D L 234 •
05 Apr 2011
Having heard and read so much about 53, it is difficult not to have high expectations of it. But hey, I wanted to have some good food, so I made reservations for lunch for two on a Saturday.
We were greeted very warmly at the door, led in and upstairs typical of a conservation shophouse: narrow stairway, but still preserving its natural wood flooring. Our waiter that day was very grounded, unpretentious and friendly - and these traits are consistent with all other wait staff that lunch - they were all impeccably dressed, polished, but they had no airs, and were warm and friendly. I always, always appreciate that.
The second level was spacious. After reading all reviews and editorials, I thought it was a cramped space - oh but it wasn't! High ceilings, stained windows of conservation shophouses, exposed cream brick wall, thick wooden planks on the floor, and gorgeous Scandinavian-style, sand-grey furniture. The glassware were beautiful. Everything was understated, but not the cliche, cheesy Balinese-zen like understatement. I was already in a good mood.
We tried the sparkling jasmine white tea, and had plain water (yes, poured from a flask with a stick of Japanese charcoal).
The complimentary paper-thin crackers were made of tapioca, with some walnut essence on the side as a 'dip'. If I could buy a tin of those crackers, I would. And hog it all for myself.
The bread, hmmm the bread! That must be my favourite 'dish'. There were two types of bread on offer: both were made with potatoes and yoghurt, and the only difference between the two is that one had charcoal powder added to it, resulting in it being soot-black. Muffin-shaped, they were served toasty in a grey, clay tub. Butter? No, not just your usual butter as it was made from buttermilk, with toasted barley laid on top of it, and it was so addictively good - a perfect combination of smooth rich velvet 'butter', the crunchy smokey barley and the crusty soft bread. Sigh.
53 offers set lunch menus, priced at S$53 (without GST), excluding supplements (I doubt that was deliberate - the 53 and $53), offering a choice of starters, mains, and desserts. I chose scallops, wagyu cheeks (supplementary $10), apple & rosemary. My partner had crab meat (supplementary $10), pork belly, and pineapple.
Scallop starter had no real chunky scallops, but small pieces with some fruity granita, and several small flowers on it. I like having flowers in my dish. Especially when I bite into it and there is a surprising flavour. I did wish for larger scallops, though. Crab meat was very well done.
The wagyu cheeks were braised over 40 hours in 60 degrees C, and it showed - it was mouthwatering tender, and soaked up the onion stock with glee. Again, there were flowers - this time, they were wild primrose. Together with the leeks, this dish was a success. My partner's pork belly was also done very well; the apple gel was a perfect complement, however, the portion was too generous and it became very heavy-going.
The dessert was the only real disappointment. My apple and rosemary was a concoction of apple risotto, i.e. super-finely chopped apples, with half the plate filled with white rosemary foam. On it were two red hibiscus flowers - very ugly plating indeed! And the rosemary foam was overpowering. The dish could probably do better in taste and looks with just a dollop of foam. The pineapple dish - baked pineapple with coconut shavings was decent, but the brie ice cream - yes you heard right - brie ice cream was just plain weird. I love my brie, I love moldy blue cheeses even more, but an ice cream that has that strong cheesy smell was simply not right. It was wrong.
Our total bill came up to about S$180 for two. I find that pricey, but it was worth the splurge. This Les Amis restaurant definitely trumps some of the others, like Aoki. Good job!