"Gourmet Japan" is a month-long food festival in Singapore promoting Japanese gastronomy and produce. While Singaporeans have always had a soft spot for Japanese food, there is still a lingering doubt about the safety of Japanese ingredients after the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. So what better way to get over your phobias than increased exposure!
As part of the festival, Au Jardin at the Botanic Gardens hosted a series of dinners this week, featuring guest chef Sebastien Lepinoy of one-Michelin-starred Cepage in Hong Kong. Lepinoy is a protege of Joel Robuchon and won two stars as head chef of the HK L'Atelier de JR, so this was a good chance to taste his food utilising premium Japanese produce, which in any event forms an integral part of his mentor's philosophy.
I need to slip in a word on the service here. I got to Au Jardin absolutely drenched as you can't get a taxi on a rainy day in Singapore to save your life. Restaurant manager Bernard Mak brought out a selection of his own shirts for me and invited me to pick one for the dinner! This was truly hospitality beyond the call of duty and ensured I could enjoy the evening without wheezing into my wagyu. It goes without saying that the service throughout the evening was great.
I must also mention at this point that this was a last minute invitation from Au Jardin literally two hours before dinner started as there had been a late cancellation. So usual disclaimers apply, etc. etc.
Bread Course: Cherry Tomato Foccaccia with Uni and Sakura Ebi
Aperitif: 2002 Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé
This was going to be our staff for the remainder of the evening, freshly-baked bread studded with a glob of sea urchin and sprinkled with crunchy, sweet little dried shrimp. The champagne had a typical yeasty bouquet and an intriguing savoury finish.
First Entrée: Floating Snowball, Floral Bouquet, Chilled Corn Soup, Hidden Treasure of Oscietra Caviar
Wine Pairing: 2010 Alain Calibourdin Pouilly-Fumé, Les Cris
The snowball was a poached meringue, topped with edible flowers from Japan. The sweetness of the chilled soup was punctuated by the odd salty note from the caviar. I’ve never been a big fan of the sturgeon eggs, but this dish was so visually beautiful it didn’t really matter. The wine was a revelation, with some beautiful aromas, smoky and minerally.
Second Entrée: Foie Gras & Anago en Millefeuille, Daikon & Apple Matchstick Salad
Wine Pairing: 2009 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett
Ocean eel (as opposed to the more popular freshwater unagi) and foie gras terrine. You know you are spoilt when you start thinking of this luxurious, delicious terrine as comfort food, but I grabbed the proffered baguette and started slathering on chunks of the good stuff with a dainty scatter of the apple matchsticks. The apple adds a nice crunch and acidity, but for the most part, I just wanted to bask in the unrepentant decadence of the terrine.
I had the 2010 Scharzhofberger a couple of weeks ago, but the 2009 had a far more pronounced petroleum bouquet, but still with a reassuring acidity and lightly sweet citrus on the finish.
Third Entrée: Hokkaido “Uni” over petit Lobster Flan, Light Fennel Emulsion
Wine Pairing: 2009 Daniel Dampt et Fils, Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons
Four pods full of lobster custard, each topped with an intimidating lobe of sea urchin. According to our friendly waiter, chef recommended that we eat the first pod without the fennel, the second one with, and the third and fourth ones to our liking. I liked the uni, the flan was OK, but the flavours were disparate and textures too similar to maintain much interest beyond a couple of bites. The fennel was lightly salty and warm, but added a much-needed “glue” to bind the lobster and sea urchin together. The Chablis was closed, and did not have the lovely minerality of Fevre’s 2009 Vaillons.
Main Course: Kagoshima Beef Tenderloin, Melody of Vegetables and a Touch of Wasabi
Wine Pairing: 2003 Château de Fonsalette, Côtes du Rhône, Cuvée Syrah
The Bizarre Foods guy would describe this dish as “Oh my God, this is meat budderrrrrrrr...” Tender, barely greasy, almost melting in the mouth. The vegetables shared star billing, with their vibrant colour and crunch. The jus was made from a stock and wasabi base, very good. Interestingly, Emily ordered hers well done and there was more pure beef flavour in hers. The Fonsalette had very beautiful flowers on the nose, followed by nice, ripe red fruits on the palate. Top billing for both dish and wine, whether as individual components or a pairing.
Dessert: Trilogy of Sweet Corn Symphony – Soufflé, Ice-cream, Caramel Popcorn
Wine Pairing: 2005 Weingut Hans Tschida, Sämling Trockenbeerenauslese
Great. Ice-cream was pretty much the frozen quintessence of Japanese sweetcorn, and the popcorn was little fun on the side. I love my soufflés and this one proved itself worthy of my affection. The TBA was intriguing, with an almost viscous texture and loads of honey, citrus and crystallised ginger notes. A perfect pairing with the soufflé.
Mignardises: Carolines of chocolate with black sesame, chestnut
I have never heard of Caroline before and presumed that she was Madeleine's long-lost sister. In actual fact, she was a mini-eclair, a little choux tube with Japanese-inspired filling. Not bad, and the coffee was pretty good also, a cut above that at Guy Savoy and other top-tier places I've visited locally.
An excellent dinner in a charming, romantic environment. If you do decide to go to Au Jardin on a rainy day, they run a complimentary transport service from various gates at the Botanic Gardens, so just give them a call when you get there and let them know where you are. Philippe Pau, a charming veteran of the local restaurant industry, will soon appear in his trusty golf buggy and whisk you away to dinner!
More photos at http://julianteoh.blogspot.com/2012/0...