Dinner @ Restaurant Zén

December 3, 2018 in European

Compared to my siao-on instagram foodie friends, I am definitely the least informed in the clique when it comes to new restaurant openings. I didn’t even know Restaurant Zén was opening in Singapore until the ‘siao on’-sters brought it up during one of our meals. Oops.

So yes… Zén, a partnership between Björn Frantzén and Unlisted Collection, is an offshoot of 3 Michelin stars Frantzén (Stockholm, Sweden).

Scheduled to open in late November 2018 at Restaurant André’s former venue, we sent in our restaurant reservation request in early October for 6 people. However, we were informed they could accommodate 6 people if we were separated as tables of 2 and 4. Sob, sob. And to secure our reservation, credit card details were required. It’s also interesting we were given the option to start at 6.45pm or 7.45pm. It’s kinda odd. No?

And so… With the enthusiasm of my ‘siao on’-sters, we were to dine at the restaurant on its second day of operation.

  

I arrived at the restaurant 3 minutes past our reservation time. And I panicked slightly when I tried to open the door but couldn’t. It was obviously locked and I had to quickly get inside. Late mah. I even wondered if ‘being locked out’ was the punishment for being late. But apparently one had to press the door bell for the staff to open the door. Ahhh…

Upon entry, the staff directed me to ‘The Lounge’ located at ground floor where I joined my ‘siao on’-sters. I wasn’t the last to reach, by the way. Keke. I initially thought the lounge was the waiting area but I was mistaken. Apparently this was where we would have the canapés too, before being led to the dining area.

While waiting for the rest to arrive, the staff handed me the drinks menu where I ordered a glass of white wine. And once everyone in our group reached, the staff passed us the food menu with additional options of non-alcoholic ($100) or alcoholic ($285) pairing. The intention of the food menu was to let us know what’s going to be served later since there’s only one tasting menu.

After we made up our minds with the pairing, we started our dinner menu ($450) with:-

  

1) Pre-appetiser, Complimentary (above) – We were each given a wine glass containing a sorbet-ball of plum-tomato juice. The staff then came round and topped our glasses with plum-tomato juice.

  
  
  

2) Canapés assortment, Complimentary (above) – We were served i) beer-poached lobster tartlet with dill-scented sour cream, trout roe and fennel flower, ii) crispy potato roll with creme fraiche and Vendace roe, and red onion rings, iii) celeriac tartlet with whipped foie gras, celeriac and apple salad, topped with toasted Danish rye and preserved truffle disc, iv) king crab and spruce shoots with sea urchin hot sauce and chrysanthemum petals, and v) sweet onion veloute with liquorice and almond. My absolute favourite was the celeriac tartlet. So, so amazing. Eat wth care though. A very fragile piece.


  

After we finished our canapés, we were told to take our wine glasses (if not empty yet) and follow the staff to the back of ‘The Lounge’ where we were shown the ‘produce box’. We were given a detailed introduction of the ingredients for our dinner.

One could also steal a peak of the kitchen which was designed with no walls. Uh huh, open-concept kitchen.

After we were shown the ‘produce box’, we were brought to the main dining area at second floor (by stairs). It was good news that we were able to sit together as a group of 6. Yeah!

And I understood their initial dilemma of hosting big groups. They were wondering how to bring the kitchen theatre to us; As part of the entire dining experience, the chefs personally plated dishes in front of us on the side tables placed beside our dining table, before the (completed) dishes were put in front of us.

  

3) Dish #1 (above) – Crudo: Zén prestige caviar, red deer, argan oil & finger lime.

  

4) Dish #2 (above) – Blue lobster, crispy koshihikari rice, yuzu pepper, clarified butter emulsion, sansho leaf.


  

5) Dish #3 (above) – Chawanmushi, sea urchin, ikura, unagi & hot smoked pork broth.

  

6) Dish #4 (above) – Scallop, vin jaune, blond miso from Kyoto, sprouted walnut & white truffle.


  

7) Dish #5 (above) – Chewy beet, ramson capers, chive scapes, preseved pine & mustard aioli. This was the replacement dish for the beef. Disappointing I have to say. I prefer to have a meat dish swapped with another meat dish. Like pork or lamb? Nonetheless, the beet texture was really interesting. And before this dish was served, we got to choose our knives from a box of custom-made steak knives from Morakniv (knife manufacturer in Sweden with more than 400 years of history) which shaft decorated with an intricate Sweidsh kurbitz motif by Swedish artist Pernilla Nordman.

  

8) Dish #6 (above) – French toast “grande tradition 2008″ & consomme a’la truffle.


9) Dish #7 (above) – Sea buckthorn sorbet, crystalized sea lettuce, blue & green tea.

  

10) Dish #8 (above) – Run-raisin smeifreddo, PX, frozen foie gras & oat muesli.

After finishing our main courses and two desserts, we were brought to level three where we continued the final leg of our Zén dining experience. The third storey was also known as ‘The Living Room’.

And having been fed with so much food at the lower floors, the cosy atmosphere of ‘The Living Room’ with the comfortable sofas certainly didn’t help; We were in food coma and were struggling to stay awake. Haha.

The staff rolled the tea trolley over where 5 types of tea leaves were presented. Unfortunately, none caught our attention. Sleepy already, I tell you.

  

11) Sweets #1 (above) – Grilled Malaysian pineapple tarte tatin brushed with 20 years-old mirin and black cardamom chantilly.

12) Sweets #2 – Assorted fruits comprising green muscat grape, mango, strawberry, persimmon and melon, and pistachio macaron. I personally didn’t like the fruits. The ingredients and/or seasonings used on the fruits were simply mismatched.

13) Coffee, $16 (above)

And finally… To answer the questions which I’ve been asked several times since dining at Zén. What’s the verdict? Worth it?

My dining experience at Zén definitely couldn’t be summed up with mere phrases of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I certainly enjoyed myself with my ‘siao on’-sters. And if I was asked to select my few memorable dishes, the canapés were strangely the winners. For me lah. But in no way should that be misinterpreted as the other dishes were bad! They were good. But I preferred the former.

It was also through our meal that I realised Zén aim at setting itself apart from the other high-end restaurants by offering a holistic experience of food, service and ambience. One would notice much thought went into the planning of the kitchen theatre. Example, the restaurant made sure there were sufficient waiting staff so that the 6 of us were served dishes at the same time once the 2 chefs were done with the plating. Or at least that was how it was for the first few dishes. I didn’t pay much attention after that because I was busy chatting. Keke.

And I enjoyed the chemistry of the entire team. We had the privilege of having 2 chefs for every course since we were dining in a big group. It was fun watching the chefs plate at both ends of our long table, and them throwing friendly competition at each other of who’s more efficient/faster at plating. Keke.

In fact, I was very impressed that although we were dining on their second day of operation, it didn’t feel that way at all. To think we were worried about being guinea pigs. Ha.

So back to the questions… Was my dining experience at Zén worth it? Should one hurriedly head down to Zén? Well, I say give them just abit more time and I am pretty sure the dining experience will definitely impress. I am not intentionally comparing Zén to now-defunct André just because Zén took over the venue which used to house André but even with my dining experiences at André, my 3 meals at André got better with time. So I believe the same for Zén; With some tweaks (like to the fruit dishes), the already-brilliant dining experience would be perfect.

And having mentioned André, I like what Zén did with the exterior and interior. It was familiar, but not; I’ve been to André and knew how the space was like, and Zén did a fabulous job in leaving no trace of André. Instead, they successfully created a new space with its own character. And it’s read that the architect behind Zén’s interior is Joyn Studios Architects, which also designed Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm as well as Frantzen’s Kitchen in Hong Kong.

It’s further shared by others who dined at Frantzén that the dining experience offered at Zén is pretty similar to Frantzén’s. So I say, give Zén some time for them to find their own identity too before spending a whopping $450. Since you know… $450 ain’t exactly a small amount.

Am definitely looking forward to return to Zén to see how my second experience would differ from the first. But that’s probably in 1.5 to 2 years’ time. And for reservation, do note tables for the coming month are opened for reservation on the first day of every month at 10am.

RESTAURANT ZÉN
41 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore
9236 6368, Website
Overall: 8.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sat : 18:45 – Late
Ambience: 9
Value: 8
Service: 9
* Closed on Mon, Sun

Dinner @ Kok Sen Restaurant

September 30, 2018 in Chinese

My girlfriends and I have been so busy that we celebrate one another’s birthday 2 months late. Our latest trend. Haha. So although my birthday was in August, we only managed to find time in September to celebrate. Keke. And because we were a big group of 7, I suggested heading to a zi char restaurant for us to order many dishes. Yeah!

It’s also the fact that we were dining as a big group that it was a must to make reservation at the popular and famous Kok Sen. However, it proved to be a real challenge to to even get through the line. Despite calling thrice, no one picked up my call. And since I was in the area for brunch, I popped by the restaurant and made reservation for dinner on Sunday.

On the day of our dinner, my girlfriends and I arrived at the restaurant at 6.30pm. And from the menu (pages 1, 2), we ordered:-

1) Sambal squid, $23 (medium) (above)

2) Prawn paste chicken, $26 (medium) (above) – With a whole chicken used, this was unexpectedly bad; Very dry. My girlfriends and I were shocked the dish was executed so poorly because prawn paste chicken is almost a ‘will order’ dish at zi char restaurants. So we honestly expected more, especially from Kok Sen since it’s even read from Michelin Singapore website that Kok Sen marinate the chopped chicken overnight in a secret prawn paste batter blended by the chef and freshly fried to order. We certainly tasted no prawn paste. My girlfriends and I joked that the main chefs must be busy with the signature dishes and left this dish to be cooked by the junior staff.

3) Claypot yong tau foo, $23 (medium) (above) – We ordered this as it’s strongly recommended by one of my girlfriends who dined at Kok Sen before. It’s also a signature dish of Kok Sen. And this was different from our usual yong tau foo. For the paste, Kok Sen used a mixture of squid, prawn and fish. And they are very generous with the paste stuffing, which was also what that introduced the firmness to the soggy vegetable pieces like eggplant. Do come early to try this dish as I read the dish (does) sell out before closing.

4) Black bean sauces fish head, $23 (medium) (above) – Stir-fried with bitter gourd, this was really good. I liked the sauce a lot.

5) Crispy noodle surface with shrimp omelette, $19 (medium) (above)


  

6) Big prawns hor fun, $36 (medium) – A must order since this was the other famous dish at Kok Sen besides the claypot yong tau foo. And this was seriously good. The sauce… Wow. My girlfriends and I concluded we could only satisfy our craving at Kok Sen should we crave for this rendition of hor fun. We haven’t tried something similar at anywhere else.

Our dining experience at Kok Sen Restaurant was superb. Highly recommended. We came for the food and it didn’t disappoint. My girlfriends and I were raving over every dish with the exception of the prawn paste chicken of course. Keke.

And in all honesty, I wasn’t expecting much of the service especially after our bad experience with J.B. Ah Meng‘s staff. But the service at Kok Sen Restaurant surpassed my expectation; My girlfriends got me cake but at 8.30pm, cafes in the area were closed for us to proceed with ‘Part 2′ after our meal. Since it was 2 slices of cake (bought from Keong Saik Bakery before our dinner), we decided to have it at the restaurant. All while silently praying that we won’t get chased out. And because we required new set of utensils to share the cake among ourselves, we requested for extra forks. And that’s when the staff surprised us by passing us disposable plates and forks. Wow. That honestly touched us.

But one shouldn’t expect much of the ambience. There was no air-conditioning although we didn’t sweat much because of the fans.

KOK SEN RESTAURANT
30-32 Keong Saik Road, Singapore
6223 2005
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sun : 12:00 – 14:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 5
Tues – Sun : 17:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon

Dinner @ Restaurant Ards // CLOSED

December 27, 2017 in Asian

“That place don’t allow smoking,” my friend replied when I texted to say we’ll be heading to a restaurant in Marina Bay. So in the end, for my friend’s (smoking break) need, I scrambled to find us another venue. And since we often ate Japanese and French cuisines, I thought it would be interesting to have Chinese Asian for a change. Just a few days ago, I chanced upon Restaurant Ards on instagram where Ards is an acronym for ‘Asia, roots, distinct, singular’.

And thus, with reservation made via Chope, my friend and I arrived at the restaurant on a weekday at 8.30pm. Restaurant Ards being a fairly new restaurant, it was only occupied on the ground level although the restaurant spanned across 2 storeys. And from the menu (pages 1, 2), we ordered:-

1) Piquant illustration, $188 comprised of:-

(A) Appetiser, Complimentary (above)

(B) Touch of asia (above) – First dish of our 15-courses meal was thinly sliced (almost) raw carrot. Served nachos-style with fillings within.


(C) Soy bean skewer (above) – Skewered housemade soy bean tofu served hot on a charcoal grill with crispy black moss.

(D) Origin pickle (above) – Pickled pumpkin garnished with mint and dill.

  

(E) Fragrance osmanthus (above) – And our next dish of oysters was served in a grand manner. To the extent that my friend, who normally don’t take picture of food, couldn’t resist but reach out for his phone too. Keke. After putting the steamer down on our table, chef-owner Ace Tan went on to pour osmanthus tea into the steamer to ‘trigger’ the dry ice. So yes, it was a very bubbly dish. It took almost 3 minutes before the oysters were visible. And placed on the oyster was cream cheese twigs, while beneath it was osmanthus jelly.


(F) 21″ egg tart (above) – Egg custard with mentaiko fish roe in homemade butter crust, topped with (raw) corn kernels, corn crackers and cured mullet roe.

(G) Mum’s chicken soup (above) – A very comforting dish made with chicken essence (extracted from herb-stuffed chicken after extended period of steaming), winter melon, fish maw and chicken-vegetable floss. My friend and I wished the portion was bigger cause it was really good.

(H) Tea mantou and ginseng honey butter (above)

(I) Ear of the sea (above) – 18-hours slow braised abalone served with noodles. I enjoyed this.

(J) 33 ingredients (above) – And we were told the rice ball was made with 20 types of grains. With the remaining 13 ingredients comprised of mushrooms and others. Haha. Chef Ace lost me halfway through his long introduction. I need to work on my memory. The rice’s round shape reminded me much of the days when my late uncle would shape the (Hainanese chicken) rice into balls during Lunar New Year eve’s dinner. But of course, the texture and taste of the ones served at Restaurants Ards leaned towards that of a rice dumpling instead.


(K) Fish on fish? (above) – My friend and I were shown the wine-steamed clams before it was taken back for plating. Our dinner took place on a day when the chefs decided to experiment a different way of cooking the fish. Ie, sous-vide. And unfortunately for us, the fish served on the fish-shaped plate was too raw. You know… It’s tough to slice through under-cooked fish. Unsure, my friend and I enquired with the staff, to which chef Ace came up and offered to further cook the fish. But we turned him down citing that we would enjoy the fish if it’s meant to be eaten that way. Coincidentally or not, my friend and I had really bad stomachaches after the dinner.

(L) Art of beef (above) – And since I don’t consume beef (due to religious reason), my dish was replaced with scallop. I was glad my scallop also had the charcoal-powder crust as what’s done with the beef. And yes, my friend ate his wagyu too soon for me to snap a picture. Sob. Though he did share that the beef wasn’t impressive. And interesting enough, as we were sharing our feedback towards the end of our meal, chef Ace mentioned they were still in the midst of determining which beef grade would be best suited for their preparation method.


(M) Coconut kafflr ice (above)

(N) Desserts’ heritage (above) – And this was Restaurant Ards’ take on local dessert cheng tng (清汤); Barley cooked in syrup with water chestnuts, bird’s nest and grated almonds. And I was surprised to find out that it was a warm dessert as I tucked into it.


(O) Tropical fruits basket (above)

(P) Our childhood memories (above) – Mango and passionfruit jelly with pomelo was chef-owner Ace’s while coffee jelly with cream cheese was chef-owner David Lee’s.

Our dining experience was an interesting one at a progressive Asian restaurant. Restaurant Ards was a good alternative to hotel’s Chinese restaurants for fine dining. Sorry, Asian and Chinese cuisines are almost the same to me. However, our dining experience at Restaurants Ards was only good as an one-time experience as the food was not ‘wow’ enough for us to return. But despite that, I won’t totally rule them out.

Noting that Restaurant Ards is still works in progress, I would give them more time to iron out the teething problems. And I really hope it works out well for chef-owners Ace and David. After interacting with chef Ace during our dinner, I could sense his passion and sincerity. I really applaud their courage in bravely pursing their dreams of wanting to showcase Asian cultures and to bring a unique dining experience though creative natural cooking techniques and Asian ingredients.

RESTAURANT ARDS
76 Duxton Road, Singapore
6913 7258, Website, Facebook
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Tue – Sat : 12:00 – 14:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Sun