Kitchen at Bacchanalia turned heads when it nabbed a Michelin star last year, then shocked the Singapore dining scene again when its chef departed a few months later. We find out if new Chef Luke Armstrong can keep the home fires burning.
When Singapore’s inaugural Michelin stars were handed out last year, one of the wily upstarts to receive One Star was The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, a hip and intimate dining experience located on Hongkong Street.
With a wonderful melange of European and Asian ingredients and techniques, it’s hard to put a label on Bacchanalia’s cuisine. (And perhaps would be a bit too trite and on the nose to call it a party in your mouth!).
So what did founding Chef Ivan Brehm do after garnering one of the highest accolades in the culinary world? He decided to up and return to his native Brazil! But not to worry, mamas: the restaurant’s now in the more-than-capable hands of Aussie Chef Luke Armstrong, who’s spent the last decade at a trio of Michelin winners in Europe (One-starred Pied a Terre and Two-starred The Ledbury in London, and world-renowned Three-star winner Oud Sluis in the Netherlands).
I recently stopped by Kitchen @ Bacchanalia to get a taste of Chef Armstrong’s vision (he’s been on board for about six weeks now) and sample some of his key new menu additions. I came away impressed and delighted by the 6-course tasting menu prepared for the media (on a regular night diners can choose between five and eight courses). Here were my fave dishes:
Seriously! Not only was the housemade French sourdough delightfully doughy with an oh-so satisfying crunchy crust, but it comes accompanied by two absolutely divine butters: a sweet carrot butter made with vegetables from the restaurant’s own gardens in the Cameron Highlands, and yummy salted butter as well. Bread – seemingly a rarity at many restaurants in Singapore – is meant to set the communal tone at Bacchanalia, and it was so damn delicious I couldn’t wait to see what else was in store.
Termed a signature dish by no less than the Chef himself, this beautiful mollusk from Norway was served with ceviche, crème fraîche, black truffle with yuzu and soy dressing. I’m usually not a scallop gal, but this rendition was beautifully fresh and mild. I particularly loved the brightness from the yuzu, though was disappointed to barely taste the black truffle.
Salt-Baked White Beetroot
Raise your hand if you even knew that beetroot comes in a white variety (I certainly didn’t). Chef Armstrong is clearly a beetroot aficionado, waxing rhapsodic about strolling through Parisian markets to find the best beets of the season (Bacchanalia will showcase different beets throughout the year). Served atop creamy lardo di colonnata, with a dash of cold uni on top and a dab of cabernet sauvignon sauce on the side, the dish is gorgeous to look at, and just as tasty. I think I would have preferred the temperature to be a bit colder, but would certainly be happy to give it another go!
This dish is normally Monkfish, but Chef was so thrilled with a super-fresh shipment of Mackerel that arrived the day before from France, he called an audible and decided to showcase it on the menu. The results were not disappointing! Shimmering prettily atop a bed of rice, the slightly crispy fish (just the right amount, too – I usually find fish portions to be too big) came with a yummy poached Zeeland oyster, a wonderful saffron and yogurt sauce (I was soo tempted to ask for more of that amazing bread to sop it all up!), and a tangy mizuna cream. This was a truly spectacular crescendo to the meal. Although I enjoyed the subsequent Grass-fed Tenderloin that followed just as much, in the days since that lovely meal it’s been the mackerel that stuck with me most.
It was a treat in itself watching this delectable dessert get the liquid nitrogen treatment, but eating it was even better. I loved the contrast of the flourless cake with its creamless mousse filling (according to Chef, both deliberate choices to lighten the dish a bit), and simply adored the dollop of cool mint ice cream on top. I found the citrus gel on the side wholly unnecessary, but admire the kitchen’s gusto for experimenting with lots of different ingredients (I did like the little dollop of creamy fresh yogurt).
The restaurant’s 5- and 8-course tasting menus are priced at $138++ and $188++ per person, respectively – everyone at the table must get the same menu, which is all for the better since anyone with a mere five courses would get insanely jealous of someone eating all eight. I was very impressed by the playfulness of the ingredients and the inventive plating; other highlights included stellar, attentive service and a compact, interesting selection of mostly European wines. While we certainly ate a wide variety of dishes, I was fairly amazed at how light they felt in retrospect – no food comas to be found! I think Bacchanalia would make for an equally ideal date night for a foodie couple, or a wonderful excursion with a group of gourmand friends; the intimate atmosphere lends itself equally well to both scenarios. Couldn’t we all use a few more Michelin stars in our lives?
Opening hours: Lunch Tuesday to Friday, 12pm to 2:30pm; Dinner Monday to Saturday, 6pm to 10:30pm.
The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, 39 Hongkong Street, Singapore 059678, Tel: (+65) 9179 4552, www.bacchanalia.asia