When popular restaurants decide to switch culinary directions completely, situations can become understandably unpredictable. Finding the right person to front these transformation is hard, but persuading regulars to take up to these changes is a whole other mountain to conquer. After all, why change something that had been doing just fine?
In the case of La Ventana, it has taken some time to find its footing since breaking away from its casual tapas past. Now, the Spanish restaurant has turned its sights to elegant fine dining. Like many new entrants in Singapore’s gourmet scene, it has decided to adopt a modern approach to European cuisine while using Asian ingredients.
La Ventana’s transition to fine-dining has been going smoothly appearance-wise. After all, the restaurant has pretty much had the formula down: a tranquil spot in the expat-rich Dempsey haunt with a still modern and stylish interior design.
Helming the restaurant now is the newly-settled Catalan chef Toni Valero. The 29-year-old’s star-studded resume sees stints at the famous El Celler de Can Roca and the two-Michelin-star Mugaritz Restaurant. Fresh out from his own restaurant, Coquo Restaurant and Wine Bar, in Kuala Lumpur, Valero also carries with him an appreciation for Asian ingredients (he swears by herbal bak kut teh and pork innards from the street vendors in KL).
It is one aspect that he drives enthusiastically in his modern European cuisine – though in careful and conscientious effort. It’s a coy attempt from Valero to show local diners that he doesn’t presume knowing these familiar flavours more than them. Still it is nothing short on creativity.
Snacks are straightforward. Mediterranean flavors are concentrated on a spoon: a refreshing salad of tomato in pesto with basil, Kalamata olive and rosemary foam. Then, a choux puff, with seaweed puree stuffed inside.
It is in the appetisers where diners get a more telling showcase of Valero’s talents. Minus the cliché appearance of a dimsum basket with house-made lotus leaf buns to the table, the slivers of succulent pork shoulder tucked into each white pillowy pastry is made more exciting with dashes of spicy romesco sauce. Citrus-marinated raw bonito slices is served with ‘clorofila curry,’ an aromatic concoction of green Western and Asian herbs. Pan-seared Hokkaido scallop sees a surprise appearance of pandan in smooth cauliflower puree, lending for a subtle fragrant touch.
He changes directions with his mains; Asian ingredients take on a supporting role. The delicate flavours of monkfish finds contrasts with smoky saffron foam and Kalamata olive puree. Braised Wagyu cheek served with a rich black trumpet cream finds balance with watercress puree.
Dessert presents a more challenging and unique attempt at La Ventana’s new cuisine. Ice cream, made with curry leaf, is spruced up with slices of Szechuan pepper-marinated strawberries and lemongrass tea jelly. It is not one dessert that immediately appeals: but in this last act, its serves an important purpose as a refreshing palate cleanser. Of course, a sweet end is still a must – a rotating range of petit fours with more commonplace offerings such as a white chocolate popsicle.
Even with using Asian ingredients, Valero is clear on one thing – his cuisine is ultimately European. Diners will appreciate that the ingredients they know best aren’t being interpreted in a hundred and one ways, but rather in clear and unpretentious partnering with other ingredients. There’s no need for showiness at La Ventana: subtlety is what makes its cuisine standout.