants and, then, it hit her … she’s become a Gastronomic Groupie, rattling off chef names and ‘signature’ dishes like she used to quote the Black Sabbath back catalogue.
What to do about it? Absolutely nothing, but sit back, open the top button of the trousers, loosen a couple of notches on the belt, let the dresses out – whatever it takes to enjoy this most extraordinarily uplifting and enjoyable pastime of being able to truly share in another person’s creativity and artistry. Hmmm. Time to hit the gym. Greedy Girl needs to make some more room.
With many thanks to Restaurant Andre for the use of the photographs in this blog.
41 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore