Friday, May 4, 2012

That Supper with Andre: the DBS Underground Supperclub with Andre Chiang

UPDATE 2016: Restaurant Andre has won two Michelin stars

The New York Times gushed about Restaurant ANDRE as one of "10 Restaurants Worth A Plane Ride" but we won't need plane tickets to savour Chef Andre Chiang's culinary genius. He is right here at Bukit Pasoh in Chinatown.

DBS Underground Supperclub with Andre Chiang

Now that I have finally tried his cooking, I will say that all the raves I've heard are truly well-deserved. His is now officially now the best restaurant in Singapore (in my humble books). Andre was also recently ranked no.68 in the San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants 2012, up from no.100 when he newly opened last year.

So, it's no surprise that the most recent DBS Underground Supperclub with Andre was so popular they had to open up a second event. Both were sold out.

For this special event, he was asked to create "Food for the soul". He jotted down what he liked - several favourite ingredients - and started pairing them. Although he had only been expected to come up with four to five dishes, he emerged with nearly a dozen! So these were served tapas style.

"I just wanted to create something simple but tasty, something you can eat today and don't mind eating again tomorrow. Just three or four ingredients," he said.

Now simplicity is one of the most difficult things to pull off. Those three to four ingredients have to sync together really well not only for the perfect flavour combination, but also to excite or surprise the palate. Needless to say, Andre's creations shone.

All these are not on the regular menu, but he is considering adding them.

Let's take a look.

Iced Jabugo shot, grilled "pain de campagne" and tomato puree
Iced Jabugo shot, grilled "pain de campagne" and tomato puree.

Jabugo is one of the finest Spanish hams (jamon = love!), so it was quite novel having it as an icy liquid. Went beautifully with the cheese, tomatoes and toast.

Brittany "petit gris" (baby grey prawns actually), thyme flower, lemon
Brittany "petit gris" (baby grey prawns actually), thyme flower, lemon.

Almost like the Japanese kawa-ebi (river shrimp) but these are a lot bigger and bolder in flavour. Crispy, smoky and so umami.

Cured rockfish, peach, vinaigrette Champagne rose
Cured rockfish, peach, vinaigrette Champagne rosé

This tasted even more beautiful than it looks. Fruity with a hint of tart - perfect flavours to set off the freshness of the fish.

Atlantic eel, Champignon de Paris, wild herbs
Atlantic eel, Champignon de Paris, wild herbs

The mushrooms are underneath the green herb puree. Very appetising.

Kyoto aubergine, braised cockscomb, fried duck tongue
Kyoto aubergine, braised cockscomb, fried duck tongue

It's not every day you get to eat cockscomb in Singapore. It's got quite an unusual texture. The duck tongue made me think of Taiwan (they love this there!), where Andre is from.

Langoustine tartar, dashi granite, Ocietra caviar
Langoustine tartar, dashi granite, Ocietra caviar

Dashi in granite form! What a brilliant idea. Loved how it perked up the langoustine.

Pulpo a feira, Smoked paprika, Potato Souffle
Pulpo a feira, Smoked paprika (from Basque), Potato Souffle

This evokes Spain in all its savoury glory. I can wax lyrical about it, but really, you have to taste it for yourself. That goes for most of his dishes.

Spanish omelette, as yet undressed, with chorizo and onion marmalade
Spanish omelette, as yet undressed, with chorizo and onion marmalade. Just look at how amazing that yolk looks. The eggs are from black chickens which we normally use for herbal soups. These eggs are smaller but much richer in taste.

Andre dispensing foam of mashed potato onto the Spanish Omelette
Chef Andre dispensing "foam of mashed potato" onto the Spanish Omelette - he did this for every single guest.

The completed "Spanish Omelette" with chorizo and onion marmalade
The completed "Spanish Omelette" - burst open that yolk and let it ooze over the chorizo, potatoes and onions. I swear you'll want nothing else but this for breakfast every day.

Interestingly, I also had some eggs at JAAN earlier in the same day with iberico, chanterelles and porcini. Two very different and elegant renditions of eggs.

Andre showing us the eggs from black chickens that he discovered by happy accident from a supplier who didn't have enough regular eggs for him

Andre showing us the eggs from black chickens - they are small indeed. He discovered by happy accident from a local supplier who didn't have enough regular eggs for him one day, and topped up with some of these eggs from black chickens. After Andre tried them, he requested only these eggs be delivered henceforth. But supply is not as regular, so if there's eggs on the menu, count yourself lucky!

Andre sat down and chatted with us

With the Supperclubs, the chefs come around, mingle and talk to the guests. It was just fascinating to have Andre pull up a chair next to you and chat.

I asked him what his earliest and most significant memory of food was. He told us about how he was not allowed to eat out as a school kid. His mom who worked in a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo placed such importance on food, that she would personally cook his lunch at 11.45am and hop on a bike to bring him his lunch box. Freshly prepared food every day. According to her, "Food is very important. You cannot just eat anything."

That really struck a chord in me.

So often, we settle for bad or poor food simply because we are too busy/tired/apathetic/lazy/etc. And here, this woman not only believed in proper food, but followed through with such dedication and determination. Love expressed via food.

Chef Andre says, "To me, cooking is a very personal and intimate thing. You are feeding another person. It's not just a commercial behaviour, it's that personal, it's that intimate."

"Here, this building is like a home. The kitchen is at the back. You see me every day here. If I'm not here, we close. I just hope people come in and enjoy themselves," he added.

Grilled shortrib dusted with leek ash, topped with fresh mustard cooked in mushroom stock; eggplant caviar on potato; Piersiade sauce

Andre saved the best course as his "Surprise Dish" - this turned out to be my favourite.

Grilled shortrib dusted with leek ash, topped with fresh mustard cooked in mushroom stock. It's accompanied by eggplant caviar on potato, and a creamy green Piersiade - a mayo of parsley and garlic. Ingenious! It's crazy mad delicious, and I really hope this goes onto the regular menu at Andre's!

Chef Andre continued to elaborate on how the kitchen works. There is no menu, no dish is fixed. They work by components, much like a Chinese restaurant (that's how they are able to conjure up hundreds of dishes, with variations on ingredients).

What happens is every day, they get the freshest produce shipped in - say a 6kg box of seafood from Tsukiji Market. It's a surprise box. They don't know what's in it, only that it's the freshest items from the market. Then they figure out what to do with the ingredients.

The importance of freshness cannot be understated. Chef Andre emphasizes, "You can do many things, but the only flavour you cannot create is freshness. So you must start with fresh produce."

We continued on to pre-dessert.

Purified yoghurt, mara de bois, marshmallow
Purified yoghurt, mara de bois, marshmallow.

It is so pretty - look at the tiny flowers!
This is so pretty. Look at the tiny flowers! That mara de bois strawberry is also exquisite.

Ganache, ice nougatine, beurre noisette "crème glacé"
Ganache, ice nougatine, beurre noisette "crème glacé"
Nice play of textures here.

Buckwheat churros, hot chocolate and fresh cinnamon
Buckwheat churros, deliciously thick hot chocolate and fresh cinnamon.

I liked the nuttier taste of buckwheat in the churros.

There were lots of excellent wines that evening
Oh we had such excellent wines paired with the food that evening!

-  Champagne De Sousa Brut Tradition
-  Pouilly Fumé Les Cris 2009 Alain Cailbourdin
-  Faugeres Jadis 2006 Leon Barral
-  Rivesaltes Ambre 2004 Domaine des Chenês

I'm starting to realise that it's not true that I am not fond of wines, I may just have very particular tastes. I really liked every single one of these.

Andre shows us his third-floor loft. This is where he "works" on his new ideas
But the best part about these DBS Underground Supperclubs is not just the great food but precious opportunities and privileged access to the chefs you would never get as a regular diner. Andre showed us his loft on the third floor, the "atelier" where his ideas are born.

He says, "I don't force myself to create or squeeze ideas out. I go do pottery, I sketch or do some art. Sometimes I'm inspired by a sad movie. It's natural to become emotional and sensitive to the things around you." So that's how it flows.

It is an amazing and gorgeous place, Andre's loft
The loft is not only gorgeously chic, but also a treasure trove of amazing things to look at. The vibe there is relaxing and yet there's a buzz that's really conducive for the flow of creativity.

Vintage Michelin guides? See the Ratatouille figurines too!
Some of the displays are so adorable. Vintage Michelin guides with Ratatouille movie figurines?

Andre shows us an amazing encyclopaedia of scents and aromas - useful when you want to test pairing of ingredients
Chef Andre pulls out this "Alphabet of Flavours" - an encyclopedic set of scents and aromas more intriguing than Harry Potter potions. These amazingly accurate scents are very useful when they experiment with pairing of flavours. This way they can do a quick test run before going out to buy ingredients to see if it works.

Lots of cookery books, including Japanese ones (not shown)
Lots of cookbooks in various languages, including a nice selection of Japanese ones.

Andre himself made a lot of the dishware for the restaurant
Andre himself made almost half the dishware for the restaurant. He loves being creative, and pottery is yet another outlet of expression.

Ceramic squid wafting along the wall
Andre really has a way with pottery. These are ceramic squid along a wall, each of them expressing a certain emotion that you can tell from their tentacles.

The writing's on the wall
Andre wrote this on the wall. It sounds beautiful and profound, although I have no idea what it's saying.

The ground floor has a grand table
The ground floor has a grand long table, perfect for large groups. It's still remarkably cosy despite its elegant atmosphere and dramatic lighting.

The second floor has more intimate dining settings
The second floor has more intimate dining settings. Interesting chandeliers. There are also six black rams scattered throughout the restaurant (one is in the lobby). All of them have names - I'll leave you to find out which is what.

The cool sleek kitchen at Andre's
You can take a peek at the sleek, state-of-the-art kitchen at the back through a glass sliding door. The whole place hums like a spaceship (they joke that this section is some Star Wars spacecraft, although I haven't seen anything this awe-inspiring even from Coruscant).

This is where Chef Andre puts into flesh Octaphilosophy - unique, pure, texture, memory, salt, south, artisan and terroir (land) - eight elements that define different aspects of the cuisine.

This May, restaurant ANDRE is introducing Octaphilosophy Spring Collection 2012. Inspired by Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, a painting by Manet depicting two young couples enjoying a picnic by the river in early spring. Andre will recreate the impressionist scene using seasonal ingredients prepared on a bed of fresh grass.

Lunch Tuesday to Friday - $128++ per person
Dinner Tuesday to Sunday - $288++ per person

Andre's made his mark

Oh yes, everyone also got instant photos with the chef, and an autographed menu.

The next DBS Underground Supperclub is still in the works - I can't wait to find out which chef it will be. But in the meantime, there's the DBS Masterclasses held at AFC Studio. The upcoming one (Thurs, 24 May 2012) features Chef Chan Kwok of Hua Ting at Orchard Hotel. He will be demonstrating traditional yet innovative Cantonese cuisine. More details and registration form on the AFC website.

41 Bukit Pasoh Road
Singapore 089855
Tel: +65 6534-8880

Many thanks to Edmund and the DBS team for inviting me to this phenomenal event.

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