Singapore's restaurant industry has been buzzing with a slate of openings and one of the more ambitious ones is Restaurant Born, a contemporary fine-dining restaurant by chef Zor Tan, who comes into his own after decades of working in illustrious restaurants here and abroad.
A cavernous space in a heritage building in Tanjong Pagar, checked; show-stopping art installation in a chic setting, checked, and a menu concept that is accessible yet challenges the notions of flavours, checked.
Tan has all the ingredients down pat for a restaurant that heralds his coming-of-age in the dining industry. A long-time protege of chef Andre Chiang, Tan has worked his way up from a commis cook in Jaan to helming kitchens in acclaimed restaurants like the now-defunct Restaurant Andre, RAW in Taipei and Sichuan Moon in Macau. And now, he has returned home.
For the debut menu of Born, which opened on June 21, Tan has stuck to what he knows best — a retrospective of different chapters of his life through food. The Malaysia-born chef built his culinary career in Singapore and has worked in Taipei and Macau.
Each of the nine courses on the dinner menu ($368++) is tied to nine 'guiding principles' — perhaps a throwback to Chiang's Octaphilosophy concept that has eight elements.
The dishes capture memories of his first cooking job (at a Japanese chain restaurant), his overseas cooking collaborations, and his fiery foray into Sichuan cuisine to the birth of his two children.
Be prepared to set aside at least three hours for dinner and an inquisitive mood for storytelling as the wait staff and chefs present the food and explain the multi-faceted approach behind constructing each dish.
Although we were not seated at the main 12-seat counter at the heart of the restaurant, we had the kitchen theatrics delivered to the table. Some of the courses were plated and assembled tableside — we got to see spraying of espuma, shaving of garnishes and the hoisting of glutinous rice balls from wooden steamers.
Tan's contemporary cuisine is intertwined with cross-cultural influences from French and Sichuan cuisines, but we were most impressed by the use of ingredients from Sichuan cuisine, such as er jing tiao (green chilli), green pepper and mountain chilli.
The nuanced control of heat in some of the dishes was deftly executed as the warmth from the spices gently enrobe the palate without burning the tongue.
For the dainty snacks, Tan has opted for dashes of tang and sourness to rev up the appetite. We nibbled on pickled winter melon with shiso and pickled jellyfish that glowed with subtle heat emanated from mountain chillies.
Other snacks are haute interpretations of economy rice dishes — a throwback to his parents' stall. The standout is eggplant puree sandwiched between a crackling-like chicken skin mille-feuille — a crunchy and moreish take on the fried eggplant and pork belly dish.
The mains are a mix of cuisine influences that reflects Tan's culinary journey. Tan's favourite root vegetable is Jerusalem artichoke, which is presented as a sweet and nutty espuma. The foam's mild sweetness lingers on with the burnt butter that has been slow-cooked in it.
The teardrop-shaped fresh lily bulbs do a good job of replacing the crunchiness from the tuber.
To elevate the sweetness, the dish is garnished with shavings of white chocolate. The dish is contrasted yin and yang style with a maltose-coated Jerusalem artichoke chip in earthy chocolate soil.
Another one of our favourites is the monkfish course. The heat from the fermented Hainan Imperial Chilli puree and green Sichuan pepper oil builds up gradually in the mouth without inflicting much burn.
The spice is doused with the meaty slabs of fish drenched in an emulsion of chicken fat and stock.
The only red meat main course celebrates the restaurant's concept of Circle of Life on a plate. The dry-aged pigeon, which has been confit and grilled, is served with barley risotto topped with a wafer-thin cross-section of the corn, which looks like a cheerful sunflower.
Like many Chinese meals, rice is the last main course, but it appears as a dessert here. Tan's take on Mont Blanc is a sweet-meets-savoury treat. A dreamy soft cloud of toasted rice cream espuma is piped on a base of the deconstructed dessert that comprises chestnut puree, black garlic and caramel.
It is served with a quenelle of milk ice cream and topped with pungent-sweet streaks of black garlic puree before being crowned with an intricate charcoal sable tuile.
Tan is making our tastebuds work overtime till the very last minute. For the quartet of petit fours, they are themed according to the popular Chinese flavour profiles of sour, sweet, bitter & spicy.
The more interesting ones are the bittergourd bon bon made with thinly sliced bittergourd in chocolate ganache and mini financier brushed with beef fat and chilli oil.
Tan has delivered a solid menu for Restaurant Born's debut that stays true to his time both in and outside the kitchen and showcases his culinary prowess and precision.
The birth of Restaurant Born is a long time coming, and we are excited to see it grow.