Menu makeovers

With new chefs taking over the helm at four restaurants, customers can expect interesting changes to their menus.

Moosehead Kitchen-Bar

110 Telok Ayer Street

Opening hours: Mon to Fri, 12pm to 2.30pm, 6pm to 10.30pm; Sat, 6pm to 10.30pm, closed on Sun

Tel 6636-8055

GLEN Ballis, as chef-partner and culinary consultant for Moosehead Kitchen-Bar, is one who believes that change is the only constant.

The two-year-old eatery recently took on a new head chef and in the process launched a new menu as well. "I don't want to have just one person running the show all the time," says Chef Ballis. "The restaurant shouldn't be known for just one chef. Moosehead is about being experimental."

Chef Ballis, together with his son Daniel, who runs the front of house, conceived Moosehead as a living, breathing "project", centred not on a single person, but on the social environment as a whole, encompassing food, music and art, and serving as a platform and "stepping stone" for young talents.

The chef of the moment is Australian Drew Wilson. The 27-year-old had previously worked in the Ripples restaurant group in Sydney and is new to Singapore. He was introduced to Chef Ballis through a friend.

Moosehead was previously headed by Spaniard Manuel Valero Ruiz, who has now moved to Kilo.

As owner, Chef Ballis decides on the menu's direction. While both the previous and current menus carry strong global flavours with unusual ingredient and flavour pairings, the former menu offerings were stronger and more robust in taste. The new menu features more vegetables, fruits and juices and are lighter in taste overall.

The two chefs worked together on creating the new dishes. Among them are the seared watermelon topped with watercress and feta cheese, with a dressing of mirin, lemon and olive oil (S$12), roasted cauliflower with garlic miso, leek confit and creme fraiche (S$14) and roast beetroot with pomegranate, toasted almonds and ricotta (S$12).

A meat dish that is worth having are the pork scratchings, topped with beef tartar and yuzu mayo (S$6). The vegetable dishes are hearty and a welcome change from the usual salad offerings, and will appeal to diners who don't fancy eating greens.

The new dessert on the menu, strawberries and cream (S$12) served with house-made sorbet and grated chocolate, is Chef Wilson's personal creation.

With Chef Ballis away most of the year running his six restaurants and bars in Moscow, the weight of the cooking falls on Chef Wilson's shoulders.

He is already very comfortable shopping for ingredients at Tekka market, and says that it has been a learning experience getting the flavours right in each dish. "Working with mirin, yuzu, and rice wine vinegar is new to me," says Chef Wilson. "So I do spend a lot of time tasting, tasting and tasting."

"Moving to Singapore allows me to develop myself as a chef," he says. Asked about the difference between working in the two cities, he says that while the dining scene in Sydney is competitive, "it is even more cut-throat in Singapore. I constantly have to stay focused, to be on top of the game".

Jamie's Italian Singapore

Vivo City, #01-165

Opening hours: Mon to Thurs, noon to 10pm, Fri, noon to 11pm, Sat, 9.30am to 11pm, Sun, 9.30am to 10pm

Tel 6733-5500

IF cooking was as easy as merely following instructions from a cookbook, everyone can be a professional chef.

Which is why Sardinian chef Alessandro Laconi believes that his heritage gives him an edge when it comes to Italian cooking. "As an Italian, I know the real taste."

The 39-year-old has been cooking since he was six, starting in his mother's kitchen, where he would be playing with eggs, dough and flour. Picking fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden, he would learn how to make his favourite Culurgiones, a dish of ravioli with potato and pecorino cheese.

He entered the professional kitchen when he was 16, and honed his skills at hotels and restaurants in Italy, Germany, and the UK. He came to Singapore in 2012 and headed the kitchens at Pasta Brava and Al Borgo.

Chef Laconi takes over from Alex Barman who is now the head chef for the upcoming Jamie's Italian Kuta Beach.

The restaurant chain was started in 2008 in Oxford, England, in partnership with British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and his Italian chef-mentor Gennaro Contaldo. There are now more than 50 restaurants worldwide.

Here's how it works at Jamie's Italian. All recipes are created by Oliver and Contaldo, together with a team of chefs. At every menu change, all these new recipes are then sent to the restaurants by the Jamie's Italian International team, based in the UK.

Each restaurant would then pick dishes which they feel would work well for their market. "It is all very strict, down to the type of ingredients we use, which supplier we use and the cooking methods," says Chef Laconi. Some may see such procedures as being very restrictive and not allowing for much creativity, but Chef Laconi says: "This way, I'm able to maintain the Jamie Oliver standard. It is all about ensuring high quality."

New items on the menu, which will be rolled out on April 23, include Crispy Music Bread (S$7.50). This dish has three pieces of thin bread, topped with slices of pecorino sardo and small dollops of chilli jam mostarda on the cheese, finished with sliced chilli.

There's also the Italian Nachos (S$7), which are fried mini raviolis stuffed with three cheeses and served with arrabbiata sauce.

From the mains, the Chicken Al Mattone (S$27.50) looks set to be a winner. The dish features marinated chicken, grilled under a brick, served with wild mushroom sauce, rocket and Parmesan. Disclosing how he has to follow strict guidelines, the restaurant uses only free-range chickens from a farm in Malaysia. "So if we run out of chicken for the day, we run out of the dish. There's no shortcut such as going to the supermarket to buy chicken," he explains.

Chef Laconi is now working on improving his nonna or grandmother's Culurgiones, which he will submit to the international team for approval. Whether or not the team agrees with his recipe will take three months to decide.

Chef Laconi's dream however, is much bigger. "I hope to be working together with Gennaro to create new dishes."


Cook & Brew

The Westin Singapore

12 Marina View, Asia Square Tower 2

Opening hours: Mon to Thurs, 11am to midnight; Fri, 11am to 1am; Sat, 6pm to 1am, closed on Sun

Tel 6922-6948

IT may not look like much, but Chef Aaron Foster's turkey meatballs follow him wherever he goes.

The meatballs (S$15) are made of minced turkey and topped with tomato sauce, percorino and fried bread. The Canadian chef first started serving them when he was working at the Ritz Carlton in Toronto. His boss had been pestering him to do sliders, but "I didn't want to. Instead I made these turkey meatballs and as a joke, passed them off as sliders".

It caught him by surprise when orders for the meatballs started pouring in, and later he added them to the menu at two other restaurants in Toronto where he worked.

He brought those meatballs to Cook & Brew, where he is now the executive chef at the Westin Singapore. Whereas the gastrobar used to have only one all-day menu, Chef Foster has now introduced three separate menus: lunch, dinner and a bar menu.

The lunch menu presents starters new to Cook & Brew, including fuss-free dishes suitable for power business meetings or entertaining clients. Lunch is more casual, while the dinner menu is more lavish, consisting of single-portion, sharing platters and communal "family style" dishes.

Cook & Brew was previously helmed by Sven Cepon, who is now at Le Meridien Malta.

The new menus are a reflection of Chef Foster's upbringing and culinary background. He began cooking at 14 in his mother's kitchen, and besides Toronto, he has worked in Montreal, New York and Bangkok.

Chef Foster's Ontario roots are evident in the Train Car Breakfast (S$16) made of butter-fried brioche, creamy scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, salmon caviar and horse radish, a dish reminiscent of a classic breakfast served on Canadian train cars.

His other signature dish is the House-Made Smoked Sausage New Orleans' Style (S$22). He used to watch his father make sausages twice a year, and in the process learnt about butchery, and the art of producing charcuterie and sausages. "This is a dish that takes me back to my childhood," he says.

Another Canadian dish that he's put on the menu is Poutine, or French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Chef Foster's version, which he has named Poutine Eh, because that's the way Canadians say it, comes with pulled pork as well.

The 34-year-old chef, who was trained in fine dining, says Cook & Brew is a good fit for him. "It is lots of fun, and I can do fine dining in a casual way," he says.

Getting ingredients that he needs is not a problem, but getting them within budget is a challenge. "We get around the problem by making things ourselves," he says, giving an example of 12 types of sausages that are made on site.

He plans to add more dishes to the menu, such as a vegetable pierogi. This is a classic Eastern European dumpling stuffed with potato, meat or cheese. "No one here knows what a pierogi is. So everyone from the kitchen staff, to the front of house, and even the marketing team have to learn about this," he says.

So why does he want to put something on the menu that no one knows about? "It is my job to educate," he says.

Akari Japanese Dining Bar

Marina Bay Financial Centre, #01-02

Opening hours: Mon to Sat, 12pm to 2.30pm; 5pm to 10pm

Tel 6634-0100

AFTER five years of wooing the financial crowd with the kind of dependable cooking to suit their fast-paced lifestyle, Akari Japanese Dining Bar is making them stop and savour the real washoku.

Washoku refers to the traditional dietary culture of the Japanese that emphasises ingredients, appropriate culinary methods, presentation and taste.

Above all, kaiseki is the most refined form of washoku, where diners can enjoy all the different cooking methods such as stewing, grilling, steaming, frying, drying and fermentation.

Akari Japanese Dining Bar, which opened in 2010, will roll out its kaiseki menu at the end of April, and this will replace its current dinner set menu.

In the process, it has also brought in a new head chef from Japan, Hirotaka Murata. The Nakano-born Chef Murata, who has more than 20 years' experience, was the head kaiseki chef at the popular Ginyu Ryokan in Hakone and "his kaiseki sets are highly recommended by many Japanese customers," says a spokesman for Akari. "We trust he will offer diners a truly authentic Japanese dining experience without the need to fly over to Japan."

The restaurant declined to reveal more about its previous chef, and would only say that he has moved to Tomo Izakaya, another restaurant under the Tomo Group of which Akari is also a part.

This is the first time since Akari's opening that it has a new head chef from Japan. Chef Murata, who joined the restaurant in February, is now working on revamping the entire menu.

But first will be the launch of the kaiseki menu. Its spring menu is an 11-course menu priced at S$150++. They include dishes such as oyster chawanmushi; an appetiser comprising anago sushi, baby turban shell, smelt fish with wasabu vinegar; blue fin tuna sashimi; grilled wagyu beef and Hokkaido scallop rice.

"The philosophy of Akari is to offer authentic and premium Japanese dining culture at affordable prices. We realize many people are hesitant to try out washoku because they feel it's expensive," says Chef Murata. "With the kaiseki courses I created for Akari's customers, I hope to change people's perception that washoku is only available at a premium price."

This article was first published on April 17, 2015.
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