Fat Duck invention in a new restaurant setting
As we’re in a thick of a restaurant boom in Singapore, there’s truly no shortage of places for a special night out. Bacchanalia is one of those treats.
It’s hard to tell that this brightly lit, wood-dominant restaurant on HongKong Street bears any relation (beyond its name) to the restaurant-lounge-bar at its original Freemason House location. The Fat Duck’s ex-development chef, Ivan Brehm, still calls the shots, and the food still bears the same New Nordic sensibilities as it places locally sourced ingredients in stylish flourishes on the plates.
The new space is in favour of setting a stage for the food of Brehm, his second, Mark Ebbels, and their team. This is the astute, long-awaited decision craved by those who’ve put up with the incongruence of its former setting: dark and heavy with velvet, fat armchairs and regal pomp.
The new restaurant-only shophouse breaks down the wall between kitchen and dining room. On entry, diners are plonked right in the centre of a busy open kitchen pass and a side service counter before they’re shown to a table deeper in the unit – or, if you’re lucky (and have booked well ahead), a chef’s table right up close to the action. If you’ve eaten at Bacchanalia, you’ll be happy to learn that cutting-edge techniques and intriguing dish dissertations are very much in the kitchen team’s wheelhouse, and is now served up here in five- ($115) and seven-course ($150) doses.
The star of the new menu is a starchy risotto, fragrant with whiffs of Thai tom yum. Zinged up with shavings of ginger and galangal, the beads of aged carnaroli rice sponges up cold-pressed coconut cream for an incredibly rich mouthfeel. Grouper, caught and delivered daily from the Changi straits, is a robust fillet plated with a rice cake, salted to hark of Nyonya zhang (rice dumpling) with fermented soya beans. At times, it feels like Brehm’s turned to local flavours as a homage to a city he’s called home for three years, and they seem to be executed with comfortable familiarity.
Bacchanalia also excels in paying vegetables their due respect. The restaurant continues to work with Hatiku Farm in Cameron Highlands to grow fresh greens that would traditionally have journeyed from far-off European patches. A salad of red wood and wood sorrel, chiffonade and dehydrated mustard Beef tartare with mustard greens, wood sorrel and beef fat mayo The new open kitchen greens, loaded with a gutsy appreciation for bitter flavours, is paired with a tartare of Irish grass-fed beef and a beef fat mayo. Dehydrated chips of tarhana – a Turkish dried soup of flour, yogurt, onions and tomatoes – provide a crescendo of face-crumpling tartness against a juicy loin of Iberico, walnut and dandelion leaf purée.
Desserts pack the same enticing invention. A sturdy black sesame cake grounds the acids and florals of guava sorbet and soursop jelly. A sour jam of pineapple is tempered with a pat of fromage blanc and coriander, and then sweetened with a nutty crumble, that is reminiscent of a Chinese New Year snack.
Sitting further away from the bustling kitchen can feel like you’re missing out on the excitement. But the staff, led by sommelier Matthew Chan and manager Alejandro Abad, are well-versed in Brehm’s sometimes complicated dishes and help allay the FOMO. Heads brimming with the flavours, we were again treated to the ingenuity and thoughtful sourcing we’ve come to love about Brehm’s food – this time, in a setting fit for his genius.