Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband travel to Asia a lot and are looking forward to visiting Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand over the course of this year. This week’s announcement of the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants in Asia brought back some very happy memories and resulted in a couple of surprises – from the standpoint of both inclusion and omission. Indeed, she was surprised the inventiveness of Bacchanalia wasn’t recognised. However, here, Greedy Girl shares some thoughts on each of the 12 restaurants on this year’s list she’s been to and will update with further entries from her travels later this year.
#2 Narisawa – Tokyo
This is an elegant, spare, space in the Tokyo suburb of Aoyama-Itchome. The night we visited, it played host to just 18 guests. The room is painted white, with dark timber panelling. There is no art on the walls, no music playing, yet it doesn’t feel cold or sterile. The kitchen, behind a glass wall, is visible to diners (well, for most of the evening, before more dark timber sliding doors covered it over) and there’s a sense of calm.
The menus here are seasonal. On our visit we looked over the ‘Spring Collection’ menu subtitled ‘evolve with the forest’. Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa is dedicated to environmentally sensitive and sustainable practices. Indeed, one of the restaurant’s other awards is the Sustainable Restaurant Award.
The celebration of nature fuses Japanese ingredients, particularly a range of local edible flowers, with French cooking techniques. Narisawa (the chef) left Japan in his late teens to hone his skills in France, Switzerland and Italy. His restaurant (which also has two Michelin stars) was originally called ‘Les Creations de Narisawa’. The food is a theatrical experience (employing a number of little gadgets) and perhaps a major reason why all the other interior aspects are kept so low key.
#5 Restaurant Andre – Singapore
Housed in one of the old colonial buildings on Bukit Pasoh Road, Andre Chiang’s eponymous restaurant is cool, stylish and quirky. Having eaten his food twice when he headed Jaan par Andre in the Swissotel The Stamford, we had very high expectations on our first visit to his own establishment and we weren’t disappointed. The food is like coming home and that’s perhaps a strange sentiment given the innovation shown in the dishes.
The ingredient combinations are not outlandish and weird but fresh, invigorating and unexpected. Andre showcases his ‘Octaphilosophy’ – eight gastronomic interpretations that sum up his approach to cooking. While many of the dishes change from season to season, one constant is the amazing ‘Memory’ pictured left, featuring Andre’s plate-lickingly-good take on foie gras and truffles.
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. It should be on the bucket list for any serious foodie.
#6 Amber – Hong Kong
Amber is helmed by Richard Ekkebus, a Dutchman with an obvious flair and passion for French cuisine – with a few influences from his adopted home town thrown in and in these rankings it remains the top-ranked restaurant in Hong Kong. It’s an elegant space, kept dark and moody morning, noon and night.
Pictured here is the restaurant’s signature ‘fusion’ dish. Hokkaido sea urchin coated in a lobster and langoustine jelly, served on cauliflower ‘panna cotta’ and topped with a quenelle of caviar which, we were told, came from an area of the north China sea near Siberia, and gold leaf (pictured below). Of course, being sea urchin, it required a special spoon, made from mother-of-pearl. The intensity of the jelly was amazing. Each of the individual flavours could be discerned and they popped on the tastebuds one after another. Such a clever dish. It was served with a dish of various seaweed crisps. The idea, we were told, was to have a spoonful of the dish first, ensuring we got all the elements at once, and then to use the crisps as ‘toast’. Absolutely yummy.
Amber is very much a luxe experience. The Mandarin Oriental group is certainly one of the greatest global hotel chains for the quality of restaurant (and chef) it attracts.
#9 Waku Ghin – Singapore
Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda has called Sydney home for more than 30 years and started his culinary odyssey there as a humble kitchen hand. It didn’t take long for Sydney’s restaurant luminaries at the time to recognise he had talent. Inside a decade, Tetsuya had not only opened his eponymous restaurant which has become a required experience for any self-respecting foodie in Australia, but was also recognised as one of the world’s elite chefs for the way he pioneered the fusion of Japanese and French cooking.
So when Tetsuya spread his wings and opened Waku Ghin in the ritzy Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband sought reservations. The settings could not be more different. In Sydney, Tetsuya’s is found in a very rare spot – a standalone low-rise building surrounded by an exquisite Japanese-style garden in the heart of the CBD. While there are a couple of smaller rooms, the dining area is dominated by a large main room overlooking the garden. In Singapore, Waku Ghin is on one of the lower floors of Marina Bay Sands, with the entrance overlooking the casino’s main gaming floor. Inside, it’s divided into a number of small rooms, each seating around eight people on high stools in front of a central food preparation area, or ‘teppan’.
This is a restaurant that focuses on the very best ingredients, prepared quickly and simply with an understated level of finesse. It’s an amazing experience.
#11 Jaan – Singapore
The maxim of not eating in restaurants with a spectacular view doesn’t hold true at Jaan.
On the 70th floor of the Swissotel The Stamford, Jaan has an amazing outlook, particularly with the delightful table for two we always seem to get on our three previous visits – overlooking that architectural wonder, Marina Bay Sands. French chef Julien Royer is undoubtedly one of the rising stars of gastronomy and his touch here is assured, inventive and downright tasty.
Royer took over Jaan from previous head chef Andre Chiang, who now heads up his eponymous Restaurant Andre. While Andre’s food is undoubtedly one of the great treats any fine dining lover can have in Singapore, Royer has proved he’s no slouch. This is very, very good cooking, with inventive ingredients and a lot of skill and technique on show.
The slow-cooked eggs were a particular triumph, as was the cepe mushroom sabayon, pictured here, just one of the snacks before you order your main menu. Delicious.
#13 Les Amis – Singapore
While the rest of the Shaw Centre, on the corner of Orchard and Scotts Roads in Singapore has been undergoing a prolonged refurbishment, one small corner has remained the same for a great many years – Les Amis. This understated and elegant French restaurant was founded in 1994. It has done a brisk trade in the classics, with a few little Asian sensibilities thrown in ever since.
While other restaurants have come and gone, this one has endured. Indeed, the entire strip in this little side street on Claymore Hill is dominated by the Les Amis group, with five outlets – two French, one Italian, one Japanese and a wine bar.
The executive chef is now Sebastien Lepinoy, a protege of the great Joel Robuchon; Lepinoy replaced long-standing head chef Armin Leitgeb, moving over from the group’s Michelin-starred Cepage in Hong Kong. It’s one of the longest-standing fine dining restaurants in Singapore, with very good reason. While chefs may come and go, the focus remains squarely on the cooking and the restaurant continues to live up to very lofty expectations.
#17 L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon – Hong Kong
No matter what city you’re in, heading to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon gives a feeling of familiarity, comfort and certainty. In Hong Kong’s Central district, the restaurant has three Michelin stars so obviously is no poor relation to Paris or any of the other Ateliers around the world.
The decor and kitchen set up is virtually identical, as are the less than convincing responses of ‘oui’ from the predominantly Chinese chefs when an order is called. High velvet stools surround the kitchen giving you a great vantage point to see a top team in action. The chefs operate in near silence and it’s every man and his tweezers in the painstaking plating of the dishes.
As you’d also expect, some of the plates on offer are the same as previously experienced in Paris and Singapore. This, however, was the first time Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband had attended for lunch and the set options give a great opportunity to experience such high quality food at a reasonable price point. No matter what time of day you decide to go, you’ll be assured of a top-notch, creative and satisfying culinary experience.
#18 Iggy’s – Singapore
The last time Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband dined at Iggy’s, it was Singapore’s top-ranked restaurant on the San Pellegrino listings and still located in the Regent Hotel. The experience was, quite frankly, underwhelming. Given a number of reports that indicated it had been given ‘a new lease of life’ by its move to the Hilton on Orchard Road, and the fact that it still scored highly on various epicurean rankings, we decided to give it another chance. It’s a slightly unusual restaurant in that it’s named for the sommelier, Ignatius Chan rather than the chef.
The location of the restaurant (next to the Hilton grand ballroom) often results in a burst of loud noise every time the imposing black sliding door at the entrance opens if there’s a function taking place, but the main dining room (there’s a separate bar area) is an intimate, if rather chilly area (apparently the restaurant has no control over the air-con) with just 22 seats the night we visited.
In its previous incarnation, the dining room was again very small and the bar seating overlooked a semi-open kitchen. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband kept glimpsing the chefs at work through a sliding glass door that kept opening to ferry the dishes. There are three choices on offer for dinner – a five course degustation, a 10 course and a vegetarian menu.
Iggy’s provided an enjoyable evening. It may not have had the gastronomic heights of some of the other leading food experiences in Singapore or elsewhere but it was all consumed with glee – definitely a better experience the second time around.
#28 Bo Innovation – Hong Kong
Hong Kong chef Alvin Leung Jr obviously isn’t a shy lad. On the website for his restaurant Bo Innovation, he says he does for Chinese cuisine what Picasso did for art. The philosophy here is ‘X-treme’ Chinese food (his term, his spelling). Leung wants to challenge long-held perceptions of what Chinese cuisine looks and tastes like.
Leung has also been known to refer to himself in various media reports as the ‘demon chef’. This tattooed wizard with streaked hair (his current publicity shots have it a nice shade of purple) is one part cook, one part rock star. Could his establishment possibly live up to the hype?
OMG. Yes. Even though we opted for the ‘smallest’ tasting menu – only nine courses, not including amuse bouche and petits-fours, three courses in, we were wondering how quickly we could return to Hong Kong to try the full-on 14 course extravaganza. It was just that good. Leung, who also has a restaurant in London, is a self-taught cook of extraordinary skill. The finesse of some of these dishes needs to be seen and tasted. If you’re not in Hong Kong, hop a plane. Immediately.
#30 Burnt Ends – Singapore
A surprise entry for Greedy Girl, but she was delighted to see Perth native Dave Pynt’s food recognised this way. Dave is a well-travelled fellow. His road to heading up the extraordinary Burnt Ends in Singapore has seen him head to the Michelin-starred Etxebarri grill restaurant near Bilbao in northern Spain, with stints also in the UK. There’s one element though that is constant – realising the potential for cooking great produce on a wood-fired grill. His Singapore restaurant is a long, narrow space in Chinatown, dominated by a custom-built dual cavity oven. According to the restaurant’s website, it weighs four tonnes. The coals that come out of the oven also fire a number of elevation grills and turn meats, seafood and vegetables into a range of delicious plates.
The restaurant only takes bookings for sittings at 6pm or 6.30pm. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband headed in early and were rewarded with prime seats along the counter, in front of the bevy of chefs hard at work. Props to the air-conditioning system; we were so close to all these roaring fires but the temperature remained very comfortable – for the patrons; no doubt it was rather hotter on the chefs’ side of the divide. There’s a daily menu, depending on what’s available although some dishes as the ‘Burnt Ends sanger’ (pictured here) are staples.
#36 Tippling Club – Singapore
With expat British/Australian chef Ryan Clift presiding (ex Vue de Monde) we wended our way to the Tippling Club which then had only relatively recently moved into new digs at Tanjong Pagar. The location seems to have struck a chord – the bar area was full and a steady stream of patrons flowed into the main dining area. Given the chef’s pedigree, Greedy Girl supposes it wasn’t too surprising that the crowd sounded overwhelmingly Australian.
Tippling Club has two tasting menus – five or 10 courses plus treats. Having cancelled our first attempt to get to the restaurant because of some tummy woes, we opted for a conservative approach and went for the ‘Classic’ five courses. The pacing of dishes here was fairly rapid fire. Like Vue de Monde, most of the food was presented and explained by a chef to augment the rather economical descriptions on the menu. First up we enjoyed a selection of snacks, including a Singapore curry (pictured here). The glass was sealed with a little metallic top that needed to be peeled off. It was fragrant, tasty and the texture provided by puffed rice on the top was delightful. Delish. Greedy Girl got every skerrick out of the bowl and would have been happy to mop with bread – if there had been any. She estimates it’s the first restaurant of this style of food she’s been to where no bread was on offer. The food was very good but Greedy Girl couldn’t make up her mind whether she wants to try more from this chef. She’ll be looking to the blogosphere for more recommendations.
#45 Osteria Mozza – Singapore
Greedy Girl is very surprised that this made it into the top 50 list. While the food was perfectly acceptable, she felt it wasn’t a patch on her other experience of the franchise, in Los Angeles. That visit saw a lively, light space, already bustling in the early evening with a great bar, a wonderful atmosphere and the food experience was absolutely top notch. Greedy Girl still has fond memories of one of her all-time favourites, tortellini in brodo. So, looking for another Italian fix in Singapore, she persuaded gluttonous husband to jump on the SMRT and head for Marina Bay Sands.
The restaurant is divided into the osteria and a pizzeria. Asking our concierge to make us a booking (the Singapore restaurant does not offer online bookings), we were initially told our preferred time of 7.30pm was not available – indeed the earliest was 9pm. Persistence paid off and the booker relented – we could come in at the time we’d originally sought. On being seated, Greedy Girl glanced around the room. It was half empty. There’s also a great number of seats at the bar available and only a couple were occupied. She wondered what the fuss was about during the booking process.
The internal space in the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands is kept quite dark and moody – and so is the restaurant. It’s a perma-gloom which showcases the bar area. The food was presented well, if without any great flair. Once again Greedy Girl went for the tortellini in brodo (pictured here) and was satisfied, if not blown away.