Small menu, indeed.
Although he’s just getting started, there are some parallels between chef Nixon Low, and Sebastian Ng, chef-proprietor for Restaurant Ember at Hotel 1929. While they might have started their career from two very opposing points, both men command quaint restaurants under hotels located just outside the city. Boasting credits from dame establishments like Saint Pierre and Restaurant ANDRE, you know that Low has been given the arduous task of taking Aqueen Lavender Hotel’s in-house restaurant, Petite Menu to new heights in the food scene of Singapore. Despite these credentials, unlike Ng, who was given complete autonomy of the kitchen by hotelier Loh Lik Peng, it becomes very apparent – just by browsing through the menu – that Low just doesn’t have the same freedoms. Like Hollywood executive’s occasional distrust of untried and untested directors and their visions, thereby resulting in the meddling of the script, casting and budget to what they think is safeguarding the film’s success, Petite Menu’s carte du jour is a complete world’s fair, a sampling of various cuisines, designed specifically to target what the hotel management thinks, its occupants might want, a.k.a. standard hotel fare. The result is a spread that neither showcases Low’s strengths and his potential, nor will it attract repeat visits. When I saw how Asian the menu mostly was, I was quite tempted to suggest to Darren that we eat somewhere else. We settle for the items that we had deduced would most likely appeal to the fine dining discipline, the Chicken Confit and the Ribeye Steak.
Sampling the Chicken Confit, I became more infuriated. At similar prices, Petite Menu completely and absolutely epitomizes what I expect from Saveur. Chef Low masterfully juggles the low price ceiling, and delivers, in my opinion, the best confit outside the fine dining restaurants. Lightly crisp, the meat underneath maintains a desirable tender flair that has no parallel in this price range. The presentation was immaculate yet discreet – demonstrating a well exacted dedication and passion. Likewise, the Ribeye Steak, obviously limited by similar constraints, was portrayed in a manner that Aston’s could never hope to achieve. The two mains were beyond excellent for their price ranges, but alas, besides a roasted cauliflower with truffle scent and brioche starter and a deconstructed Blackforest cake, there’s not much else that you can’t get elsewhere at your neighborhood hawker centre.
I’d love to see chef Nixon Low in a place where he can shine. If he can put lipstick on a pig, and make it look and taste good, I want to see what he can do when there are no holds barred.