It is near the end of my first dinner at Xperience, and I fear I am in trouble. Throwing the etiquette book out the window, I have already had two servings of the main course and a double helping of the dessert. It is my first time meeting the charismatic chef, Trevor Paulo, and I don’t want to leave him with a poor impression. Instead, he seems not to mind in the least. Beaming, he announces to everyone within earshot: “I like this guy already!”
The pleasure is definitely mutual, but I am not alone in feeling this way. One of Singapore’s youngest hotel executive chefs, Chef Paulo charms everyone in the cosy restaurant, bantering easily with table after table.
Personal magnetism is a fine thing for a chef to have, but it’s no indicator of exquisite cooking. Likewise, a cushy and intimate setting—which Xperience provides to a fault—is no guarantee of a fine dining experience. Yet the restaurant ticks all the right boxes. Service is attentive but unobtrusive; the food is memorable and a joy to behold; and the restaurant’s location in the middle of the CBD means it is hardly packed during dinner—the office crowd prefers not to linger in the area after work. With its mellow lighting and soft background chatter, it is a perfect restaurant for a romantic date.
Indeed, I have come to taste the Valentine’s Day dinner menu (from 12th to 14th February 2016) Chef Paulo has created. The three (or four, or six, depending on the day) course meal comes with two options for all the courses, and I get to try both starter options.
We begin with a Chutoro Tuna Sashimi starter. The chef has given this dish a Nordic-inspired twist and combined it with salmon gravlax, topping it off with blueberry-cured flying fish roe, tomato powder, and edible flowers. For far too long, I have only known the briny taste of cured salmon whenever I encounter gravlax, but Paulo’s version is a revelation. The medium fatty tuna is as fresh as the sea, and the salmon is sweet, savoury and firm. There is no tongue-curling saline sensation, the roe is deliciously fruity, and this dish disappears all too quickly.
The other starter option is a puff pastry, with fresh strawberries and pan-fried foie gras sandwiched between. This is the only dish of the night that I consume with some ambivalence, because I am not usually a fan of fattened duck liver. My personal preference notwithstanding, the foie gras tonight is immensely fragrant, buttery, and substantial. It is an artful dish as well, because of its complexity in taste and texture. A single bite right down the dish showcases the crumble of the pastry; firm, juicy strawberries; a delightfully zesty crème fraiche; and a piquant, sweet old port sauce derived from sherry vinegar.
As we tuck into this complex dish, Chef Paulo explains his creative process in coming up with dishes. Full of ideas, the 30 year-old reveals he starts with imagining how each dish should taste, before working backwards to figure out what should go into it. Dessert is an exception, because he believes meals should be concluded with a visual spectacle.
This lull in the dining proceedings serves us well, because we are even more excited when it is time for the main course. Chef Paulo grins as he tells us about each ingredient that has gone into this painstakingly crafted dish. The Irish, grass-fed beef short rib, for instance, is cooked sous-vide for 36 hours before being served, piping hot, on the plate. The roasted heirloom carrots come from plants that are grown on a small scale using traditional techniques, prized for their flavour. And the Vitelotte potato mash is a deep, all-natural, royal purple; prepared via roasting on salt, instead of being boiled, in order to best preserve its flavour. He goes on a bit more, waxing lyrical on the pink peppercorn sauce and the accompanying shallot confit.
Chef Paulo’s passionate exposition on his cooking combines with our taste test to produce sheer poetry. As a case in point: the well-known media personality seated opposite me exclaims in appreciation when she tries the potato mash (or mousse, according to the menu). “This is so good!” she cries out. The rest of us agree, nodding silently. There is no conversation as everyone bends over their plates and polishes sauce, meat, and vegetables in synchrony. We each hold a knife and fork, but the chef suggests that only the fork is needed. He is right—the meat yields to our forks with almost butter-like consistency.
My table companions, all seasoned food writers, clamour for more. But good sense prevails, and instead of giving in to their baser instincts for seconds, they comfort one another with the dictum that they need to save space for dessert. I ignore them, shamelessly accepting the offer of a second plate.
The food is delicious but never heavy. I finish my second main with ease but still have space for more. Luckily for me, my meal has not yet hit a high.
It finally reaches a crescendo with dessert. The dinner party gasps when we set eyes on the dessert. Served in a wine glass, we finally understand, viscerally, Chef Paulo’s philosophy when it comes to dessert.
The dessert is visually arresting, all right. Topped with what Chef calls a “pink grapefruit tuile,” the multi-layered confection comprises champagne sorbet set on a bed of roasted strawberries. In turn, these ingredients sit atop a layer of rosewater caviar, anchored by an avocado panna cotta.
The sorbet is light; frothy; ethereal. Like the foie gras starter, the generous strawberries provide a pleasant counterpoint in taste and texture, to the rest of the dessert. The panna cotta is sweet and creamy—but never cloying—with the taste of avocado. It is a perfect end to an almost perfect meal. I am remorseless as I acquire a second wine glass, topped with glistening pink grapefruit tuile.
When I exit the restaurant, I have a smile on my face. I am only troubled by a single issue. How might I get a date before Valentine’s Day, so that I can partake in Xperience’s Valentine’s Day set dinner again? After all, I have less than a fortnight left to make reservations.
Thank you Sofitel So Singapore for the invitation.
|Sofitel So Singapore
35 Robinson Road
Contact: 6701 6800
|“I Love You So” Valentine’s Dinner
12th February: 3 Course Dinner at $65++ per pax
13th February: 6 Course Dinner at $125++ per pax
14th February: 4 Course Dinner at $85++ per pax
View the menu here