After the departure of chef Johnston Teo, Sorrel has closed and will make way for a new Unlisted Collection restaurant, Cheek by Jowl, serving modern Australian dishes.
A long shophouse dining room that leads the eye to a theatrical open kitchen at its end harks of just about any painfully hip café or restaurant in one of Singapore’s conserved neighbourhoods. But throw in the cuisine of a band of vibrant, young local chefs and you’ve got Sorrel, one of the most exciting restaurants to open in the city lately.
At 24 years old, the locally bred, Malaysian wunderkind of an executive chef waiting on his permanent residency is Johnston Teo. He applies the knowledge he picked up in Pollen, Tippling Club and JAAN to head a kitchen of mostly bespectacled and almost-hipster set of local cooks with a quiet intensity beyond his years. No one here looks older than 35, so perched on one of the six bar stools overlooking the kitchen or 34 seats in the dark-toned room, it feels almost as though you’ve checked into a trendy supperclub run by a bunch of eager friends, fiddling with tweezers and wrestling a tangle of octopus tentacles to show off their cooking chops. The Unlisted Collection’s gamble on a generation stereotyped as flippant is a risk well paid off.
The dishes are all laboriously made. His sous chefs and restaurant servers present each dish in the reasonably priced three- ($45, available at lunch), five- ($88) or seven-course ($118) meals with a verbal paragraph of ingredients. That’s usually a warning sign of overworked and over-garnished plates, but on most of the artfully presented dishes here, each brunoise cube of kohlrabi, spawn of olive oil pearls and show-stealing protein add up to more than the sum of their parts.
The pre-meal snack is a translucent chip of potato on crack. An innocuous garnish of chive flowers ignites the palate with pepper that’s doused with a dollop of sour cream. And a subsequent tiny ball of fried yam with black pepper and curry leaf prevents Teo’s food from boxing itself into one any cuisine.
A good strategy to make the most of a meal for two here is to share a five- and seven-course spread. The menu is fluid and the constant stream of informative Instagram and Facebook updates tell a story of how the kitchen is constantly innovating, playing with new ingredients and putting together new dishes.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find something as enlightening as our plate of pasta with langoustine bisque or the more-is-more pairing of sweetbread and foie gras we encountered at our two anonymous tastings. The former enriches a sea-salty bisque of the shellfish with a button and morel mushroom duxelles for a deeply complex, earthy-sweet sauce that coats delicately thin ribbons of pasta. They leave a long trail of flavour with the accompanying langoustine tail and tiny gems of funky mussels.
The latter, a gutsy stack of super savoury veal sweetbread balanced on a lobe of foie gras, is pure sin – almost sticky with fat and truffle jus. In any other kitchen, the combination would turn out a hard-to-finish plate of cloying excess, yet Teo and his crew perform a feat of balance, somehow managing to give each bold off-cut its due respect on the plate.
Other high points were the shallow purée of sweet pumpkin and crunchy seeds salted with small cuts of smoked eel, and the curl of octopus tentacle with umami branches of algae and fractals of mini-Romanesco broccoli. We relished the bittersweet row of German kohlrabi turnip with piquant horseradish, but the beads of borlotti and Kurobuta pork cubes draped in paprika spice could have been cooked a touch more – both were a little too chewy on our visit.
Contrasting the orchestrated cuisine is the friendly service that is so attentive, it almost watches you from around corners, ready to top up your glass of water, recommend a bottle of craft beer ($22-$25) or wine by the glass ($18-$22) and ask after the new-to-the-menu dish you had.
Sorrel is the kind of restaurant you won’t hesitate to bring your visiting food-serious friend to show off how credible our scene has become. It’s truly heartening to watch a group of young local chefs pull off an experience with an authenticity that can rival or – yes – trump one headed by a name-dropping import. There’s more pride in our hearts than any SG50 campaign can stir. Give Teo his permanent residency, and while you’re at it, throw in a citizenship.
|Venue name:||Sorrel (CLOSED)|
Boon Tat Street
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri noon-2pm, 7-10pm; Sat 7-10pm|
|Do you own this business?|