Four hands way better than two

The Michelin guide for Singapore isn't even out yet, but Ivan Brehm and Hideaki Sato were surely stirring up some stardust of their own in Bacchanalia's kitchen earlier this week.

Their two-night, Four Hands dinner event is easily one of the most inspired meals in Singapore so far this year, with the one-starred Sato's linear narrative disrupted by Brehm's genre-bending riffs in the most engaging way.

Pairings generally go like this - one chef does his thing, the other does his and you use your imagination to tie the two disparate styles together.

None of that was needed here as Sato and Brehm seemed more like culinary soulmates - with totally different styles but yet a harmony of spirit.

That was how Sato's redefined simplicity played off Brehm's pinch-of-this, pinch-of-that approach to textural layering. After a couple of palate ticklers such as a wake-me-up kimchi-caviar combo and addictive scallop crackers with orange rind jam, Sato kicked off with a velvety slice of raw wagyu melting into a pillow of poached oyster while tart ponzu jelly socked you back to attention.

Then Brehm stepped in with a basket of ingredients that he turned into lightly smoked shiny yellowtail sashimi on top of excellent crunchy rice doused in earthy, almost chocolatey sorrel emulsion, with sorrel leaves and bits of sweet guava confit for a head-scratching explosion of flavours. You have no idea how such seemingly conflicting ingredients find a common flavour profile but they do and that's all you need to know.

After Sato's mellow wagyu-oyster, he stepped it up with black egg custard - essentially smooth, silky squid ink chawanmushi - paired with curls of barely grilled, fat aori squid like a successful arranged marriage, topped with confetti of radish slices.

That Japanese-but-not-quite-Japanese aesthetic was echoed in Brehm's next dish, an astounding coupling of buckwheat and chocolate into delicate pasta sheets layered over runny egg yolk, white bean puree whipped with white chocolate, topped with sweet briny uni and rounded off with fragrant basil sauce.

How he made it all fall together with such intricate flavour, precision and cadence like it was the most natural thing to do is why we're convinced Brehm is one of the most original minds in the Singapore dining scene today.

That said, we're less effusive about the red cabbage roulade which takes us out of our comfort zone with an oddball teaming of soft cabbage leaves with a rather squishy chestnut stuffing with black fungus, although the apple and cabbage dashi had a lovely, full-on intensity.

Sato's plump roast pigeon, gussied up with slow-roasted chicory and an intense mandarin orange spiced jam brought the meal back to earth without skipping a beat, and he ended his side of the show with a stunningly gorgeous clear sugar dome over a perfect strawberry and meringue chips. Brehm's textures of mangoes with coconut oil shortbread and attap seed, on the other hand, was too much of a sweet-sour attack.

But that didn't detract from what a good four hands dinner can be - where two strong talents put together is way better than one.

This article was first published on April 2, 2016.
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