Aussie chef mixes umami wit and ethereal textural play with local ingredients
Claim to fame: The chef, Sam Aisbett, former commander in chief at Quay, Australia
Reason to go: Two words – umami and texture
To look out for: The chef’s take on local ingredients like black moss, century egg and locally foraged, edible flowers
Three and a half years after taking the helm of Sydney’s Quay Restaurant, Australian native Sam Aisbett moved lock, stock and barrel to Singapore, creating one of the city’s most interesting new restaurants – Whitegrass.
Drawing inspiration from his motherland, the heavily-tattooed chef-owner’s food is textural, modern Australian but uniquely so, it takes on local ingredients with bravado. Dried black moss, a delicacy typically eaten for prosperity during the Chinese New Year period, is painstakingly draped over a slab of Mangalica pork jowl and pan-fried until it yields a beautifully crisp texture, the parcel is juxtaposed against a quivering mound of silken tofu, a tangle of velvety scallop “noodles” and white turnip cream with a light aromatic pork broth to finish. What’s more mesmerizing is Aisbett’s curious obsession with umami, take for instance the umami broth that accompanies a shock of clarified butter-warmed geoduck and maitake mushroom shavings with fermented celeriac, steamed egg custard, samphire tips and locally foraged snake gourd flower; or the kombu (sea kelp) jelly and consommé that arrives in a moated pool surrounding a fortress of white eggplant, Thai green peppercorn and shitake mushroom topped with salt-baked Australian Jade Tiger abalone. With each course, Aisbett’s brand of clean-tasting refinement – underscored by umami and textural play – comes to the fore effortlessly, as does an avalanche of ingredients that mingle together surprisingly well.
Set in the Gothic-style Chijmes complex, the elegant Takenouchi Webb-designed restaurant features a “blue” main dining room, a “green” private dining room, a circular “pink” room and a spacious marble-topped kitchen. The French-dominant wine list is adequate, albeit not very exciting, with an emphasis on known labels; it will gradually skew towards Australian wines by mid next year. Service is top-notch; kudos to the staffers who know the menu like the back of their hands.