Espa, Level 1, Resorts World Sentosa, tel: 6577-6688
Open: 10am to 10pm daily
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambience: 4 stars
Price: Budget from $70 to $130 a person, depending on your appetite
Normally, the idea of spa cuisine leaves me cold. Bland, oil-free, tiny portions that leave you hungry. There is nothing about that to get you excited, right?
But I was curious about Ian Kittichai, the new consulting chef for Tangerine, the restaurant at Espa, the spa at Resorts World Sentosa. He is a celebrity in Thailand, where his Bangkok restaurant Issaya Siamese Club was ranked No. 31 on last year's Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list put out by British trade publication Restaurant Magazine.
He also runs restaurants in New York, Mumbai and Barcelona. So that does sound promising.
Tangerine is not new. The 21/2-year-old restaurant was formerly helmed by Singapore-based chef Sam Leong and his wife Forest, but chef Ian took charge of the menu starting last month.
Having apprenticed in renowned Western restaurants such as The French Laundry in Napa Valley and elBulli near Barcelona, the Thai chef brings a modern sophistication to his dishes. So the food at Tangerine may be calibrated to meet certain dietary restrictions such as the amount of calories and saturated fat, but the presentation is in no way plain.
And judging by dinner there last week, the dishes do not just look good, they are also delicious.
What remind you that you are in a spa, though, are the tiny food portions.
My companion and I shared two starters, five main courses (which was everything on the menu) and two desserts, and we were just about full.
We had ordered only three main courses initially but there was so little food that at one point, we were seriously contemplating adjourning to the Malaysian Food Street nearby for char kway teow. But that would have obliterated whatever health benefits the meal had, so we decided to order the remaining two selections instead.
It was the right move because they were good too.
Our dinner started well with the Thai-Inspired Sous Vide Pork ($18). Thin slices of Australian pork loin were cooked at 65 deg C to get them tender without drying out and laid out on a square plate before being covered with shredded vegetables, herbs and flower petals of different colours. The visual feast reminded me of dishes from modern fine-dining restaurants.
A chilli dressing with sweet-sour flavours gave it the Thai touch, but the chilli was toned down enough so that you got the kick without the burn.
The second starter, Blue Swimmer Crab And Pomelo Salad ($20), was adapted from the Thai pomelo salad but with toppings of coconut crisps, flower petals and salmon roe that you do not find in the original dish. The crab got a bit lost in all that, but the rest of the ingredients had enough flavour to make up for it.
Among the main courses, I liked the Asian Style Sea Bass And Salsa ($26) most. The fish was lightly panfried to get a crisp coat over the smooth, moist flesh. It was placed on sauteed Napa cabbage and topped with some chopped-up vegetables and herbs. At the table, a lime chilli sauce - it was more of a soup, really - was added, which was just what was needed to perk up the dish. Adding it at the last minute also meant that the fish remained crisp and the different flavours of all the ingredients remained distinct.
Another fish dish, Baked Carrot-Miso Cod With Wakame Salad ($36) was good too with the fish cooked perfectly. But it was also rather similar to miso cod dishes served in many other restaurants and less of a surprise.
So was the Lean And Spicy Black Angus Tenderloin ($38), though I have to commend the chef for keeping the meat interesting with a dried chilli tamarind dressing. Tenderloin can be such a boring cut of meat otherwise.
I liked the taste of the Tangerine Chicken Roulade ($28) with its tangy Thai mandarin orange sauce. But do not order it unless you have a tiny appetite or don't mind forking out money for a second main course. There were only three small roulades of chicken meat on the plate, each a little bigger than an average-sized scallop. I would have found it small even as a starter, let alone a main course.
Desserts were good too, especially the Guilt-Free Chocolate Mousse ($20), which was made with 70 per cent dark chocolate and beancurd. It tasted no less rich than cream-laden mousse and boasted a strong chocolate flavour.
I have no complaints about the cooking at Tangerine. Every dish tasted good, though some stood out more than others. But the prices were deceptive.
Diners with bigger appetites have to bear in mind that when they share five main courses between two people, the bill will balloon. Mine certainly did.
Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
Asian Style Sea Bass And Salsa ($26)
Plain sea bass gets a star turn through expert cooking and well-balanced flavours.
This article was first published on Feb 8, 2015.
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