If the verdant greenery of the Sonoma wine country in California can’t come to Singapore, a visually-arresting kaiseki-style spread lavished with flowers and foliage might be the next best alternative.
That is if you managed to snag a seat at three-Michelin-starred Californian farmhouse restaurant SingleThread’s debut full-length residency in Singapore. Judging from how the restaurant’s waiting list stretches for months in the United States, it is little surprise that most of the bookings for the month-long residency at Basque Kitchen by Aitor restaurant have been snapped up, despite the price tag of $498++ for a 7-course lunch or dinner.
Chef-patron Kyle Connaughton holds the fort, alongside his team of chefs, sommelier and dining room director from California. Armed with a life-long interest in Japanese cuisine, Connaughton, who has worked at The Fat Duck, is known for his unique take on Japanese cuisine that uses California-grown produce.
Based in the Sonoma wine country, SingleThread heavily uses produce grown on its farm loaded with vegetables, fruit and herbs and it even produces its honey and olive oil (led by Connaughton’s wife Katina). However, for the Singapore menu, it is mainly centred around Japanese and local produce, but they were approached through a Californian lens and plated with the same finesse. (We saw an entire fridge dedicated to storing fresh flowers that are used to adorn the dishes). The team has brought over a couple of ingredients from their farm such as sun-dried tomatoes and purple barley.
The seven-course menu was crafted back in the US, so Connaughton relied on his past food memories from his previous two visits to Singapore. We see a shower of soursop in the Akabana Kanpachi course, and a dessert that features familiar local flavours such as ginger, pandan and coconut. Oh, there is also a canape inspired by chilli crab. With plans to check out restaurants and hawker centres after service, Connaughton may tinkle around with some items later this month.
Like in the Californian restaurant, a picturesque seasonal appetiser spread, which was lavished with foliage and flowers, is an ambrosial curtain-raiser. Nestled among the greenery are 10 canapes that revved up different parts of the taste buds in one bite each.
The tartness from the pickled fine de claire oysters is tempered by the sweetness from discs of Kyoho grapes, while the goma tofu is the perfection of roasty creaminess. The sweet-and-salty combination of kasu panna cotta with strawberry and caviar is cleverly nuanced and the Tai-Zushi is a savoury hit with a pesto-seasoned rice roll carpeted with snapper and kohlrabi. The ST Chilli Crab could with a spicier punch of flavours served on the tostada. Our tastebuds got a final wake-up call with the malted potato espuma that a heady umami uplift from the shaved truffles and oil from the black cod (from another course).
The Akabana Kanpachi shows how a smattering of wasabi and shoyu can provide a flavour up-lift to amberjack sashimi. The sweetness of the fish is offset by the savoury alternating slices of grilled cucumbers. Accompanied by soursop snow and ponzu, the sides provide a refreshing and mildly bitter counterpoint that resets the tastebuds for the next bite.
Connaughton is known for his love for donabe and he has brought over some of his claypot collection (made from an 8th generation family in Iga, Japan, no less). A slab of black cod is smoked over fragrant cherry blossom wood — Ibushi-gin style.
The fish is incredibly juicy as it is evenly cooked through in the claypot. We love the flavours of the cod so much that the coating of sesame-studded sun-dried tomato paste cannot distract us from it. Injecting some communal dining spirit, we get to assemble a ‘taco’ of the fish with earthy purple barley and kinako crepe, roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, and a relish of ginger, sesame and shio koji, with julienned negi, radish and myoga.
For the Abalone Chawanmushi, the focus isn’t on the luxe shellfish, but on the “nose-to-tail” approach to zucchini. The summer squash is made into a light and mellow custard, served with juicy ribbons of poached zucchini draped over the tender abalone, with a smidgen of abalone liver sauce. The zen that hovers over this soothing dish is disrupted by the crunch from biting into the tempura zucchini flower stuffed with prawn mousse.
Leaning towards heavier flavours is the A5 Miyazaki wagyu course. The well-marbled meat is perfectly cooked, but the garnishes make it such a well-rounded dish. Whether it is the pungent charred eggplant puree that has been spiked with squid ink, the sweet and crunchy plums, or the puffed black rice, walnut and sesame crumble. Pairing the meat with these elements made it such a joy to chew. Connaughton shared that this dish will be served in the SingleThread restaurant.
Local flavours made the strongest cameo appearance in the dessert. The Shimizu Hakuto Peach is made into a honey-sweet sorbet hidden in a ginger gateau that emanates a gentle warmth. The soft heat sings around the pandan cream and coconut sorbet, while the dukkha provides some textural fun.
Another breathtaking wooden platter appears to conclude the meal with wagashi. A refreshing burst of yuzu and cucumber water from the speckled egg-like cocoa butter shells cleanses the taste buds for other bites such as the chocolate ganache monaka and Hokkaido milk pudding with melon.
We can almost imagine the gorgeous sunset in the Sonoma Country with the golden sesame chamomile tea that bids us farewell to a California-inspired kaiseki feast.
For more information, visit Chef Residence.