One week ago, Florian and I finally managed to dine at Restaurant Zén. It was our highly anticipated meal of the year and a very belated celebration for his promotion. We’re only a third into 2020 and I am sure of this being the most anticipated of the year because Restaurant Zén has already won itself 2 Michelin stars within its first year of opening. It also comes at a high price tag of $450++ per person for dinner. Of course, with Covid-19 making its presence felt very prominently the last few months, we have little clue when we’ll be dining out like this again next.
We arrived promptly at 7am, ringing the doorbell to Zén, which is run by the Frentzén Group. It was like entering a friend’s home when we stepped in and found ourselves in a living space that neighboured the open kitchen. Here, we were seated within a casual setting, and served snacks.
1 of 5: Celeriac Tart with Aged Shima Aji Crudo with Horseradish, Tomato Water Aspic, Hanaho, and Fennel.
Florian treated himself to a glass of champagne while I had a non-alcoholic juice to have with our canapés. I actually didn’t order the juice but they served it. We were later charged $25 for the glass but we just decided not to make a fuss.
2 of 5: Crispy Potato (råraka) with Lemon Sour Cream, Pickled Onions, and Swedish Vendace Roe from Kalix – I liked this a lot! Crispy, creamy, sour, sweet.
3 of 5: Artichoke Barigoule, Comte Croustade, Shiroita Kombu, Butter Emulsion, with a nest of Dried Ramson, Lemon Thyme and chrysanthemum
4 of 5: Chargrilled Broccoli in a Nori Tartlet with Lobster, Uni XO sauce and Marigold
Before our last canapé was served, we were invited to visit the kitchen where we were introduced to the beautiful ingredients that were to be part of our dinner. We also got to say ‘hello’ to the kitchen staff, all of whom were very friendly and refreshingly young looking!
As Hui Shan went through the ingredients and explained to us where they came from, we indulged in our last amuse bouche.
5 of 5: Braised Black Lip Abalone and Seared Foie Gras with Périgold Truffles and Koshihikari Rice cooked in Sprouted Walnut Milk
Florian and I found that the first four snacks had a sharp tang to them reminiscent of sour cream. They were all balanced in flavour with texture from the crispy tart base that shattered cleanly in the mouth. The last snack was quite a change to the palate with a stronger Asian flavour that was comforting with the rice. For Europeans, it may be risotto-like, for Asians, congee-like. This was rich, and warm, with a broth that was tinged with a slight bitterness.
After we had our warm welcome by the chefs in the kitchen, we were led up the stairs to the dining room.
Soft lighting created a warm ambience. Music was pretty cool – not plain instrumental.
My handsome date!
Shortly after we were seated, our first course was brought before us, waiting to be plated.
1 of 8: Crudo – Chūtoro Tartare, King Crab from Norway, Bafun Uni glazed with Aged Ponzu, Zén Prestige Caviar, seasoned with Shiso Oil, garnished with Menegi, Hanaho and Sudachi
Everything I love!!! Ok I have never had a lot of good experiences with uni but the bafun uni here was incredibly sweet and creamy. I did not want this dish to end. Everything was fresh and sweet. The shiso oil was sharp and herbaceous, while the caviar, lightly briny and the acidity from the citrus helped cut the richness of the uni. I could have had a large bowl of this and be satisfied!
2 of 8: Hokkaido Milk and Cream Chawanmushi, Cauliflower Foam, Grilled Unagi glazed with Abalone Liver Tare and topped with Grated Wasabi, Aged Pork Dashi, Wild Trout Roe, Young Ginger Oil and Yuzu Zest.
Another rich, creamy custard, punctuated by the deep, complexed smokiness from the pork broth. The skewered unagi pieces had a gentle smoke, sweet from the tare which worked perfectly well with the rest of the elements here. I particularly enjoyed the burst of roe in every bite.
3 of 8: Lobster with Fermented Sea Buckthorn Kosho Sauce.
Kosho is a salt-cured condiment often made using yuzu and chilli. Here, sea buckthorn is used instead. The kosho renders the sauce almost yoghurt-like – slightly tart from the sea buckthorn and with a subtle hint of spice. It was an ideal complement to the perfectly cooked, generously sized lobster. Would not have said no to a second half!
4 of 8: Roscoff Onion Veloute, Sliced Almonds, Liquorice Foam
I have to admit that when I heard ‘liquorice’, I was slightly put off. Yet, this turned out to be a stellar dish. Naturally sweet concentration of onions, it was indeed velvety and moreish with sliced almonds for lots of crunch. The almonds also provided nuttiness that juxtaposed nicely with the strange bitter-sweet of the liquorice.
5 of 9: French Toast ‘Grande Tradition 2008’ – Parisian French Toast Sourdough filled with Onions braised in Butter and Lemon Zest, Parmesan Cheese Cream, 20 year old Balsamic Vinegar aged in a Juniper Barrel, Shaved Black Truffle
This was luxe to a T. Sourdough stuffed with beautifully caramelised onions, dipped in batter and fried to a crisp. The balsamic vinegar got a little lost in there but the heady scent of truffles that wafted up our noses as we took a large bite in more than made up for it. A two-biter that was a heavyweight in terms of flavour.
In between courses 5 and 6, the lamb for our main was brought before us to inhale and set eyes on.
6 of 8: Challandais Guinea Fowl, Morels stuffed with Foie Gras and Truffle, Gooseberry and Ramson Vinaigrette, Vin Jaune Beurre Blanc
Tender ten-day aged guinea fowl. This was very delicious and I especially liked the spiciness of the ramson it was garnished with. The morels were interesting but not my favourite on the plate. Speaking of the plate… Did not like the holes speckled all over. I think I have a slight case of trypophobia. I think clusters of small holes look terribly disgusting!
Before our main, we were also showcased a box of splendid looking, hand painted knives from Sweden. Each knife is painted using a technique called Kurbits which dates back hundreds of years.
Parker House Rolls with Gyokuro Green Tea Butter and Fleur de Sel
Buttery, light as air, and perfect vessels for mopping up juices left at the bottom of your plate!
7 of 8 : Blanc de Blanc Lamb from Aveyron, cooked over hot coals. Served with Sauce Vierge, Ramson, Capers, Cloudberry and Banyuls Vinegar, and a blend of Spicy Herbs
Loved the sauce. Was unfortunately, not quite a fan of the lamb. It was exceptionally tender and juicy, but I was not too keen on the intensity of gaminess the meat had. It was too strong for me and Florian felt likewise.
8 of 8: Dessert! Salted Carrot and Oolong ice-cream, Sauternes Jelly, Chestnut Honeycomb, Mikan and Saffron Conserve, Sea Buckthorn Waffle and Earl Grey Cream.
The ice-cream caused confusion to my palate at first taste. Like thunder tea rice, the more I ate it, the more I found myself wanting. The complexity in seemingly simple elements made this an outstanding ending to our meal. The ice-cream was deliciously salty with a hint of bitterness from the tea. Eaten with the crisp waffle, some crunchy honeycomb and a dollop of earl grey cream, I felt 8 years old again.
Florian was already missing the waffles before he finished his.
With stomachs already stretched, we were invited to their third floor. Shotoku glasses on emoji napkins. Mine had an ‘ok’ sign… I’d like to think it a positive note on how Singapore’s situation will be at the end of this Covid-19 month-long ‘circuit breaker’.
We were first up to the lounge, and so, were treated to the entire floor. It was cosy and comfortably furnished to evoke a laid back mood, fitting for a nightcap.
We were first served a Sake Lime Sorbet with Coconut Jelly as a palate cleanser. This will surely pucker your lips and wake your stomach back up!
Alongside, we had a mini fruit ‘basket’ comprising Kinkan with Vanilla, Amaou Strawberries with Candied Pinecones, Muskmelon with Manzanilla Glaze.
The musk melon was so sweet and juicy! Never thought I would say that about a melon.
Petit Fours: From top row (L to R) to bottom row –
Lingonberry, Pear and Hibiscus Jelly; Pistachio Macaron with Matcha and Kyoto Miso
Salted Cepe Ganache and Walnut Praline; Black Garlic and Liquorice Fudge
Toasted Meringue with Brown Cheese and Arctic Raspberry Curd; Apple Cobbler with Tonka
Florian had an espresso while I had a chrysanthemum tea to go with.
My favourite was undoubtedly the praline – a thin shell encasing smooth dark chocolate ganache with a hint of salt and earthiness from the mushroom, with a walnut piece at the centre.
The black garlic liquorice fudge was interesting. You either love or hate it. I tried some and was not quite blown away. After leaving, I found myself yearning to taste it again.
Dinner was an experience in itself from the moment we rang the doorbell to enter, the the time we bid Restaurant Zén goodbye. The immaculate eye for detail by the service staff impressed Florian and I. Florian, being left-handed, appreciates when servers notice this and place his cutlery accordingly. Aside from Shinji, this was the only restaurant in Singapore thus far, that quietly took note and swiftly placed his silverware in their rightful positions.
Our waters were constantly topped up, sparkling for Florian, and still for me.
We were blown away by the warmth and hospitality of the entire team, from Executive Chef Tristin Farmer who heads the kitchen, to the kitchen team to the staff at front-of-house – Lisa and Yelicia. There were many more whose names I did not catch but they made our evening a memorable one. When we were escorted down by elevator, the doors open to all their kitchen staff standing by the kitchen to wish us good evening and goodbye. It was a small gesture that made a world of a difference to us!