Who’d have known that Spanish tapas would take off in Singapore?
Not only did it soar, it has evolved… into a whole avenue of eateries where chefs are taking the concept even further. The phenomenon, which as of now has no fancy name, is taking root. Instead of taking inspiration from Spanish regional cuisines, the whole world’s a stage now. Singapore’s Esmirada Group has decided to get in on the action with Amuse by Armin Leitgeb. Despite his short six-year tenure in Singapore, the Austrian chef has done his part to put the red dot in the spotlight than most Singaporeans themselves. He has been credited for propelling Les Amis into San Pellegrino’s list of World’s 100 Best Restaurants, inadvertently shifting the gastronomic spotlight from the Michelin star heavens of Europe, America, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and Japan right onto Singapore. Leitgeb has also worked in many Michelin starred restaurants, and is Star Chef for Lufthansa’s First and Business Class long-haul flights. The concept for Amuse came from amuse bouche, the unannounced teaser starter served before the actual first course – meant to tease and lure diners into anticipation. The menu is a kaleidoscope of inspiration, curated by chef Armin’s experiences around the world. Singaporeans will undoubtedly appreciate the little nod to two uniquely Singapore dishes. When it comes to the actual weight-lifting, the task falls on head chef, CK Lee, and a twenty-one year old Spanish mixologist whose name escapes me.
Aesthetically, the presentation is impeccable, each course a masterpiece of visual art. The flavors however, was a bit of a hit-and-miss, with thankfully more hits than misses. Leitgeb demonstrates his sparks of brilliance with the crispy pork croton – a visual and flavor balancing act that can only be accomplished by a true master. The potent horseradish and flamboyant flavor of the Dijon mustard has been given a subtle restraint, balancing the lightness and airiness of the delicate crispy pork croton. The result is something of a trip; the flavors just explode in your mouth with a force of a thousand suns. Char grilling the wagyu cubes in hay yielded a surprising conclusion; it transformed the marble-like “melt-in-your-mouth” tenderness of the wagyu into a more complex, succulent cut with a game-like smoked sensibility.
Crispy Pork Croton
Chargrill Wagyu Cubes Cooked In Hay
As I mentioned earlier, there are two nods to Armin Leitgeb’s stay in Singapore. One is the obvious and aptly named Chili Crab Mantou, which is, as one might have guessed, an ode to the famous Singapore Chili Crab. The next, is unfortunately not that obvious. The tease, however, relies on not letting you in on the surprise. The “Ciabatta Wrapped Crispy Egg” is foreign enough. But with a prosciutto atop a crisp posterior cage guarding a lush, poached egg sitting in a dark, sensuous pool of a reduction of mushroom ragout, Amuse’s Consultant Chef successfully tricks the mind into thinking you’re actually eating “Chwee Kweh”! Yes, the local breakfast dish of diced salted turnip over round rice cakes you find at hawker centres replicated with completely different ingredients to produce the same exact taste.
Ciabatta Wrapped Crispy Egg
Other notable highlights include the angelhair “Spicy Lobster Pasta”, which was prepared to perfection. Everybody loves a good pasta.
There were some misses, however. It wasn’t because they were bad or anything like that. Rather, it came from mostly reusing ingredients in the same way, numbing the sensation and flavor somewhat. The horseradish is introduced in the first course, the beef tartare cone. Repeated, albeit most memorable in the crispy pork croton, it was used a third time in the same exact manner for the kurobuta pork cheeks, making the latter entirely forgettable. The Chorizo “Groest’l”, a sunny side-up dish over sliced spicy sausages was probably the most forgettable one. I can’t even remember what it tastes like.
Beef Tartare Cone
Pickled kurobuta pork cheeks