Monday, March 30, 2009

More than just numbers

Fi53fty three is creating a huge buzz in the culinary hive of high end restaurants in Singapore… and its not just about the numbers with this gem. Housed at number 53 in a refurbished heritage shop house on the quaint Aremenian Street, the 2 story restaurant makes one bold statement in keeping to only 7 private dining tables, seating a maximum of 28. Helmed by the young Singaporean head chef Michael Han, widely regarded as the next big thing here, the equation here is nouvelle cuisine done with panache.

We popped by to sample the lunch menu which offered a choice from three appetisers, mains and desserts. For starters, the air dried wagyu with beetroot and hibiscus granita was visually stunning. The latter was a refreshing palate cleanser contrasting the salty, fatty cured meat.

There was also a brilliant cold pasta dish of spaghettini in a konbu dressing and topped with (of all things) toasted hay (yes – the stuff horses eat). Refreshingly light yet packed with umami flavour, this was beautiful to look at as well as to eat.

What was outstanding however was the fruit salad of Japanese cherry tomatoes, amao strawberries and compressed watermelon smothered in a rich, zingy and salty horseradish cream. This dish is a perfect starter, awakening and refreshing the palate at the same time – and the clever contrast of ingredients is something that you’ll probably have never (or expected to have ever) tasted before. My only gripe with this dish is that the chef could have been less heavy handed with the horseradish cream – which whilst a perfect contrast for the fruit salad, was quite rich and a little overwhelming towards the end.

For mains the seared beef flap (served deliciously rare) accompanied by light as air potato soufflé and crunchy potato bits was deceptively simple but done very well. This less “luxurious” cut whilst slightly chewy had great flavour and was a joy to eat. The pan fried wild barramundi with a crispy baguette again proved that you don’t have to dress a great ingredient for great results.

The only letdown for me personally for an otherwise impressive lunch was the desserts. Whilst clever in the complementing of the base flavours, the roasted figs with olive tapenade served with Szechuan peppercorn ice cream tasted far too medicinal for me.

The chocolate caramel enoki mushrooms with raspberry granita and peanut cream on the other hand was interesting – the tart elements taking the edge nicely off the otherwise very sweet chocolate caramel.

But back to the numbers – with only 7 tables to serve in one seating, at least 5 chefs (including sous and assistants) in the kitchen, and 4 service staff, the name of the game here is an intimate dining experience.

From freshly baked bread served in a bag packed with heated stones to keep its contents warm, to fussing over the preparation and presentation of each dish (I observed 4 chefs crowding over our plates before our meals were brought out.

Nevertheless, one can’t help but wonder about the long term success of Fi53fty three as a business operation given its obvious high cost per dining customer. But with food this good and the reservation book being filled weeks in advance since opening, all that's left to do is the math.

Fi53fty three
53 Armenian Street


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