I have always associated Cuppage Plaza as the haven for hidden, authentic Japanese izakayas that provide a certain escape from the bustling, general dining scene along Orchard Road. It is one of the places I would recommend if friends are keen to go out for a drink after work and have some Japanese otsumami as part of the unwind experience. Of course, some may find one of the many karaoke lounges with ladies waiting for guests in the corridors to be a much more appealing affair. To each his or her own, but the make up of mall tenants certainly create a unique atmosphere for those wanting a slightly different side of Singapore.
My visit this time brings me to the newly re-opened Five Nines (999.99) European-Japanese restaurant. Formerly located along Keong Saik Road, Five Nines was well known amongst its fans for its quality European cuisine, tasteful presentation and personable service. However, with the restaurant’s relocation to Cuppage Plaza, there is now a stronger emphasis on casual cuisine with a focus on European-Japanese fare that blends in with the mall’s Japanese culinary ‘ambience’.
The $49++ six-course set menu
For my meal that evening, I was served the $49++ six-course set dinner menu. The menu changes regularly, and needs to be booked in advance. Yet, though the idea of six-courses for less than $50 before tax sounds highly enticing, I ended the meal feeling hungry with a slight disenchantment and a belief that the chef could definitely do much better. Curious to see what else the kitchen could offer, and to supplement my ‘incomplete’ meal, I stayed back after the set dinner and in addition to three adhoc a-la-carte items prepared by the restaurant to share, I further ordered my own selection of tapas. And truly, it is in the a-la-carte menu where the chef’s techniques and flavours start to shine.
I started the set dinner with the Marinated Botan Shrimp and Couscous Salad. Though botan ebi is a personal favourite of mine, I found this particular portion rather average in quality without the glisten or shine of sweetness that makes the shrimp unique. The side of couscous salad was interesting to say the least, and was probably an attempt to establish both umami and sweet flavours as an opener to the meal.
My second dish served was the Foie Gras Terrine and Bruschetta. The fancy presentation of a smoke-encased dome certainly set expectations, and while slightly gimmicky in having smoke infuse the base of orange jam, I found the overall flavours on point.
The only problem was the portion size. It was barely enough for a mouthful, and probably envisioned as a way to further whet the appetite. Needless to say, I was getting hungrier.
The next dish served was the Garlic Flavoured Squid Ink Tagliolini topped with snow crab. At this point, I half-expected the dish to be larger in portion as we were approaching the mains. Yet, the kitchen remained steady in producing delicate serving sizes. I must say that the tagliolini was delicious but lightly flavoured, and the flakes of snow crab, unfortunately, a token. I was looking forward to the next dish.
The second main of Steamed Cod Fish Rolled with Parma Ham and served with a Porcini Cream Sauce could have been a winner if the cod was prepared in another way. Steamed cod is certainly not uncommon in Chinese cuisine in Singapore, and the thought of having the beautiful fish prepared in a similar style at a European Japanese restaurant would certainly be interesting. However, I found the fish to be cottony soft, as though almost an unfamiliar texture. The piece of fish was only distinctly flavoured with the Parma Ham as the porcini cream sauce was simply too light. I laud the bold attempt to marry ingredients and flavours, but this dish did not work for me.
The Mozzarella and Lamb Tender Loin Fritto was the final main of the six-course set menu. Each diner received a half portion which showed the mozzarella oozing out from the meat’s center – if you were lucky enough to receive a properly portioned half. I have no complains about the meat, and it proved a slightly hearty end to the meal.
Saving the entire six-course meal affair was the Creme brulee with Raspberry Sorbet. Finally, bold, audacious flavours brightened the entire dining experience. It was at this moment when it struck me that I was missing flavour in the entire orchestra of dishes. Although one could reasonably argue that perhaps the kitchen wanted to showcase the lighter touches, the shocking end of creamy, sweet, gorgeous creme brulee with all that toasted smokiness and topped with bright, tart raspberry sorbet, seemed almost like a sudden crescendo to a flatline heartbeat. Nevertheless, I ended the meal feeling hungry. Both in terms of absolute portion sizes, and a crave for flavour.
Second Dinner, Delicious Tapas!
Determined that there was more to the Chef’s technique and ability than that which was served during the set menu, the table (and later myself) ordered a selection of a-la-carte tapas and dishes!
The Wagyu Beef Carpaccio ($18++) was stunning. Not only in terms of presentation, but the choice use of buttery beef sprinkled with grated parmesan and a glaze of balsamic vinegar was simply delightful. The flavours were a mix of bold umami, savoury, sweet, tart with cheery bright notes popping all about.
The 4 Kinds of Cheese Tortellini with Cauliflower Puree ($18++) packed a solid punch in deep, umami, savoury flavours. And that cauliflower puree was simply amazing .
The Tripes ala Romana ($14++) was a little more unique for the table, and for a few, it was their first time tucking in to offal. Yet, I have nothing but praise for this dish. The tripe was tender soft, and when simmered with a liberal use of tomatoes and olive oil, umami, sweetness, and savouriness rung loud and clear. Clearly, the a la carte dishes till now is like night and day when compared against the set menu.
I then ordered the Beef Cheek and Potato Baked ‘Parmentier’ ($14++). Fatty, buttery beef cheek was simply melt in the mouth, and any heaviness was quelled by the glaze of floral sweet, sticky, and acidic balsamic vinegar. A must-order!
The Octopus and Mix Mushroom Ajillo ($15++) was served boiling, and that proved to be very appetizing. Yet, while the base of olive oil took on the flavours of the ingredients, the dish could definitely be further seasoned.
I was suitably impressed with the presentation style of the Sauteed Scallops with Artichoke Sauce ($17++). With a flower garden theme coming to mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the tender and delicately seared scallops served alongside a robust, creamy and lightly scented artichoke sauce. Though balsamic vinegar is once again used to dress the dish, I have little complaints.
The final dish that would go great with accompanying drinks is the King Crab Creamy Croquette ($10). Though the deep, sea flavours of crab was more of a light infusion, this was still a perfectly crisp, warm, and satisfying croquette. Indeed, this should go very well with a pint or two.
Premium Japanese Fresh Peach Spumante & Premium Japanese Fresh Orange Spumante
In all, Five Nines showed promise in its a-la-carte menu. Its selection of tapas and mains were on average better flavoured, bolder, and more satisfying than the $49++ set course menu. Though I can certainly see the appeal of having a very affordable six-course set, the locality and ambience of a noisy restaurant setting would also deter customers seeking a date’s night out. Indeed, the set dining experience is more casual than intimate and perhaps asynchronous with the restaurant’s intended direction. I’m glad I got the opportunity to try the tapas and other mains from the regular menu. It certainly breathed second life to what would have otherwise been a place that had potential tucked away.
Thank you Five Nines for the invitation. Certain a-la-carte dishes were paid orders.