Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bacchanalia: Sharing Plates of Ingenuity (from Chefs Who Trained at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck)

UPDATE 2015: Bacchanalia has moved to Hong Kong Street
UPDATE 2016: The Kitchen at Bacchanalia wins one Michelin star

Bacchanalia - dining area

Bacchanalia is a beautiful place. The grand lush interiors are a stunning backdrop for avant garde cuisine, carefully crafted cocktails and divine conversation.

The trio of chefs - Executive Head Chef Ivan Brehm, Sous Chef Mark Ebbels and Executive Pastry Chef Kostas Papathanasiou - all trained at Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck. Chef Ivan also worked in the kitchens of Per Se, Mugaritz and Hibiscus.

So you can expect familiar classics from East and West reinvented and given unexpected twists.
But the saying "good food is hard to find" takes on new meaning at Bacchanalia. I'm talking about its location - 23A Coleman Street. It's right in the heart of the city, but the building is so easy to miss.

Here, it's in the Masonic Hall, a building cloaked in history, enigma and possibly invisibility. Where is it? Up the other side of Coleman Street (the Fire Station side), just before the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

There isn't a signboard, although there is a lit balloon with logo somewhere. Not even a signage for the right door to enter (we pulled open one to someone's office). I guess there are strict regulations on what you can or not do at this historic building.

But once you are down the right rabbit hole, the wonders begin.

Quince And Foie Gras Parfait Cone

Quince And Foie Gras Parfait Cone (amuse bouche)
Creamy foie gras parfait is encased in a crisp pastry cone. Served with generous shavings of truffle.

The amuse bouche already is a treat. Fruit and foie gras complement well, and the truffle just ups the ante. Plus crunchy cone? Win. Even the grains of uncooked rice look so good. I must be hungry as I write this.

The menu is divided into Vegetables, Meat, Seafood and Desserts. Portions are bigger than appetizers but smaller than main courses, so as to encourage more plates for sharing.

Let's start with vegetables, and these are by no way token.

Aubergine Assam
Aubergine Assam (S$18)
Tamarind glazed aubergines, with aubergine puree, and salted kombu crumbs

I really liked this. The sweetish sour glaze on grilled aubergines and salted seaweed crumbs make a pleasingly addictive flavour combination.

Cauliflower Gratin
Cauliflower Gratin (S$17)
You won't recognise this classic dish with Chef Ivan's modern update. Cauliflower florets are gently cooked in spiced milk, breaded and deep fried till crisp and golden brown. Kind of like very tasty croutons. The florets are submerged in a feather light white truffle & cheese foam, and served with scamorza cheese. A herb gremolata offers cleansing acidity and contrast to this rich dish.

Amaretti Di Saronno
Amaretti Di Saronno (S$19)
This is a spin on a classic Northern Italian flavor pairing of amaretti biscuits and pumpkin which is traditionally used as a filling for pastas or pies.

Butternut squash is confit in olive oil, sage and orange. An egg yolk is cooked at 63 C and coated in sumac. This forms the sauce for the dish. The dish is served with goat cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, pickled butternut squash, pumpkin puree and amaretti biscuit crumbs which are dried and flavoured with the oil used to confit the butternut squash. It is drizzled with pumpkin oil and balsamic vinegar.

The way to eat this is to mix it all up! Which I did with a heavy heart, because it all looked too pretty to be disturbed. But the final gooey mixture is a comforting treat.

French Onion Soup
French Onion Soup (S$20, serves two)
Onions are caramelized at 80 degrees C for three days to develop their natural sugars and add depth of flavor without compromising their more delicate aroma compounds. This forms the base of the broth which is served table side in a small teapot. The dish is served with caramelized white onions, crispy cheddar nuggets, home-made rye bread and ricotta cheese which is also made in house and garnished with Thai basil flowers and leaf.

This is probably the most concentrated French onion soup I've had. The natural sweetness amplified is amazing. The sharp cheddar nuggets help to cut through that and add more dimension to the soup.

Tahitian Vanilla Confit Salmon
Tahitian Vanilla Confit Salmon (S$32)
The fish is Scottish farm-raised salmon from Loch Duart (one of the cleanest water supplies in the world). The fish is brined for ½ day in a salt and sugar solution. It is then left to confit in olive oil and Tahitian vanilla. It is served with a roasted garlic puree, a refreshing shaved fennel salad, orange and black olive tapenade and a honey-lemon emulsion made from the white part of the lemons.

I was at first skeptical if vanilla would gel with salmon. Surprisingly, it was all very clean-tasting and the subtleness worked. But I still think the best way to enjoy salmon is to have it raw.

HD Scallops
HD Scallops (S$38 - for two, I think)
No, HD does not refer to High Definition, although the intensity of the dish may have you think so. These are Hand-Dived scallops, gently seared on the plancha. Accompanying them are borlotti beans that have been sous vide cooked and reheated in butter, tarragon, kombu, lemon-zest, lemon juice emulsion and a scallop skirt stock.

The final dusting of cocoa powder is meant to provide contrast and enhance the perception of creaminess in the beans. But truth be told, I'd rather have the wonderful scallop taste come through un-muddied.

Hamachi Carambola
Hamachi Carambola (S$26)
This is farm-raised hamachi from Japan, cured in seasonal citrus (in this case grapefruit, lemon and orange). The garnish party atop the fish comprises pickled starfruit, slivers of pickled garlic, dehydrated melon flavoured with thyme and a hint of rose/lychee. Served with dollops of walnut praline.

Personally, this one was a little too subtle in flavour and the hamachi was still more sashimi-like than cured (maybe I'm too used to thinly sliced cured hamachi).

48 HR Pork Belly
48 HR Pork Belly (S$32)
The pork belly is cooked in its own brine for 48 hours – which preserves its juiciness while making it tender, supple and still pink. This dish is a traditional marriage of braised red cabbage, pork and apples. Apples are served pickled and raw in this dish. Red cabbage is braised for 2 hours in butter and apple cider vinegar. Garnished with giant capers from Sicily.

This is seriously good, although there will be the inevitable comparisons drawn with local Chinese-style roast pork.

Foie Gras Satay
Foie Gras Satay (S$30)
Foie Gras is sous vide cooked from frozen before being finished with a blow torch.
The dish is served with a tamarind gel infused with lemongrass and ginger
It is finished with grated chestnuts and a peanut satay sauce made with Bachanalia’s sambal, lemongrass, ginger and gula melaka.

Now I have to say the satay sauce is excellent. So is the amazingly tender foie gras. They seem better separate than together though.

Wagyu short rib
Wagyu short rib ((S$50)
Tajima wagyu short rib (marble grade 6) is braised for 48 hours before being lightly grilled on Bacchanalia’s own robatayaki. It is served with slivers of pickled radish and daikon and miso mayonnaise.

Now this is something that will make you sing. What a dreamy slab of wagyu. It's already good on its own, and I rather think the pickled radish and daikon do well as palate cleansers in between slices.

White Chocolate & Cherry Tart
White Chocolate & Cherry Tart (S$14)
Almonds and cherries share flavour molecules that when added, maximise one’s flavour experience. They are also a traditional marriage found across Europe. A buttery pastry casing is filled with morello cherry fluid gel and finished with a white chocolate and almond ganache. The dish is garnished with almonds, amaretto jelly cubes, crystallised white chocolate and an almond fluid gel seasoned with salt. Served with a morello cherry sorbet.

I'm not a white chocolate fan, but this tart is genius. God, the amount of work that went into this.

Tiramisu like you've never seen before
Tiramisu (S$18)

This is a Tiramisu that looks nothing like tiramisu.

There are many layers of surprise inside this Tiramisu
A revisited classic of Marsala mousse, coffee and cocoa gel.
The base of the dish conceals a surprise of popping candy.
It is served with a blackcurrant sorbet.

Pop rocks seem to be making a comeback; I find it in so many fine-dining desserts these days. Oh, they always add an element of fun. And the tiramisu itself is delicious.

Chef Ivan of Bacchanalia
Here's Chef Ivan in his office. He is actually from Brazil, but his culinary training has taken him around the world - Culinary Institute of America, Thomas Keller's Per Se, and David Shea's Applewood in New York. Then it was to Spanish Basque country where Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz taught him that food could be poetic and evocative.

Ivan also spent time in Italy before moving to London, working most famously under Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck. In four years, he became development chef of Heston's Experimental Kitchen. Scientific precision and research were critical, but so was food to be enjoyed as a holistic experience.

He was really lovely to speak with, and strongly believes in mentoring his staff rather than lording it over them. He also credits his love of food from his two grandmothers who were great cooks.

Backstage at Bacchanalia
We got a peek at the sleek and modern kitchen. So very clean and filled with interesting gadgets.

Over at the bar, Head Mixologist Mark Thomas works with Chef Ivan to devise cocktails that pair well with the dishes. Unique flavour profiles, house-infused spirits and ingredients are showcased in these cocktails. For purists, there is also a curated list of wines, champagnes, craft spirits and sake. Psst, Tuesday night is Ladies night.

The decor design is by Josh Held, inspired by the colours and movement of champagne. I love the canopies of hand-blown illuminated glass bubbles from the US.

It's all very pretty and helps make dining here memorable. The food alone will certainly spark conversation. However, with such experimental cuisine, you may find different people have different opinions of the same dish.

23A Coleman Street
Singapore 1798806
Mon-Thurs 6PM to 12AM
Fri 12PM to 3PM, 6PM to 2AM
Sat 6PM to 2AM

39 Hong Kong Street,
Singapore 059678
Tel: +65 9179 4552
Operating Hours
Lunch:   Tuesday to Friday, 12pm - 2:30pm (last order)
Dinner:   Monday to Saturday, 6pm - 10:30pm (last order)


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