Zen, Singapore, Singapore

The Singapore outpost / sister restaurant of the famous Frantzen in Stockholm, and holds the equally coveted three Michelin stars, so imagine how happy I was when I managed to book the restaurant for my holiday in Singapore.

After entering the restaurant, we were led to the seating area on the ground floor, where the aperitif and amuse-bouche were served. The decor was relaxing and yet there’s a buzz in the surrounding, with the kitchen in full view, and customers being invited to the front of the kitchen to listen to the chefs talking about the ingredients and just generally having a chit-chat at various times whilst the amuse-bouche was being served.

The first amuse-bouche was “Raraka”, using caviar of Kalix with a potato pancake wrapped round the fish roe and gräddfil (a Swedish sour cream) – this was obviously more of a showcase of the Swedish root of the restaurant rather than Singaporean influence. The flavour was amazing, with a good balance of the saltiness from the fish roe and the sour cream.

The next amuse-bouche was croustade of beetroot and sansho pepper. It was beautiful to look at – another great presentation. There’s enough of the sansho pepper to showcase the flavour, but not so much as to kill off the palate. Another great little bite of heaven.

Then it’s the “Gunkan” containing A5 wagyu beef and elderberry – more a Japanese twist to the amuse-bouche…. After all, Japanese food is popular in Singapore, and why not. Another amazing bite!

We were then invited to the front of the kitchen area, and the chef started telling us in details about the ingredients to be expected in the different dishes this evening. For example, the first main course, being the crudo, was shima aji from Kyushu that was aged for 4-5 days, Norwegian king crab, and the hassaku orange from Hiroshima – the zest was grated on top, the leaves were used to make the oil, and the juice was used to make a vinaigrette.

Whilst the chef continued to tell us about the range of ingredients, a mini-garden on a plate was put in front of us. This was the tartlet of lobster and broccoli with decoration of various herbs and edible flower petals, and pumpkin and uni mayonnaise on the base of the tartlet. The lobster was lightly grilled and there was a dressing of finger lime on top. It looked so beautiful that it felt like a crime to put it in the mouth, but then there was not even the slightest bit of guilt in me whilst I enjoyed every flavour in this amuse-bouche, whilst the chef continued to tell us about the various ingredients.

After the chef telling us all about the ingredients down to the strawberries at the end of the meal, we returned to the comfy chairs to enjoy the last amuse-bouche which was slices of truffles with Jerusalem artichoke and nutmeg. Usually the amuse-bouche was an indication of what to come in the main courses, and by this time we thought that if this was the standard of the meal, it would be sensational.

After we finished the amuse-bouche, we were invited to walk upstairs to the next floor for the main meal.

Being a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, I would very rarely go for a wine flight. However, I did fancy a bit of alcohol to go with the dinner, and so instead of the non-alcoholic pairing, there’s also a mixed pairing which was a mixture of alcohol and non-alcohol drinks – this was such a good idea for someone like me. So I opted for that. The first one was this koji rice drink with heirloom tomato – it had a nice and complex, yet refreshing, flavour.

The first course was the crudo of shima aji. Having the chef showing us the ingredients earlier, it made the whole tasting experience more relevant and enjoyable. The fish and king crab with the orange dressing was just so refreshing and light, and the salmon roe gave the fish a bit of the saltiness.

For the next drinks pairing, it’s a Gruner Veltliner.

The second main course was a scallop dish – the scallop was lightly warmed and then served with Bafun uni from Hokkaido, and with a buttermilk dressing and a dash of yuzu. What’s not to like about this – scallop and sea urchin in one dish! The sweet creamy uni just melted in the mouth, and worked so well with the scallop slices.

The next drink to pair with the chawanmushi was a toasted red rice with buckwheat orange caramel and tamarind. Again, a complex flavour in a drink.

Another Japanese dish that I really like is chawanmushi, and this one is truly special. The milk is made from Hokkaido milk, and the dashi is made with 100-day aged pork which was marinated for 10 days and then hanged to dry-cure for 90 days, to give it a rich intense meaty flavour. If I heard it correctly, the caviar on top was from Yunnan in China!

For the next drinks pairing, it’s a special sake made for Zen – it’s Tamagawa Time Machine 88, made by Kinoshita Sake Brewery in Kyoto prefecture. Whilst I have never had this sake before, I recognise Tamagawa – I had the Tokubetsu Junmai at Hannah Restaurant in London before. It’s so interesting to try this special sake here in Singapore. Shame that I couldn’t buy it anywhere!

To accompany this sake (or should it be the other way round?), the dish was an Onion Soup Veloute (with onions from France), Marcona Almonds from Spain and Liquorice powder. If only I could do onion soup as well as this one!

The aged duck was then presented to the table before it was quickly whisked away for a later meat course. The skin looked so shiny and delicious that I should have just grabbed it and took a large bite straight away!

The next drink was a barley-based drink with roasted cauliflower with sapota (chiku) and dried persimmon (hoshigaki). The roasted flavour balanced well with the sweetness from the persimmon, and it’s a good drink to go with the fish course.

The fish course was grilled turbot (the fish was from Brittany in France) – the bones and skin was kept on whilst it was being cooked to lock in the moisture, and the gelatinous element also enhanced the flavour. The goat butter came from Sweden and apparently 60 litres of milk was used to make a block of butter! The fish was perfectly cooked and the sauce definitely worked well with the dish but without the goat flavour overpowering it.

After the fish course and a short pause, we were presented with a tray of knives and we could choose our own favourite knife for the meat course.

The wine to go with the duck was a Spanish red wine – La Bruja de Rozas from Las Rozas de Puerto Real.

The duck that we saw earlier was now sliced and presented on a plate – the meat was dry-aged for 3-4 weeks before being roasted, and it’s served over a bed of quince and pine nut polenta, shiitake mushroom from Yamagata and topped with a rich piece of foie gras.

The final savoury course (can it be called a bread course?) was the signature dish at Frantzen when it opened in 2008 – it’s “French Toast”, a sourdough base with a Parmesan custard made with 36-month old Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a 25-year-old balsamic vinegar from Casanova Estate in Modena in Italy, and a generous shaving of truffles from France. I was quite surprised by the amount of truffles on top, but definitely not complaining about that!

The meal so far was exceptional, with every dish being nothing short of amazing. However, the only thing I didn’t like about the main restaurant was the music which was simply too loud with some of the thumping noise – it probably didn’t help with the table being right underneath one of the loudspeakers. And it’s the reason for not giving a full mark in the ambience of this restaurant (Sorry!).

The first dessert course was still served in the main restaurant – the milk ice-cream was made with Hokkaido milk, served with 2 types of honey: one of which was a mikan honey from Kyoto. There was also fresh yuba (bean curd skin) infused with lavender to give the dish a bit of texture. The waffle also had some jasmine pearl tea from Fujian province in China infused into the batter.

Aftter that, we were invited to the “Living Room” on the second floor, with relaxing sofas and comfy chairs, for petit fours and tea/coffee.

The fresh fruit all came from Japan, with the strawberries from Fukuoka, beni madonna oranges from Aichi and muskmelon from Shizuoka. This was the closest I would get to enjoy high quality fruit from Japan without being there (at the time of the visit, Japan was still closed to all foreign tourists because of Covid!)

Another dessert (!) was a lingonberry and marshmallow sorbet which has an interesting marshmallow texture to it, and it’s served with a blackcurrant granita – surprisingly refreshing!

Then the petit fours came, and there were six different pieces of delights to finish off this amazing meal.

It was one truly spectacular dinner and it was definitely worth visiting Zen. There’s nothing I could fault on the food nor the service. The bill was a bit confusing (it was a hand-written bill – stylish but could be prone to error I guess) – I didn’t pay much attention when I paid for the meal on how the service charge was calculated and for all that I knew I could have been overcharged. It took me over half a day to actually figure out what they had done in the calculations – I think it was correct but I would never know.

As I have mentioned, the only thing that annoyed me slightly was the loud music which somehow dented my enjoyment of the main meal – it might have been more enjoyable with a different choice of music (less bass notes, with the same volume) or just turn that volume dial down by a notch.

Address: 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089855
Telephone: +65 6534 8880
Website: https://www.restaurantzen.com/

Opening Hours: Wednesday: 1900–2230 ; Thursday-Saturday: 1200-1700, 1900-2230

Food: 10/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 19/20 [Based on visits in January 2022]

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