Subrosa: a furtive location where freshness is foremost!

At a particular shophouse along Jalan Besar is a signboard that simply says ‘Subrosa Private Dining’. Subdued next to a louder sign shouting ‘PONGGOL NASI LEMAK’, it barely catches the attention of most passers-by. But the venue embodies the name; ‘sub rosa’ is a Latin figure of speech that literally translates to ‘under the rose’, a phrase that holds the meaning of discretion and secrecy.

Underneath the windows painted a dark rose red, my photographer and I walk in through the unlabelled stained glass door to find ourselves in a cosy space that probably seats only around 20 people on the ground floor. A red serviette in the shape of a rose is accentuated by the immaculate white tablecloth it rests upon. We are introduced to the two brilliant chefs reimagining the best food they can prepare with the freshest ingredients to be found in Singapore, Chefs Steven and Francis.

They honed their culinary arts at different parts of the globe; Chef Steven brings a wealth of experience from his time working in Michelin-starred restaurants in London, while Chef Francis has been quietly working in Singapore for the bourgeoise as a private chef. Together, they bring two worlds of cooking into one fine restaurant.

After meeting the chefs, we sit down and await our first course with anticipation. A basket of Artisan Bread is served warm, just minutes out of the oven, barely cool enough to touch. Both brown and white buns with different toppings — with oats, sesame, or a light white dusting — can be eaten with a bit of truffle butter, which is made inhouse. In fact, one of the things that was stressed on while I was at Subrosa was how everything, from the butter to the other preparations, are all made from scratch in the kitchen.

Freshness is emphasized most nakedly in the salad named Fresh is Best. Small sliced and diced root vegetables have been fermented for at least a month to bring out the best flavours. Each piece is sweet, crunchy, and popping. As you eat the vegetables on top to the salty roe and scallops below, it’s as though your taste buds are travelling from land to sea.

The harvest from the sea continues with the next two dishes. The Cocktail is named after its inspiration, the shrimp cocktail, but in appearance it is anything but. The shrimp has been profoundly transformed into an airy orange foam layered over a shrimp-flavoured crumble. Underneath at the very bottom is a creamy foundation of sweet, hand-peeled, shredded crab meat. The whole cup is an explosion of sea salt and umami, but with a lovely variance of textures, especially if you manage to capture all three layers in one bite with your spoon. Fermented, skinless cherry tomatoes at the side provide a strong sour kick to cleanse the palate between the intensely savoury morsels.

The oddly named Quaking Cod That is essentially Chef Steven’s recreation of the steamed fish he had once in a Chinese restaurant. The cod is sous vide with a strip of seaweed replacing the fish skin to impart a bit of that sea saltiness. The result is soft and tender flesh that breaks easily when grasped with chopsticks. The cod acts as a smooth tabula rasa for stronger flavours to be added to; in this case, a a bit of ginger gel and a reduced duck consomme that is thick, earthy, and salty, a level of complexity above the simple soy sauce that usually marinates steamed fish. Shimeji mushrooms shyly peeking from underneath the fish is sharp with balsamic vinegar and mildly pungent with truffle oil.

With a menu of strong flavours already tasted, a palate cleanser shaved iced flavoured with mojito lime and mandarin orange is necessary to fully enjoy the courses to come.

Remember Mee is an unforgettably great plate of hokkien mee. Besides the addition of some grilled lobster acquired from a farm in Changi, this is the humble hokkien mee we know and love, but prepared to utmost perfection by Chef Francis. He told us about how he used to cook in the tough conditions of a hawker stall, where he honed his craft on this dish.

We move on to typical fine dining fare: Who Niu, ****another playful name for a dish with prime cuts of wagyu beef and foie gras. The beef is has undergone four hours in sous vide before a light torch. Chef Stevens opted for a slightly less fatty cut than usual to give us a chunkier piece of meat, cooked till medium and hinting of chocolate. The foie gras is fresh and buttery smooth, with a thin crisp crust. For sauce, salty gravy has been carefully poured into tiny cups of caramelized onions, and light brown shallot puree circles the plate.

A refreshing tropical fruit dessert concludes the marvellous food we’ve had today. Tropical Passion has a set coconut mousse, sweet and soft mango slices, a passionfruit sorbet, and a little dollop of lime, with a few coarse chocolate flakes ground to look like tree bark. It’s a refreshing end to a rich meal.

After our lunch, I had a brief chat with Chef Steven, who showed me around the kitchen. This is one of the privileges of private dining; you get to interact with the people who make your food. I could feel Chef Steven’s passion and excitement for Subrosa’s potential as he discussed their efforts to procure the best ingredients and prepare everything fresh, and their plans to make the restaurant even better. His enthusiasm bodes well for the future of this new restaurant. Its impressiveness might not be apparent on its unremarkable shophouse exterior, but perhaps that is what Subrosa’s name encapsulates: a place with wondrous secrets beyond the first glance.

No walk ins; reservations have to be made at least 48 hours in advance online at https://www.subrosa.com.sg/#reservation. Food photography by James Hii. Thank you Subrosa for the invitation.

Subrosa Private Dining
369 Jalan Besar
Singapore 208997
Website

Ash & Char – Blue Wine, Comfort Fusion Food, Chic Gastrobar in the CBD!

There’s a new place to get food and drink in the Central Business District: Ash & Char. Once a café, it has recently been relaunched as a gastrobar — where you expect not just good alcohol, but also inventive accompanying nosh. To that end, Ash & Char fulfils that promise by presenting a wide menu of treats to go along with your cocktail or beer.

Ash & Char’s signature offering is their blue wine: the Santa Cruz de Alpera Blue Frizzante. Blue is not a colour commonly found in nature or food, so to see it illuminate the wine like this should be a nice novelty for first-time guests to Ash & Char. Its bouquet was lightly intoxicating, and the taste sharply sweet.

What I would go for is the Mixed Berry Bramble! A refreshing, icy, and fruity cocktail with a light gin finish. Iif you’re after something more alcoholic, a good choice would be the Whisky Sour.

Fried and savoury bar staples are also available at Ash & Char. The Crispy Kalemari, which as its name suggests, were lightly breaded calamari rings; gently fried and, to my relief, not rubbery at all.

Another bar staple is the Classic Fish And Chips – crispy thin batter encasing the chunky fish meat served with a creamy tartar dip by the side, and of course, french fries portioned warm and crisp. Basically, a good ol’ fish and chips dish.

No bar would be complete if it did not serve fried chicken wings. Ash & Char has six flavours, although I only got to try three of them: Buffalo, Teriyaki, and Har Cheong Kai. The buffalo wings are a great choice for those who want some spice, while the teriyaki wings will appeal to diners who want their wings coated with a sticky sweet and salty sauce and bonito flakes to top. The har cheong kai version is as well-executed as those you’ll find at other zhi char restaurants, with a generous but not-overwhelming shrimp flavour in the crispy skin.

You can also get really great-tasting (and great-looking) burgers here. We got to try the AC Char-Grilled Wagyu. The aioli carried a strong truffle aroma, and the wagyu patty was done just right, juicy to the bite. The colour of the bun was more of a novelty; it’s still a well-toasted bun with a thin-crisp surface coupled with wholesomeness in each bite.

If you need more meat in your meal, Ash & Char has you covered with their Signature Char Siu and Mayura Choco Wagyu. The char siu comes glazed with a sweet sauce accented with soy and honey over each piece of meat that is layered with a generous sliver of fat.

Comparatively, the wagyu, wasn’t as thrilling. The cubes were mildly sweet but still lacking in taste. I also expected each portion of wagyu to be smoother and more marbled, but each bite was chewy. That said, there was just the slightest hint of chocolate to make the beef a bit more interesting.

Now, for the more unconventional tapas on the menu. The Crispy Cauliflower is a creative choice for a vegetable dish. The name is a bit of a misnomer as the cauliflower itself is roasted, and hence not crispy; any crispiness comes from the addition of breadcrumbs, which is still texturally appealing. But the roasting the cauliflower does add a lot of umami along with the garlic and soy sauce, and so it is a very pleasing dish.

The Chijeu-Buldak, or as it is known in English, ‘fire chicken with cheese’ is another tapas item to look out for. Think cheese and chicken cooked together with Korean culinary spices, forming a savoury morsel that hints just ever so slightly of kimchi.

If you looking for more filling dishes, you can choose between pasta and rice bowls. For noodles, the Tom Yum Seafood has linguine soaking up a laksa-inspired broth with an intense coconut milk flavour amidst the sour and salty notes. The prawns and mussels are succulent.

I have to be honest about the Mentaiko Salmon Aburi bowl though: the taste of the rice and salmon did not match the quality of most of the other dishes here. The mentaiko is a reliably delicious topping for the salmon. However, perhaps due the provenance of the meat, the salmon itself did not taste as good as I’d hoped. Maybe it would have tasted better if the ‘aburi’ in the name did not simply mean that the mentaiko was torched, but also the salmon itself.

Messy Rocker

Creamy Smoked Duck Pasta

In general, Ash & Char has fantastic, well-presented dishes. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, I got to see the yummy-looking Messy Rocker burger and the Creamy Smoked Duck Pasta. Unfortunately, they weren’t available for tasting that evening, so I could only take pictures.

All in all, with very few exceptions, you can’t go wrong with most of the food at Ash & Char. However, there are some issues with the acoustics; I had difficulty hearing the conversation I was having with my plus one over the din of the crowd. I hope they resolve it eventually, because as a space for hosting clients, enjoying the company of friends, or going on a date over tasty food and blue wine, it’s a pretty good spot.

Thank you Ash & Char for the invitation. 

Ash & Char Gastrobar
21 McCallum Street
Singapore 069047

Enquiries: 8341 1951
Website

Opening Hours:
Mon to Thu  – 11am to Midnight
Fri – 11am to 1am
Sat – 5pm to 1am
Closed on Sundays

Admire the Avant Garde: Neo-Japanese Cuisine at Ami Ami!

In the basement of Great World City, Ami Ami, a restaurant serving avant garde Japanese cuisine, can be found among a cluster of other Japanese food establishments. Ami Ami dares to reconstruct traditional Japanese dishes, without detracting too much from their best flavours. From their menu, we were offered four new dishes that Ami Ami hoped would excite our taste buds.

The Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++) was served on a plate with a deep central recess and wide fringe so that the carpaccio could nestle in the centre while crisp bread, sliced tomato, and dollops of truffle oil and wasabi could be laid along the edges. Together, they presented an immaculately arranged plate, which would turn out to be de rigueur for the rest of the dishes we would eat today. We were instructed to bring the tomatoes and other vegetable leaves to the centre of the plate for mixing with the carpaccio, which consisted of a multi-colour medley: diced sashimi of pink salmon, red tuna, and white yellowtail, orange uni, white yams, tiny green spheres of prawn roe, and green cubes avocado.

Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++)

We topped the toasted, lightly buttered bread with the salad. The flavour of the sea burst forth from the roe, uni, and sashimi, as the avocado provided soft textures and the bread, the hard, noisy crunch. While the carpaccio did benefit from a bit of detected sesame oil in the seasoning, the strong flavour of truffle oil was a bit disruptive to the harmonies of the other elements, and I could have done without it. Nonetheless, this is a great cold starter.

Unlike other maki sushi rolls which traditionally use seaweed, for the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++), Ami Ami have opted for a razor-thin sheet of carrot to hold the ingredients together. Inside the sushi’s core is a tubular chunk of prawn, surrounded by sticky Japanese rice. The rolls are topped with diced strawberry, kiwi, and the distinct green prawn roe once again. Two sauces — mango sauce and a sweet and salty dark sauce — are drizzled, not too liberally, in artful zigzag patterns.

Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++, 4pcs)

The carrot skin does not distract — if anything, it is plainer than seaweed. While this loses the potential light umami of seaweed, it instead gracefully allows the softer flavours of fruit and prawn to come through. Together with the mango sauce, which my photographer deemed refreshing, the flavours of the dish reminded me of the yummy mango prawn salad you get at Chinese restaurants.

In the Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++), shredded snow crab meat was topped with green prawn roe in a crab head. Underneath the meat lay sliced tomatoes, diced mangoes, cucumbers, and tamago egg cubes. While artfully created, this was a frustrating dish to eat. Not because of the flavours, which were expectedly good after the first two dishes, but the difficulty of eating it with chopsticks. Because of the atomised nature of the various elements in the crab head, picking up more than tiny pinches of rice and crab meat shreds with our chopsticks was impossible. It’s not an easy dish to share; it’s best consumed by one, who can pick up the entire head, and shovel the food into his mouth like the crab head is a rice bowl.

Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++)

The next dish was a Sushi Pizza ($17.80++) that defied both traditions of Japanese and Neapolitan cuisine. Squares of paper-thin spring roll skin were layered with rice, seaweed, salmon & yellowtail sashimi, avocado, mango, and roe. It is finally covered with a blend of gouda and mozzarella cheese. The entire assembly is that oven-baked until the insides are cooked, the base is crisp, and the cheese has melted and browned a bit. Along the side are two sauces – a Japanese tonkatsu-based sauce and a spicy sauce that you can dip your pizza in.

Sushi Pizza ($17.80++)

It turned out to be delicious, and didn’t fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. The cheese could have been slightly less cooked if they wanted it to remain stringy, but overall it was a dish that satisfied me, even if it might offend some Italian and Japanese gastronomes.

Like the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll, the Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++) also has a core of prawn and rice. However, the wrap of choice is instead a crisp pie crust with cheddar cheese. It is served along the edges of the plate with a teriyaki and cream dipping sauce in the centre. Adding the cream to teriyaki sauce made it lighter and smoother. Eating the whole thing felt like a more Japanese version of char siew so. While this dish dispenses with delicateness, its bold salty and umami flavours make this a robust dish.

Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++, 8pcs)

Ami Ami dances on the edge of propriety, but manage to hold onto the fundamental tastes of Japanese food. For anyone who wants something deviating from the usual Japanese fare, Ami Ami definitely have a few intriguing dishes to offer.

Thank you Ami Ami for the invitation.

Ami Ami
#B1-03/04

Great World City
(within Shokutsu Ten Japanese Food Street)
Singapore 237994

Contact: 6835 9071

Opens from:

11.30am to 3pm (last order 2.30pm)
5.30pm to 10pm (last order 9.30pm)

Website

When Skyve-ing Is A Very Good Thing

As MRT stations go, Newton is an oft-overlooked one, even though it’s an interchange station between the North-South and Downtown Lines. Nestled in a fairly quiet neighbourhood without high-density housing estates, it’s usually more associated with its eponymous hawker centre (though, tourists beware).

However, just a few minutes walk away from the station sits the hidden gem that is Skyve Wine Bistro. Helmed by the Le Cordon Bleu-trained Executive Chef Jachin Tan, it’s recently launched a new revamped menu of modern bistro fare to go along with its recent facelift.

Stepping into the compound at 10 Winstedt Road, you get a sense of calm already: it’s tucked away enough to make this a wonderful date spot, or a weekend recharge hideaway. But that’s not enough, of course. If we’re here to eat, then the spotlight must be on the food.

And shine the food does. Chef Jachin’s new menu hits the sweet spot: it’s produce-driven, and I often found it hard to figure out what sort of cuisine this was. But that’s not a bad thing, since he’s not limited by a single culinary tradition, and so the quality of the produce really shines through.

Smoked Tomato: Who cares what cuisine this is, if it’s this good?

One example of this is the Smoked Tomato ($12++). Featuring Momotaro tomatoes from the Cameron Highlands, with buffalo snow, heart of palm and a basil sorbet. The tomato is slow-smoked, and together with the heart of palm, really bursts with flavour that is complemented by the buffalo snow. What then rounds it off nicely is the refreshing sorbet: I’ve never quite been a basil person, but this was a surprising pairing that I really enjoyed!

Mediterranean Octopus: My only regret is that an octopus only has eight tentacles.

Another appetizer that went really well with me was the Mediterranean Octopus ($18++). Pickled eggplant, vandouvan (a French derivative of masala spices) and cauliflower puree accompanied this dish. The octopus was chewy but not tough, and its char-grilled flavour was absolutely delicious. This was one of the best octopus I’ve had in a while, because most places either deliver on the flavour, but produce tough octopus, or a wonderful texture but slightly lacklustre flavour.

Beef Tartare: A French classic with a twist.

But not everything here is all new and fancy: Chef Jachin delivered in the Beef Tartare ($18++) a French classic. But of course, as you probably can figure out by now, he’s not the sort to not mix things up a bit: this came with miso-cured egg yolk, shallot dust and gherkin gelee. Beef tartare is hard to get right, if only because most people aren’t that used to the gamey taste of raw beef. But here, the grass-fed Australian beef takes centre-stage, with just a hint of truffle to get the heady aroma. The miso-cured egg yolk contrasts the flavours wonderfully, a bit of beef, a bit of egg yolk, and you start to believe that perhaps you could live a life of food untouched by fire at all.

Lobster Sang Mee: If it means something to the chef, you can bet it’ll taste very good.

You can’t live off appetisers, of course, even if these are that good. So we move on to the mains: first up is a childhood classic of the chef, a Lobster Sang Mee ($32++). No one really expects a zi char dish to show up in a chic bistro, but I’m not complaining if it’s as good as how he does it. With egg drop soup, mussels, and “abalone” (actually a type of mushroom), the dish is intensely homey, but the lobster and the plating remind you that this is quite a step up beyond what you’ll get at your friendly neighbourhood coffee shop. Clearly, never underestimate a chef when he prepares a dish that is emotionally important to him!

Smoked Tenderloin: A garden, with soil, greens, and an animal I could eat over and over again.

Continuing on the smoked theme, I had the Smoked Tenderloin ($38++). Now, it comes with gobo, braised shiitake and truffle soil, but these are merely the accompaniment to the real star: the excellent meat on offer. It is juicy, and the smoking has clearly managed to lock in the flavours, with a depth of taste that I find difficult to describe in words. Maybe it’s the smoking, maybe it’s the quality of the meat already, but this was quite the tour de force. What added a lot of joy to my dining here was the way the other ingredients came in to play: the braised shiitake offered incredibly earthy tastes that contrasted with the meatiness of the tenderloin, and the truffle soil was just excellent mash. I am very picky about my mash, since potato can be boring if you don’t do it right, but I had zero complaints here.

Semifreddo of Lime: Nothing done halfway here in this semifreddo; wholly goodness.

A meal that begins this well, carries this well through the mains, must also end well. To this end, I enjoyed the two options available: a light and refreshing Semifreddo of Lime ($10++) and the simpler but richer Molten Chocolate ($12++). The semifreddo comes with a lovely aesthetic, using blue pea flower caviar, alongside a distinctively floral treat from the crumbly sable that gave depth to the lime notes of the ice cream. Texture-wise, the dessert developed over the time it took to eat it: first with distinct notes from each flavour, then commingling of flavours as the ice cream melted and each spoonful became a delicious potpourri.

Molten Chocolate: What it says on the tin, in a real celebration of chocolate.

But if you’re not into light finishes, then the option for decadence will also not disappoint. Skyve’s chocolate lava cake is as good as I have had anywhere else, with a candied zest that manages to cut through the richness. This dessert is exactly what it looks like: an elegant chocolate cake that degenerates very quickly into a wonderfully sticky and gooey mess that celebrates chocolate gloriously.

Ah, all that satisfaction. Ultimately, there’s a whole host of options for dining that begin from brunch, till dinner, and I think the setting really just is perfect for the food. Come in for lazy brunches, quiet lunches, and charming dinners. They really do hit the right spot.

Thank you Skyve Wine Bistro for the invitation.
This article was written by Lan Yingjie

Skyve Wine Bistro
No. 10 Winstedt Road

Block E #01-17
Singapore 227977
Reservations: 6225 6690

Website