Salt Tapas' paella with chorizo, prawns, mussels and chicken | Photo: Salt Tapas
Both discerning diners and Singapore-based chefs have come to understand the sweet reward of valuing heritage, and have had enough of seeing tradition-rich cuisines butchered. There is however still a rare breed of kitchen captains – from Asia Grand Restaurant, Canton Paradise, Hashi, Oso Ristorante and Salt Tapas – who insist that authentic setting, cuisine and service are indispensible ingredients in crafting a bona fide dining experience. American Express recommends these restaurants to tuck into:
Small plates, made with premium ingredients and passion
While chef Luke Mangan does not claim to be the pioneer, he is somewhat responsible for Australia’s thriving sumptuous tapas culture. We’re glad he’s brought this to Singapore with Salt Tapas & Bar at Raffles City, a decidedly more intimate space than his first fine dining venture, Salt Grill & Sky Bar at ION Orchard.
At the helm of Salt Tapas & Bar is Mathew Leighton, an affable chef who has worked in Mangan's various restaurants around Asia and Australia. Under Mangan’s tutelage, Leighton has been inculcated with the former’s reverence for Spanish tradition, which is conveyed through the impeccable dishes prepared with premium Australian ingredients like barramundi and stocky king prawns from the Tasman Sea.
It’s an Old World setting at Salt Tapas & Bar, defined by Mediterranean- and Byzantine-style tiles, bricks and ceramic fittings. It sets the ambience for dishes like lamb rump with crumbled zucchini and salsa verde (small $34; large $64), which arrive on plank-like plates. The salsa blend of herbs, parsley and capers perfectly contrast the succulent slices of lamb.
Best savoured with a side of the Luke Sangria ($17), specials like the seafood paella ($38) evoke an antiquated southern European experience, while tacos of tempura prawns (two for $13; four for $26) and roasted barramundi ($32) breathe new life into traditional favourites. A meal at Salt Tapas has to be ended with churros and chocolate sauce ($11) – fresh whipped cream and dark chocolate complement the warm pastry that Leighton’s made from scratch.
BOOK A TABLE | Address: #01-22A, Raffles City Shopping Centre | Tel: 68370995 | Opening hours: Mon-Thu Tapas 11.30am-10pm, Drinks until 10.30pm; Fri & Sat Tapas 11.30am-10.30pm, Drinks until 10.30pm; Sun Tapas 11.30am-9pm, Drinks until 10pm.
Escape to Italy in Chinatown
Stephane Colleoni and chef Diego Chiarini wanted to carve a house of Italian provenance into a nook of Chinatown, thus Oso was born. From its Florentine facade to its top-of-the-range Italian leather interior, Colleoni and Chiarini spared no expense to make 46 Bukit Pasoh Road a portal through which patrons can escape to Italy.
"Each dish on my menu is a little ambassador," divulges Chiarini, who also carefully selected the artworks that deck the second of his two-storey hideaway. The former head chef of the Four Seasons Tokyo also chose to beautify his establishment with a murano (Venetian style) chandelier, which he claims that no other Italian restaurant in Singapore has.
Items like his cured lean bresaola (air-dried, salted beef that has been aged) with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano ($24), and his cappelli d’angelo pasta (angel hair pasta, $29) convey his tantalising, undiluted Italian style of cooking. Although white asparagus might be the seasonal highlight in his eclectic menu at the moment, the popularity of certain items cannot be denied, such as his seared black truffle cheese Pecorino ($22), with cheese he orders from a 78-year-old artisan in Umbria.
BOOK A TABLE | Address: Level 2, 46 Bukit Pasoh Road | Tel: 63278378 | Opening hours: Mon-Fri noon-2:30pm, Mon-Sat 6pm-midnight
Fiercely traditional Japanese fare
What immediately strikes a visitor to Hashi is its calming and pleasing woody interior fittings imported from Japan: gentle hues of beige and distinct Japanese motifs make up the striking décor, like the restaurant's pebble walkway lined with kimonos.
In the glass open concept kitchen is chef Tadashi Takahashi. The energetic figure fancies himself as a bit of a comedian and feels that it is imperative to see each departing customer to the door. Apart from his high regard for Japanese service customs, his restaurant’s modernist layout also contrasts his fiercely traditional style of Japanese cooking.
He serves up a gorgeous wooden parcel, saying, "this bento box is like a Christmas present, I give it to my guests, but I let them open the surprise themselves." His rendition of this iconic Japanese set meal ($40) is a breathtaking collage of masterfully prepared items, which include immaculately fresh sashimi and crisp tempura.
Besides a well-stocked sake bar and generous spread of Japanese whiskies, Hashi also has a beautiful beige-toned sushi counter as its centrepiece. Run by Takahashi’s veteran sushi chef, Kondo Masayuki, the wood-panelled deli serves assorted sushi (8 pieces and 1 hand roll for $68; 12 pieces and 1 hand roll for $98), for those who prefer a counter experience.
Hashi | Address: Level 1, 46 Bukit Pasoh Road | Tel: 63278378 | Opening hours: Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm, Mon-Sat 6-11pm
Asia Grand Restaurant
Artfully prepared Cantonese seafood dishes
Embellished by a flourish of paintings and revolutionist poems dating back to integral eras of Chinese history, Asia Grand Restaurant is an eight-year-strong establishment with 12 private rooms that has evolved into somewhat of a landmark along North Bridge Road. Practising strict reverence for ancient Chinese culinary techniques, Asia Grand specialises in seafood and Cantonese cuisine.
The bamboo clams at Asia Grand Restaurant
Carefully crafted Canton-style dumplings are a treat to both the eyes and the palate. Slippery-skinned poached dumplings of prawn, pork and vegetables ($4.80) breaks open to gratify with an assortment of sour and mildly spicy flavours.
The restaurant’s eclectic dim sum offerings are the brainchild of veteran chef Danny Sin, who was cooking for the who’s who of Hong Kong for 20 years, before relocating to Singapore eight years ago. He spent the majority of his previous life honing his Cantonese techniques in Tsui Hang Village Restaurant – an old icon along Tsim Sha Tsui.
Now happily relocated to Singapore, he couples his classical training and experienced taste buds to create delights like his shrimp rolls with mango ($5.20), which uses the tang of mango to put its shrimp’s flavour in an appetisingly new perspective.
Chef Sin aces the roast crispy pork ($12) with a thick layer of crispy skin topping succulent chunky meat that retains its natural sweetness and moisture.While red meats like his lamb chop ($17) are delivered tender and light, his sea perch fillet ($17) is the highlight: the creaminess of this cod-like, albeit whiter and rarer species of ocean fish is balanced with a sweet sauce that he specially prepares, aloft a bed of egg whites.
Asia Grand Restaurant | Address: 331 North Bridge Road, #01-02 Odeon Towers | Tel: 68870010 | Opening hours: Mon-Sat 11.30am -2.30pm, 6.30-10.30pm; Sun & public holidays 10am-2.30pm, 6-10.30pm
Authentic Shunde cuisine
Part of over 30 Paradise Group outlets across Asia, Canton Paradise’s five Singapore branches are proud ambassadors of Shunde cuisine, the parent cuisine that Cantonese cooking diffuses from. Trademarked by poignant and varied tastes, Shunde dishes are mainly prepared by pan-frying, deep-frying, stewing and stir-frying. Executive chef Hu Shu Sheng emphasises that the cuisine’s artistry lies in experienced control of fire in different stages, to different durations, so as to achieve delicious results.
Cantonese-style steamed kampong chicken
Chef Hu brings his personal touch to authentic Shunde dishes like Canton-style steamed kampong chicken (half $15; whole $28), which uses a rich chicken stock as dip. His BBQ pork belly with honey sauce ($15.80) and Canton crispy BBQ pork ($15.80), looks like ordinary char siew at first glance but oozes juice from under its caramelised top layer. This original creation almost always sells out by the end of the day.
The char siew in Canton Paradise’s baked BBQ honey pork bun ($4.50) is prepared daily, as is its rotating menu of nourishing soups ($6.80 per person, $16.80 per pot), which typically require four to six hours of preparation. Chef Hu prepares a refreshing and supple steamed lingzhi (a mushroom with prized medicinal properties) tofu that he accompanies with supreme soya sauce ($8.80) to even out the strong flavours of his other dishes. He adds wok-fried bean sprouts to vermicelli and salted fish (12.80), a classic staple of dining tables around Guangdong, to his provenance-conscious menu.
Sumptuous meals at Canton Paradise are best ended with the franchise’s glutinous rice balls (three for $4.80), which trade in their orthodox peanut and black sesame recipe for the unique texture of subtle custard enveloped within a layer of grated oats.
Canton Paradise | Addresses: #B1-15 112 Katong | Tel: 63448201 | Opening hours: Mon–Fri 11am-10pm, Sat, Sun & public holidays 10.30am-10pm
Canton Paradise | Address: #02-09 JCube | Tel: 66845080 | Opening hours: Mon–Fri 11am-10pm, Sat, Sun & public holidays 10.30am-10pm
Canton Paradise | Address: #03-19/20 Compass Point | Tel: 63843797 | Opening hours: Mon–Fri 11am-10pm, Sat, Sun & public holidays 10.30am-10pm
Canton Paradise | Address: #B1-45/46 The Star Vista | Tel: 66942915 | Opening hours: Mon–Fri 11am-10pm, Sat, Sun & public holidays 10.30am-10pm
Canton Paradise | Address: #B2-01/02 Ang Mo Kio Hub | Opening hours: Mon–Fri 11am-10pm, Sat, Sun & public holidays 10.30am-10pm
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