Now into its 9th year, the annual G Restaurant Awards continues to celebrate the vibrancy of Singapore’s culinary landscape by recognising stellar dining experiences delivered by top restaurants in Singapore.
Over the last 12 months, Singapore’s dining landscape has continued to evolve and welcome new restaurants, despite challenges faced particularly in the service sector. The establishments have upped their game, and injected much creativity into their concepts and edible masterpieces. Several world-renowned chefs have even invested their time and expertise in our tiny city.
Meanwhile, stalwarts likeÃ‚Â Gunther’s,Ã‚Â Li Bai,Ã‚Â Rang MahalÃ‚Â andÃ‚Â Hua TingÃ‚Â are not resting on their laurels. Having spruced up their interiors or updated their menus, they continue to impress with consistent offerings. New joints such asÃ‚Â IshiÃ‚Â andÃ‚Â NouriÃ‚Â charm with their fine creations woven with exclusive ingredients. Adding even more buzz to the scene is a bevy of independent outfits that offer casual chic dining experiences.
After months of tastings done incognito, our panel of experienced food writers and editors, together withÃ‚Â an external jury comprising ambassadors, business leaders and wine experts, has carefully selected 48 noteworthy restaurants. We present to you this year’s Awards of Excellence winners.
ALSO READ:Ã‚Â THE NEW “IN” DINING TREND IN SINGAPORE: CHEF’S TABLES
Odette is an ode to a grandmother’s legacy of delivering joy and excitement through food. With this theme in mind, chef Julien Royer and his team turn commonplace and exotic ingredients into a multi-dimensional experience. He said it plainly when he told The Peak: “I’d rather put the action first and let it tell the story.”
At Odette, the “action” is in the details – heavy, glass-panelled doors shield the calm, cream-, pink- and grey-toned space; to the left of the entrance, an almost-subtle oak, polyfoam, brass and paper aerial installation by local artist (and Odette’s creative director) Dawn Ng.
On the table, vessels like the specially crafted wooden box to showcase the Brittany pigeon in smoked hay, made by Greg Swyny of The General Co, and selected pastel-coloured ceramics show the deliberate effort that goes into supporting artists, local where possible.
Like the art gallery it is housed in, this contemporary French restaurant has a story-telling style that is more visual and textural than narrative, qualities which ring even clearer on the plates: bright green watercress and parsley butter; a Breton-like scallop “mille-feuille” (scallops stuffed horizontally with black truffles), hand-picked from Normandy; sea urchin, langoustine tartare and mussel foam in a delicate urchin-shaped glass vessel; and the asymmetry of the arresting reds, yellows and pinks of the signature salt-baked heirloom beet variation on a plain, white plate. Sight outmanoeuvres smell and taste.
It isn’t until the “messenger pigeon” is served that we hear from the chef himself: “I have been working on this dish for many years and I am delighted to share it with you,” he conveys, via a note tied to the pigeon drumstick, as if to take a bow before his finale.
The best shows invite their audience to be a part of their story. Royer’s team waltze us into this seamlessly, especially as Royer himself is away, tending to a festival. Like adept art gallerists, the waitstaff approach, introduce a course or component, and swiftly but not hurriedly take leave for us to make our own interpretations. When we need them, they are simply a hover away. And, when engaged, they can easily convince you to invest in an entire bottle of dessert wine, to have with the entire selection of the cheese trolley. At the end of the meal, they make sure you get a bottle of Odette’s versatile juniper berry jam.
There is plenty going on in and with Odette, yet the experience isn’t overwhelming. Instead, it beckons you to come back for more, to participate again, in different ways. Isn’t that what every (gallery) restaurant aspires to offer?
#01-04, National Gallery Singapore, S(178957)
There’s always a lot going on at Nouri: on the plates, in the form of the upcoming calendar of special dinners and, not least, in chef Ivan Brehm’s head. Started by Brehm last year, Nouri is a place where you leave your expectations at the door, and by that we mean that you’ll never be able to guess what Brehm will serve for his omakase menus.
Born in Brazil and having worked at many luminous restaurants such as New York’s Per Se, Spain’s Mugaritz, and England’s The Fat Duck, including a stint heading Bacchanalia in Singapore, Brehm is finally cooking the food he wants to cook. Calling it “crossroads cooking”, the fare here revolves around food stories from the world over.
And in Singapore, where many such stories converge, Nouri feels very much at home. It features a long stone communal table where half is used by Brehm and his team to cook and plate desserts, while the other half is for diners. There are also tables along one side and a private room near the back kitchen. Brehm welcomes diners who want to move freely around and even peer over his shoulder – after all, he’s putting everything on show.
For regulars, the standard beginning of Bread and Broth: Rye sourdough served with a butter that is ever-changing – a parsley for us – and a shot of vegetable broth serve as a chequer flag wave-off for the rest of the five-course lunch omakase to proceed.
Remarkable dishes by chef Ivan Brehm include beef tenderloin with spring onion puree, as well as aged carnaroli risotto seasoned with kanzuri and topped with carabinero.
The first course of pickled Japanese sardines served with aromatic oils and black lime (a salted and sun-dried spice) whets the appetite for the slightly heavier dish that follows, Brehm’s take on a popular Brazilian fried street snack, here stuffed with a crab mixture and served with a turmeric and coconut sauce. Our highlight arrives next: The comforting and bright orange-hued risotto made using aged carnaroli rice, seasoned with kanzuri, a Japanese chilli and yuzu paste from Niigata prefecture, and topped with tasty carabinero prawn.
Running a close second is the fourth course of succulent beef tenderloin served with a charred spring onion puree. The dessert is the most reminiscent of an Asian one given a booster treatment – the aged mandarin sorbet provides the acidity needed to balance the sweet halwa and the nuttiness of the peanut soup.
The great thing about the wine list is that it is filled with interesting choices from small producers, rather than trophy wines. Service is bubbly and professional in turn, but it’s undeniable that the staff know their stuff.
72 Amoy Street, S(069891)
Ishi is the latest outfit to join the bevy of fine-dining Japanese restaurants in Singapore. Located on the second level of the new Intercontinental Robertson Quay, it serves Kappo cuisine, which features both cold and hot preparation using the season’s best ingredients.
This place is an exercise in understated elegance from the moment we set foot in the restaurant, until our final sip of green tea before we leave the premises. There aren’t many decisions to make from the moment we take our seats. Once we choose the omakase menu, which includes two appetisers, sashimi, wagyu beef, nigiri sushi, a rice bowl and negitoro roll, all we have to do is go with the flow. (The dinner menu also offers seven or 12 pieces of sushi, along with appetiser, sashimi and a rice bowl.)
The counter seating allows us to watch the chefs meticulously carve a variety of fish. As he prepares the dishes, affable head chef Masaaki Sakashita happily chats with guests about the different ingredients.
A highlight for many is the A4 Miyazaki beef served with snow salt from Hiroshima, Japan. We are told that a factory specially presses Japanese salt into delicate specks that resemble snow flakes. Sprinkle this over thin slices of grilled well-marbled wagyu and enjoy with freshly grated wasabi and garlic chips.
Before the sushi items are served, we get a petite portion of snapper and creamy monkfish liver, as well as tempura of baby corn from Hokkaido – lightly battered and non-greasy.
Soon the procession of sushi begins. We get well-cooked and expertly moulded rice, draped with fish like sea bream and maguro. For us, standout sushi items include the Spanish mackerel sharpened with mildly spicy and acidic mustard seeds. There’s also the black throat sea perch, spiked with a touch of homemade chilli fermented with koji and soya sauce for three months.
Towards the end of our sushi course, we are rewarded with a generous piece of lightly torched otoro sushi. We round off the meal with a Hokkaido rice bowl topped with plump ikura and uni, and a comforting bowl of miso soup. For sweets, expect a light dessert that changes with the season. Ours is a scoop of sake lees ice cream with sweet Japanese melon.
Before the exquisite meal is over, the kimono-clad waitress ferries cups of hot tea to us and then proceeds to pour sake into our glasses, discreetly and with much finesse.
#02-06/07 Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay, S(238909)
Having pre-dinner drinks is a great way to start an evening at Origin Grill & Bar. Decked out in dark wood and dotted with plush leather chairs, Origin Bar has a convivial vibe that makes you relax immediately. We enjoy the namesake Origin cocktail, a gin-based thirst-quencher made with spiced pineapple and sugar cane. We also have our eye on other intriguing cocktails such as Leaf The Curry (think curry leaf, tamarind, cardamom and aged rum), and tempting bar snacks (poached lobster roll with trout caviar, anyone?). Alas, dinner beckons.
In contrast, the adjacent Origin Grill, with its high ceiling, light wood floors, well-spaced wooden tables, and hand-stitched leather Tripolina chairs in teal, is quiet. The affable staff enthusiastically relate the restaurant’s emphasis on ingredient provenance – line-caught fish and sustainable seafood and meat are used.
Sydney-born chef de cuisine Heidi Flanagan does a splendid job with the quality ingredients. Dishes, simply yet exquisitely prepared to allow the produce to shine, are hearty and satisfying.
For starters, a dish of raw tuna from the Philippines with whole edamame beans, served on crispy, wafer-thin vegetable-and-seed flatbread, tease the taste buds with fresh, lively flavours, and a lightly spicy avocado-and-jalapeno cream packs just the right punch. The Fish of the Day – line-caught by fishermen in small boats off the coasts of Indonesia and sent to the restaurant daily – is grilled to perfection and served whole, accompanied by a bed of greens and half a lemon.
Origin’s highlight is the fine selection of beef from Australia, Japan and Ireland. While the Snow-Aged Full Blood Wagyu A4 from Niigata, renowned for its marvellous buttery texture, is enticing, we decide to go for the 500g 35-day dry-aged grass-fed ribeye on the bone from Longford, Ireland, because the prospect of a beefy, succulent dry-aged steak calls out to us. It does not disappoint. The beautifully seared medium-rare steak is crusty on the outside and tender and pinkish red on the inside, with a mellow meaty flavour that lingers on the palate. Perfect with a red from the sizeable wine list.
In the day, the dining area is bright and cheerful, making it a fine spot for entertaining guests. Origin’s express lunch menu is particularly ideal for business lunch. Take your pick from two or three courses, and choose from tantalising starters such as chicken liver and brandy house pate or octopus charred with smoked paprika, served with spiced tomato jam and eggplant puree.
Mains-wise, you’ll have a choice of three types of steaks (striploin, rump or flank steak) served with vegetables. Non-meat eaters can opt for the grilled sea bass fillet or spaghetti with jumbo crabmeat with white wine cream sauce. For desserts, a daily selection of luscious cakes (keep an eye out for the chocolate fudge cake) awaits.
Origin Grill & Bar
Lobby Level, Tower Wing, Shangri-la Hotel Singapore, S(258350)
The venerable Li Bai at Sheraton Towers has garnered a loyal following over the years, thanks to its classic Cantonese fare executed with flair. Hong Kong-born chef Chung Yiu Ming, who has decades of culinary experience, still helms this place after 18 solid years. So rest assured that the flavours coming from the kitchen continue to be highly dependable.
Interior-wise, there’s not much change over the years, but no one is complaining. Setting the mood for an elegant meal are deep-green jade placemats and shiny silver-capped chopsticks, neatly arranged on the tables.
We settle in for a weekday lunch feast. To kick off, we munch on dim sum including steamed crystal dumplings – delicate, soft parcels filled with a colourful medley of vegetables. Quintessential items like har gow with plump prawns are refined and well made, and stir-fried radish cake with XO chilli sauce is aromatic, thanks to the sprinkling of preserved meat and dried shrimps.
Barbecued sliced duck brightened with slices of fresh mango and a drizzling of lemon sauce is highly recommended, as is the Peking duck, carved tableside. The roast pork and caramelised char siew are flawless too.
We can’t quite decide on the mains, so the waiter suggests either the spare ribs or the beef with black pepper. We pick the latter and are pleased
with the juicy sauteed diced beef fillet tossed with aromatic black pepper and garlic, and further perfumed with red wine sauce. From the healthy vegetarian options, the braised beancurd with slightly crunchy bamboo pith, Japanese mushroom and fresh choy sum is another classic dish that’s superbly executed.
Stir-fried fish noodles served with prawns in a comforting supreme stock offers a springy bite and is delicious to the last strand. If you like, there’s also a piquant version with diced chicken in Sichuan sauce.
The fine food coupled with warm and friendly hospitality make Li Bai a stalwart that you don’t mind coming back to time and again. The business set lunch is a great option for those who want a satisfying and impressive lunch, yet have limited time.
Lower Lobby Level, Sheraton Towers Singapore, S (228230)
Mezza9 has long been a standard-bearer for champagne brunch and it continues to do so with Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne served by the bottle – or so it promises. During our visit, we don’t find our champagne bucket sitting tableside, but it doesn’t bother us as our glasses are vigilantly refilled. Our waiter, it seems, has made it his personal mission to ensure that no one leaves thirsty. Not once do we see the bottom of our vessel.
To call it a champagne brunch is a bit of a misnomer as the quality of alcoholic beverages available forces you to make some tough decisions. Do you follow the lead of the happy diner shuttling multiple glasses of martinis from the legendary Martini Bar or drink your way through nine gin and tonics, each a showcase of small-batch gins – try the Kokoro, an English gin brightened with Japanese sansho berries – and artisanal tonics? (Note: Mezza9’s new “party room” has a bar that offers 40 kinds of artisanal and bespoke gins).
Over at the Japanese food station, sake sits alongside a selection of fresh sashimi and nigiri sushi. After watching two French men swirl, sip and approve of a 2015 Pinot Noir from Burgundian producer Albert Bichot, I swipe a glass too, and its fruity aromas of redcurrant and plum pair exceedingly well with the slow-roasted Cape Grim ribeye coming off the grill station.
While those seeking a booze-fuelled afternoon will find themselves well watered, diners who’re here for the spread won’t be disappointed either. A spread of sustainably-sourced seafood on ice includes sweet Maine lobster and freshly-shucked oysters while the riff on sustainability continues with an organic salad bar touting cage-free eggs and meaty vine-ripened tomatoes. Over at the Asian food station, a simple beef and onion stir-fry is elevated with the use of Black Angus beef, and masterfully- balanced Thai salads, seafood and meats shine the spotlight on the chef’s deft use of herbs and spices.
If you’re a group of four or more, opt for the newly-launched Personalised/VIP Sunday Brunch experience. For an additional fee of $90 per person, this experience offers Ruinart Blanc de Blanc (yes, a bottle is placed tableside and replenished when it’s finished). Plus, with your personal butler bringing beautifully-assembled platters of food from the nine different stations (you can let him know which ones you prefer), you’ll get to enjoy the most luxurious champagne brunch this side of town.
Mezzanine Level, Grand Hyatt Singapore, S(228211)
This 11-year-old modern French restaurant by chef Gunther Hubrechsen has recently undergone a two-month renovation. Post-revamp, the Belgian chef’s eponymous restaurant showcases a contemporary interpretation of Art Nouveau woodwork whose dramatic curved lines resemble twining tree branches. The dining room is filled with stark linen-clad tables that are well spaced apart and ideal for business lunches or special occasions.
Never missing a beat is the service, boosted by intuitive and confident floor staff. Seeing that we can’t decide from the a la carte menu, the manager brings over a large tray laden with seafood and meat and places it in front of us. “If you like, the chef can prepare something special for you to try,” he says. The showcase of produce includes cabbage grown on volcanic soil (“this will be great lightly grilled”), and melon from Spain (“this goes well with Parma ham”). There’s a whole kinki fish, hunks of Japanese beef, sea urchin and scallops from Hokkaido to boot.
We still can’t decide, so the manager recommends the king crab meat whose sweet, delicate flesh is complemented by soft, slightly spiced tomato rice. According to the chef, he uses only live crab, hence the natural succulence. We also order the grilled hamaguri clams whose taste of the sea is accented by a tangy sweet tomato gratin. For mains, we opt for the Tasmania sirloin steak served with fries and a dollop of mustard – simple, classic, perfectly grilled beef that hits the spot.
We also can’t resist the signature cold angel’s hair pasta from the a la carte menu. The helpful manager suggests that he’ll get the kitchen to split the dish into two portions.
Our pastas arrive, crowned with gleaming pearls of oscietra caviar and shavings of truffle. We silently and swiftly slurp up every delicious strand.
Before dessert, a range of soft and hard cheeses is presented on a large wooden plank. We choose a few varieties and complete our meal with the signature apple tart “aux dragees” laced with salted caramel and served with Havana rum raisin ice cream. If you want some tableside showmanship, try the classic crepe suzette flambeed right in front of you.
Why do diners continue to flock to Gunther’s? There are no gimmicks here. Guided by the seasons, the menus show off unadulterated flavours of the ingredients. Furthermore, wine pairings are approached with as much finesse as the food. More than 350 labels of wine, with the majority from France, have been carefully selected to pair with the chef’s creations.
#01-03, 36 Purvis Street, S(188613)
Established in 1992, Hua Ting at Orchard Hotel is a well-oiled institution that’s still going strong. After its extensive four-month refurbishment recently, the restaurant sports a fresh, sophisticated look. The setting is accentuated by specially commissioned hand-painted silk wall coverings, wooden wall panels, and artwork such as paintings and sculptures.
The moment you step in, warm and friendly service staff greet you and show you to your table. Upon request, they offer great recommendations, and are conversant in English. When we ask for the wine list and tasting notes, the waiter attending to us makes extra effort to suggest the best pairing.
Food-wise, the kitchen is in the good hands of master chef Chung Lap Fai, who has 30 years of experience in Chinese kitchens, and over a decade at Hua Ting. His team continues to roll out reliably excellent fare using the freshest produce.
If you are there for lunch, dim sum always hits the mark. Presented in a hot stone bowl, the wok-fried turnip cake with homemade XO and scattered with bean sprouts and egg is a winner, as is the barbecued and soya-marinated meats platter. The signature roast duck comes with the crispiest skin; the roasted pork belly is succulent; and the baked empress chicken, smooth and fragrant. Three piquant sauces – plum, mustard and ginger – are served alongside the meats.
For dinner celebrations, opt for more decadence in the form of stuffed golden crab shell. Beneath the golden crumbed topping is fresh, sweet crabmeat melded with wild mushrooms and caramelised onions. Or try Hua Ting’s speciality of double-boiled superior shark’s fin with thick shark’s bone cartilage and fish maw.
Our Japanese wagyu slices with wild mushrooms and black peppercorn arrive bubbling in a hot stone bowl. The waiter tosses the sizzling beef at the table and portions out the tender meat for each person.
Soothing our stomachs is the comforting steamed dong xing garoupa with silky egg white and warm Chinese wine. Just as fortifying is the large bowl of fish paste noodles, sliced fish and bitter gourd slices bathed in rich shark’s bone cartilage soup.
A perfect foil to the meal is the thoughtfully curated tea collection. Hua Ting offers a unique six-course tea-pairing menu available for lunch and dinner ($98 per person, minimum two persons). The menu changes every season, and four teas are specially selected to match the courses. The chef also infuses the creations with fragrant tea.
For us, each visit to Hua Ting concludes with a plan to return. Note that booking is essential at this wildly popular spot.
Level 2, Orchard Hotel Singapore, S(238879)
When you step into Ushidoki’s main dining room in a shophouse on Tras Street, it’s clear that chef Hirohashi Nobuaki is not one to stick with tradition for the sake of it. The kaiseki master shifted his specialisation from seafood to beef two and a half years ago, based on one main approach: “(I applied) the ways I handle fish/ seafood to the way I handle the beef.”
This is a natural progression when you realise the chef began working at his father’s Osaka sushi restaurant at the age of nine. Just as Nobuaki did with fish, he’s identified specificities for each part of the cow: The cow’s tongue, for example, is best cooked braised, cut thinly to reveal its pink-tinged cross-section, and served in a yuzu-accented consomme. This opening course of nine leads with bright and natural flavours, textures and colours. The start to the lunch and mysterious non-beef dinner menus (he offers only four menus in total), we’d imagine, is equally uplifting.
His choice and combinations of ingredients, clearly, are essential to his success. Nobuaki works with only directly-imported Ozaki beef (Ushidoki is the only restaurant in Singapore that exclusively orders one cow per month from the farm). This is Japanese wagyu from one Miyazaki prefecture farm that harvests its cattle at 32 to 36 months, giving the meat at least four months longer to mature than regular wagyu farms. “(For regular wagyu cattle), although they’ve reached their maximum size, the taste is not there yet,” he explained.
He’s right, of course – regular wagyu, which is usually more fat than flavour, would have fallen flat against the generous black truffle, rich yolk and sweetness of the “Rosanjin’’ style sukiyaki sauce, the latter being Ushidoki’s house concoction that has been kept on a bare simmer in a copper vessel on the counter since the day the restaurant opened in October 2015.
With such robust produce and flavours, plenty of creativity and restraint is needed to not overwhelm the diner, which Nobuaki has mastered. Before the meal, if anyone had posited that a sake-cup-sized “bowl” of wagyu beef chirashi, topped with shiso flowers, shoyu powder and a piece of kombu in the silhouette of a cow would have been enough, we would have said: “You’re mad.” We’ve now changed our tune to: “You’d be mad to not try this.”
Ushidoki Wagyu Kaiseki
#01-01, 57 Tras Street, S(078996)
It is rather difficult to pinpoint what makes dining at Hashida Sushi such an exceptional experience. It may be the gorgeous cypress wood sushi counter and bespoke Japanese furniture that set the tone for an understated yet luxurious meal. Or perhaps it is the draw of family tradition being handed down from father to son: Chef-owner Kenjiro “Hatch” Hashida trained in Tokyo under his father, Tokio Hashida, a renowned sushi chef, for over 20 years, and they have a prized soya-based sushi sauce that is based on a family recipe that’s over 135 years old.
Certainly, our chef for the evening, Hokkaido native Yuji Sato, and the lovely service staff have an indispensable part to play. Despite the restaurant being full this night and some patrons getting a little rowdy, the chef remains a picture of calm and poise. It is a joy watching him work – his knife glides and dances across the counter, slicing the seafood with grace and precision. Service is polished, unobtrusive and earnest; our teacups are always full and empty plates disappear as if by magic.
As with most fine sushi establishments, the menu at Hashida Sushi echoes the seasons. Fleshy Japanese crabs may grace your plate during winter, and, come spring, you may be presented with orange- fleshed sakura masu (cherry trout). Signature dishes at Hashida – such as the delicate cubes of ankimo (monkfish liver) encrusted with a thin shell of caramelised sugar, served with crunchy bamboo shoots and a juicy hamaguri clam slathered in a golden-coloured yuzu miso sauce – are enjoyable.
But it is the sushi that hits home this evening. Unlike some establishments, which favour more robustly seasoned sushi rice, the plump grains here have only hints of vinegar to allow the flavours of the neta (sushi topping) to shine.
Fresh squid, blanketing a sliver of sea urchin, can be flavoured with rice salt for a pleasant surprise. You may also be charmed by the full-flavoured maguro aged for 20 days and marinated in one of many specially concocted sauces for five minutes before it is served. Then come the smokey torched surf clam, and meaty saba (mackerel) – each mouthful more mesmerising than the last.
The rich and creamy uni and ikura rice bowl and signature otoro sushi, carved right in front of us from a magnificent slab of tuna, signal the end of the meal. As we savour our dessert of Japanese melon and strawberries, we cannot help but wonder when we should return.
Hashida Sushi Singapore
#04-16 Mandarin Gallery, S(238897)