Very little should surprise the well-travelled connoisseur. But the world of gastronomy always has little tricks up its sleeves, ready to catch a seasoned gourmand by surprise with sparks on his palate. It is a position he willingly puts himself into, over and over again, in pursuit of that intangible yet evident je ne sais quoi in taste. “A complete lack of caution is perhaps one of the true signs of a real gourmet,” the legendary food writer MFK Fisher tells us in her anthology of essays, An Alphabet for Gourmets. “He has no need for it, being filled as he is with a God-given and intelligently self-cultivated sense of gastronomical freedom.” Where then should a gastronome who considers himself an arbiter of taste go when he has tried everything? What restaurant can one go for flavours that can shock the senses?
Enter Chifa!, Resorts World Sentosa’s newest jewel in its decorated offerings of restaurants. It’s named after the word for that eclectic blend of Peruvian-Chinese food, “Chifa”, which is said to have come about after locals heard Chinese immigrants saying “chi fan” (“eat rice”) during lunch. As for the declarative exclamation mark, one need only walk into Chifa! to be confronted with its bold philosophy, with bright lights, neon lanterns and bright red furnishings that mimic the interiors of a temple.
The food is no less exciting than its exteriors, helmed as it is by chef de cuisine Rodrigo Serrano, a Peruvian native who has years of restaurant-helming experience across Peru, France, the Maldives and finally here, in Singapore. Each dish is made with Peruvian ingredients, glimmering with the Chinese and Cantonese touches that make Serrano’s dishes so unexpected, creative and explosive. The yellowfin tuna tamarind ceviche, for instance, is made with a tamarind leche de tigre (a citrus-forward seafood marinade), which dances on the tongue with its sharp sweet and sour profiles. Japanese cucumbers and daikon add a welcome crunch to the ceviche, which is balanced by the smooth fat of avocado.
Elsewhere, a hen “caldo criollo” chimichurri soup borrows Chinese techniques by long-boiling chicken broth with Chinese herbs and flower mushrooms, updating a traditional Peruvian chicken soup. What’s special is its pairing with ginger chimichurri, which adds a bright kick of freshness and spice to what is typically a simple soup with muted profiles. A kong bak bao, widely known as the Chinese version of a hamburger, is spiced up with a “chalaca” salsa, infused with mint and accompanied by sweet potatoes to round up a fuller-bodied palate.
China and Peru are on two ends of the world map, but go somewhere in the middle and you’ll find the Middle East—a land with diverse culinary histories and cultures going back thousands of years, perfumed with spices and rich flavours. It’s what inspires Morrocan-born Israeli celebrity chef Meir Adoni, whose first venture in Singapore, Aniba marries eastern and western influences in a daring declaration of Middle Eastern cooking.
Dimly yet atmospherically lit, Aniba harkens back to an archaic time with its gentle, sloping ceilings adorned with symbols, alongside a wall that stretches across the bar glittering like crystal formations on the face of a cave. The food, however, is anything but. Bringing with him all the artful expertise of world-famous restaurants Arzak, Alinea and Noma, Adoni’s menu includes gems like the eggplant carpaccio, with its fire-roasted eggplant slices served with tahini. But Adoni’s dishes are never as straightforward as that—date molasses and dried roses are unusual ingredients in our part of the world, which are expertly used to add an exciting sweetness to lift the dish. Generously drizzled in olive oil and made texturally interesting by pistachios, it’s a wonderful starter to the rest of Aniba’s offerings like the katayef, which is traditionally a kind of sweet dumpling dessert served during Ramadan. Adoni’s version is decidedly savoury, which sees grouper, pine nuts, harissa and fresh market vegetables enveloped within a preserved lemon semolina pancake. Never one to let your palate recede to complacency, Adoni serves it with an electric Thai-style vinaigrette to spark the imagination with its seemingly disparate yet sensuous blend of flavours.
Dessert is not to be missed either, with items like the malabi, a traditional milk pudding. It is updated with a plum and warm spices compote that adds a comfortingly fruity and earthy quality to the dessert, topped with a raspberry sorbet and caramelised shredded filotuile. A sprinkling of pistachio hibiscus powder and dried rose petals adroitly complete the presentation, concluding a meal that had just set one’s palate ablaze.
To add more excitement to the gastronomical experience is a trip to London, England, at HUMO with Colombian chef Miller Prada’s newest restaurant nestled in Mayfair. Prada isn’t swayed by one cuisine or the other, on closer scrutiny though, his Colombian roots and Japanese training under Michelin-starred chef Endo Kazutoshi become evident. What’s most striking about HUMO is the prominence of wood-fire cooking in Prada’s gastronomy, using different species of wood to deliver varying qualities of smoke and char. The result? Elegantly-plated dishes with bold flavour profiles for a titillating edge in one of London’s most refined districts.
Prada uses every technique in his repertoire to amplify flavours, such as ageing Ike-Jime Hampshire trout for 12 days cooked over HP18 oak, served with three month-aged caviar grilled in kombu kelp for a briny, electric start to a meal. The West Highland langoustine is undeniably a standout, which is grilled in direct contact with AB55 whisky barrels, HR2 applewood, and CM13 silver birch for an unparalleled char. Served with fermented Kissabel apple, it’s an explosion of flavours that fills one’s senses assertively. Elsewhere, Prada proves that vegetables are just as interesting as meat, with a cauliflower cooked under ash and served with Rokko Miso, yuzu, tarocco orange, nori and Spanish black winter truffle for both an acidic and umami punch.
“Gastronomy is the intelligent knowledge of whatever concerns man’s nourishment,” the great epicure Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savar indicated in his book, The Physiology of Taste. It is this savoir-faire that all chefs take to heart, even in Phuket at its corner of the world. At Hom, chef Ricardo Nunes channels the ancient art of fermentation, a notoriously tricky undertaking with vastly unpredictable outcomes and even more volatile flavours. Nevertheless, it is an art that has sustained generations through inhospitable winters and continues to nourish under Nunes’ gastronomic ethos—one that respects the seasonality and sustainability of local ingredients and strives towards a lower carbon footprint.
Jars of ferment line the bar at Hom, where cucumbers mature with bunches of dill in amber-coloured brines alongside vines of young peppercorns (or are those young eggplants, or juniper?) in dark liquids. It’s hard not to feel like you are wandering through a zoological lab with animals preserved in formaldehyde, which is probably the point—Nunes wants you to expect the unexpected. Nunes, who has several years of experience working in storied restaurants like Potong, Belcanto and Gaggan, works closely with resident zymologist Mateo Polanco to refine fermentation techniques that take centre stage in Hom’s 10-course menus.
There are no ingredients especially air-flown from different regions of the world; in the name of sustainability, it’s important to Nunes that every ingredient sourced is grown in Thailand. It also means that all ingredients are extremely fresh, allowing their pristine qualities to shine through in each dish. Take one of Nunes’ liquid amuse-bouches, starring an organic passionfruit that’s been fermented to accentuate its already-tart and acidic profiles. Served with ruby pomelo, local herbs and flowers, it’s the perfect starter to electrify the palate before taking in other unusual delicacies like the fermented wild boar belly. Never mind the novelty of wild boar meat—its fermentation is undoubtedly peculiar with an even more indescribable flavour profile, with intense notes of umami and acidity all at once.
Elsewhere, Nunes refuses to shy away from durian as he harnesses the smarting flavours of black durian with goat, pumpkin and his version of a Mexican mole, creating an eclectic blend of savoury, sweet and pungent flavours that will shock one’s palate. There’s only so much one can say, Nunes’ creations demand to be experienced, not read about; to surprise diners and engulf smell and taste so completely with the assertive maturity of fermentation, while always maintaining a balanced palate.