A Maundy Thursday dinner at Pamplemousse confirmed what I have suspected for quite a while: Adrian Ling is quite simply one of the most talented cooks in Singapore today.
I first discovered this unassuming “bistro” in November last year, over two years since it bravely opened its doors in the dog-days of the GFC. Just a little bit of background for those unfamiliar with Pamplemousse, Ling is a former commodities trader who decided to pursue his passion for food and cooking, training first at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa before working for a string of rather famous chefs and establishments in Singapore. I won’t mention them because to do so would be a disservice to Ling. While littered with innumerable reference points, his is a cuisine sui generis. Which would not matter to me at all except that it also happens to be bloody delicious.
I have since returned thrice, making it a point to try new dishes on each occasion. Tonight was going to be no different. Cleo Chiang, Adrian’s partner in life and business, tells me they’ve just revamped the menu, abolishing the old prix fixe three-course concept and introducing a slew of new items. After a quick discussion, Emily and I drafted a selection of rookie dishes. And if there is any justice, these rookies will soon be making a big splash, the Ling-sanity of the Singapore restaurant world.
Amuse Bouche: Crab “Otak” Croquette, Southeast Asian Spices, “chye poh” remoulade sauce (normally part of the lunch menu and chef’s menu)
This is the kind of appetiser that makes you want to amuse your bouche all night. The haunting fragrance of kaffir lime, the perfect and not-at-all-oily crispness of the croquette. The crab is sweet but understated, and the remoulade adds a punchy, savoury undertone. Because the crab flesh is shredded before moulding and not in big juicy chunks, I thought it could do with a little more remoulade, but that is me searching really hard for a fault. For me, this is the kind of food that deserves to be showcased as Exhibit A for modern Singaporean cuisine.
Entrée 1: Wagyu Oxtail and Bone Marrow Ravioli, Indonesian “sup buntut” spiced broth, shallots, chives ($18++/$28++ as a main course)
Entrée 2: Goat Cheese & Beetroot, homemade fresh goat cheese, Sainte-Maure and laksa leaf meringue ($18++)
These are quite classic dishes/combinations, competently executed and nice starts from opposite ends of the flavour spectrum. Worth noting is that Ling makes his own goat curd from fresh Singaporean goat milk, pleasantly acid and fresh-tasting and a great contrast against the pungent Saint-Maure.
Entrée 3: Soft Boiled Egg, coconut water braised Kurobuta pork cheeks, honshimeji mushrooms and Marsala & bone marrow sauce (S20++)
One of the best things I have eaten all year. It is gooey, unrepentantly rich and ridiculously tasty, with a unit of toast soldiers on the side. I had presumed that it was a riff on the classic Singapore breakfast (egg, toast, the coconut in the kaya), but Ling tells me the dish was originally inspired by deconstructing the classic Chinese bak chang rice dumpling, with pork, mushrooms and rice crispies. Somehow, I know not how, the rice went walk-about, but the world is a better place for it regardless.
Main Course 1: Threadfin, braised eggplant & bacalao, tandoori masala, tomato & cheddar, almonds and green olives ($35++)
Gorgeously cooked fish, and a subtly spiced sauce. The olives add a nice acid punch through the rich masala. Emily thought this had a little too much sauce. I just kept quiet and mopped it up with more bread.
Main Course 2: Australian Onglet Steak (200g), pommes purée, caramelized onions, truffle-infused Madeira sauce ($32++)
Chiang tells me that onglet is not popular with Singaporeans, who generally prefer tender, fattier cuts such as ribeye, tenderloin or wagyu anything. The onglet is not the most tender part of the animal, but it compensates with spades of beefy flavour. My steak is well-cooked, well-rested, and has a very nice smoky char. Emily’s dish of the night.
Side Dish: Poutine ($8++)
I love Canadians. And now I love them even more for inventing poutine. Pamplemousse’ interpretation is a commingling of chips, gravy, mozzarella curds and a dash of truffle oil. Great stuff.
Dessert 1: “Milo Dinosaur”, Milo parfait, chocolate streusel, Milo sponge, dulce de leche, brioche , condensed milk ($15++)
This is perhaps the only dish that fell flat on the night. It was inoffensive, and while I do love my Milo, it does not have the strongest chocolate flavour at the best of times and there was a little too much going on here for me.
Dessert 2: Fresh organic milk ice-cream, spiced cake, butterscotch sauce (normally part of the lunch menu)
As I mentioned earlier, Ling loves working with local producers to find the best and freshest ingredients he can find. And look what he found this time: an Italian gentleman in Lim Chu Kang with a 20-strong herd of cows imported from Italy, producing fresh, organic milk (Canta-Latt is the name of the company). Knowing a thing or two about cattle, the first thing that leapt to mind was how do Italian cattle cope, let alone thrive and produce commercial quantities of milk, in our relentless tropical heat and humidity? I guess that’s a trade secret and explains why Mr Cantarella is out there doing while I’m stuck indoors writing about him.
Back to the food. The milk is pasteurised at low temperatures to preserve its flavour, and in Ling’s hands, it becomes a supremely creamy and flavoursome ice-cream with the lightest hint of sourness on the back palate. “Spiced cake” is a kueh lapis without the lapis, and with the addition of a butterscotch sauce, the dessert becomes an Asian-inspired sticky-date pudding and ice-cream. Mind-blowingly delicious and just as rich.
Ling’s food shows a lot of thought and creativity; as he’s fond of saying, there is a story behind every dish. Chiang is an unfailingly elegant presence on the floor, and refreshingly, both of them are here each and every night without fail, taking care of their customers. They are delivering food that excites at a ridiculously high level, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store next. All in all, one of the best dinners I’ve had this year, and at these prices, you won’t find better value anywhere else. Book now.
PAMPLEMOUSSE Bistro & Bar
7 Dempsey Road, #01-04
Tel: +65 6475 0080
For more photos, please visit http://julianteoh.blogspot.com/2012/0...
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