It’s always nice to discover new places run by young, talented and passionate local chefs. This past week, I’ve had the immense pleasure of dining at two such establishments. The first is Macaron, an innovative “dessert restaurant” owned by the very well-known Les Amis group. The second is The Universal, a smart and cool Modern European restaurant and wine bar on Duxton Hill.
Macaron, the Les Amis group’s latest restaurant is cool. It has dark, sexy and somewhat industrial interiors and offers one of the most unique dining experiences in town. This restaurant is also something of a longshot. While I really, really hope Macaron is hugely successful, I honestly don’t know if a restaurant devoted to experimental, innovative and conceptual desserts can really work in Singapore. Dessert restaurants have certainly succeeded in larger and arguably more cosmopolitan cities like Madrid and New York in recent times. The real question is whether our consumers, our diners, are prepared to go somewhere and have a six or nine course dinner, out of which more than half of their dishes, perhaps even two-thirds, are sweet.
What is not in question is the talent of Macaron’s head chef, Pang Kok Keong (pictured here). I have previously written about this passionate and creative pastry chef and also documented a rather amazing 15 course dessert degustation dinner that he once prepared for me and some friends.
Macaron opens officially this coming Friday. And while it brands itself as a “dessert restaurant”, it does offer a selection of excellent savoury dishes. In fact, the idea is not to go to Macaron for a post-meal dessert but to visit for your entire dinner. You can order a la carte or choose to have a prix fixe 4 course, 6 course, 9 course or 15 course meal. If you choose the 4, 6 or 9 course dinner, then you choose your dishes from the a la carte menu; you’re instructed to choose a specific number of dishes from specific menu categories (savoury appetizer, savoury entree, dessert amuse, dessert glass, grand dessert, and petit fours). The 15 course menu is a degustation, which means Chef Pang will choose what dishes he wants to serve you. To see the restaurant’s full menu, please click here.
S and I were lucky enough to drop by for a sneak preview of some of Macaron’s dishes. We tasted the Pulpo (which is pictured at the top of the post with the Foie Gras Parfait), the Olive Oil Cake, the Pan Con Tomate, the King Salmon Tartare, the Mentaiko, the Virgin Mary Sorbet, the Chocolate Sorbet, the Sunny Side Up, the Pain Perdu, and the One, Two, Tea (for full descriptions of these dishes, please click here). My own personal favourites were the Olive Oil Cake, the Mentaiko, the Chocolate Sorbet and the One, Two, Tea. That said, every single thing that Chef Pang served us was exciting and innovative in its own right. The dishes both look and taste like nothing else served in any other restaurant around town.
I really do hope that Singapore-based readers will take the time to give Macaron a try. It’s a really different dining concept that deserves attention and support. Just make sure to go with an open mind and a big appetite. And be prepared to be wowed.
The Universal opened at the end of February 2007 (which I guess makes it more new-ish than new). It is housed in a small but pretty shophouse on Duxton Hill, a picturesque and tree-lined dead-end street in Chinatown. A wine bar occupies the ground floor while the restaurant proper, which can seat 35 patrons, is located in two bright and cheerful rooms on the building’s first floor. The Universal’s kitchen is run by chef de cuisine Gary Kwang (pictured above), formerly of the ill-fated Crazy Horse, Les Amis and two-star Michelin restaurant Le Clos de la Violette.
S and I enjoyed a pretty exceptional lunch at The Universal earlier this week. (Admittedly, we were hosted by two friends from the F&B industry who know Chef Kwang pretty well.) We were very impressed with the maturity and skill demonstrated in this young chef’s food. The flavours in all of Chef Kwang’s dishes were complex and refined. His presentation was smart, contemporary and attractive. Quite simply, we were, from the very first course, surprised and then satiated with course after course of beautiful food. We started our meal with sauteed white asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, served with shaved summer truffles, roasted cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and pea shoots. This was followed by a delicately sweet and rich artichoke soup. Our main course (pictured here) was a grilled beef tenderloin served with beetroot reduction, truffled mashed potatoes, deep-fried mushrooms, and more summer truffles. Dessert was a mille-feuille of Manjari chocolate mousse with a passion fruit parfait. The food, as I have said, was excellent. S and I left very excited to return again soon and try more items from Chef Kwang’s a la carte menu (he also offers set lunches and dinners). I can only hope that everything I try on future visits will be as good as the food I ate this past week.
11 Unity Street, Robertson Walk
36 Duxton Hill