Three to try: Braci, Saint Pierre, Cheek by Jowl
Intimacy leads the way at Braci, ilLido Group's latest jewel in its crown of Italian restaurants. Restaurateur Beppe De Vito's 16-seater outfit is anchored by a handsome open kitchen, where diners can watch a brigade of chefs fuss over the Josper oven and shichirin grill (a small Japanese charcoal grill), both instrumental in shaping standout dishes on the menu. Take for example bread from Puglia, which arrives at the table judiciously charred on the crust, and paired with rich, viscous olive oil of the same provenance. There's pork cheek too, slow-cooked before it's given a final smoke over charcoal. Excellent homemade tagliolini can be had here, topped with a pristine red prawn tartare and briny burst of caviar. Slices of duck breast are dry aged in-house to imbue depth of flavour before it's paired with warm, wilted figs and well-crisped duck skin that's not unlike what you'll find on a traditional Peking duck. Post-dinner drinks can be had just one storey above at the shophouse's rooftop bar. Call for the G & Tea, featuring a potent mix of three gins given an aromatic boost with fresh lemon-ginger tea.
Level 5/6, 52 Boat Quay. Located above Imakatsu Japanese Restaurant. Tel: 6866 1933
Our tiny food critics have given Saint Pierre's children's menu a thumbs-up, but they aren't the only fussy eaters who will find pleasure on the plate at Chef Emmanuel Stroobant's French fine dining outfit. Joining him at the helm is new Executive Chef Mathieu Escoffier (no, he isn't related to that Escoffier), who has sharpened his knives at some of the most decorated kitchens in the world — think Alain Ducasse in Paris, Daniel Boulud in New York, and Joël Robuchon in Paris, Monaco, and most recently, Bordeaux. Given his classical training, it isn't surprising that his dishes lead with technical finesse. However, unlike the old-school French brigade that insists on honouring historical fine dining perimeters, Escoffier isn't afraid to bend the rules. For one, he's taken Robuchon's famed potato puree (yes, it's so tasty because it's 50 per cent butter) and pushed it through a siphon, turning the rich, velvety treat into a souffle-like cloud that's no less tasty. He also experiments with Southeast Asian ingredients such as buah keluak, pairing it with 12-hour sous vide Iberico pork, crisp nashi pear, and foie gras. As Escoffier continues to shape the menu jointly with Stroobant, the latter's focus on keeping flavours fresh and light shines through with dishes such as langoustine encrusted with wild puffed rice, where green apples and celeriac are used to add brightness to the dish.
#02-02B One Fullerton. 1 Fullerton Road. Tel: 6438 0887
Cheek by Jowl
For a chef who confesses to Chicken McSpicy as his guilty pleasure, Chef Rishi Naleendra of Cheek by Jowl isn't populist at all with what he puts on the menu, and that's always a good thing when it comes to Naleendra. If anyone's going to convince me to put ants in my mouth, it's him. That's exactly what the Sri Lanka-born chef did on my recent visit to his restaurant, where he paired tangy Australian green ants with smoked dill. Ants might be an off-menu item for now, but you can be sure that this experimental chef will find some way to work it into his menu — and make it work. A simple smoked mackerel finds an unlikely plate-fellow in green pea juice, both of which are given zing with a touch of horseradish. I didn't know how much I enjoyed the flavours of roasted cauliflower when paired with macadamia and Thai basil, but that's exactly Naleendra's modus operandi — to have you discover unexpected flavour pairings that marry seamlessly. The restaurant's new wine programme is also a good place to start if you're curious about the world of organic and biodynamic wines. You'll do well to call for wine pairings to go with your meal, but if you only have room for a single glass, order the excellent 2013 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay. Heck, make that a bottle. No one at the table will stop at one glass.
Cheek by Jowl. 21 Boon Tat Street. Tel: 6221 1911