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Promising debut by Sommer

Ex-Vianney Massot sous chef Lewis Barker hits the ground running in his first outing as head chef.

Sommer
#01-02 The Sail
2 Marina Boulevard
Singapore 018987
Tel: 6436 3668
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sat: 12pm to 2pm; 6pm to 9pm

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Gender notwithstanding, the aphorism pretty much describes the lot of a sous chef. Always in the background, helping the head chef look good. Part of the invisible (to the public) team that gets an obligatory “thank you” whenever a prize is bestowed upon the face of the restaurant. And the “blame”, should chef be on his day off and the food doesn’t taste quite as it should, imagined or not. But mostly, an anonymous entity for as long as Number 2 is attached to one’s name.

Not anymore, at least for Lewis Barker, who’s moved up front and centre to helm his own gig as Number 1 for a change.

You might know him – if not by name then at least by his presence as the quiet face lurking in the shadow of Vianney Massot, whose name was on the door of his Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong Street until, well, it wasn’t.

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Now, the same backers – the Ebb & Flow Group – have put their money on chef Barker with Sommer, which sounds like “summer” spelt by someone with a dislike for certain vowels. It’s a modest setup at The Sail – an upscale CBD condo that behaves like a capsule Robertson Quay with crowded watering holes and noodle joints forced into an unnatural camaraderie.

Sommer fortunately gets a standalone spot with a discreet entrance you might miss if you’re distracted by the evening sky and glitter emanating from Marina Bay Sands. You enter through a dim corridor into a smallish dining room lined with charcoal grey walls and soothing wood panels, and a sizable open kitchen from whence chef Barker dispenses his version of modern European with a dash of Japanese fine dining cuisine.

  • Sommer

    Sommer's dining room is lined with charcoal grey walls and soothing wood panels.

Modern European with a dash of Japanese is really what every chef with access to Toyosu market does, and the task ahead for chef Barker is to carve out a distinctive personality with it.

It being his first week when we visited, he acquitted himself admirably with a strong line up of polished creations featuring a deft control of balance and precision. This is not one chef to whine about an underwhelming performance because this or that oven didn’t work or Toyosu sent him some funky uni or that diners need to cut a restaurant some slack because it just opened. No. Chef Barker nails most of it down from the get-go. Yes, there are some awkward moments with service and a mild tendency to complicate things, but he’s got a slick operation going on here for sure.

He already has us at canapes. Not so much the sourdough loaf which arrives nice and hot but has a dense, heavy sponginess that doesn’t feel quite right. The kombu butter, though, is a winner.

The three canapes come with the most expensive six course Experience menu (S$228), although there is a four course at S$168 and a S$68 luncheon that sounds good value. The sourdough could take its cue from the mackerel “toast”, which has the chewiness of a good blini and the height of an English muffin. It’s a perfect bite topped with smoked mackerel with a velvety texture and pleasant lingering fishiness, and a bit of caviar.

There’s also a crisp tart shell filled with sweet onion jam, ball of creamy foie gras decorated with minced truffle and a dash of mellow vinegar to even it out. Minced botan ebi and ikura on a boat shaped shell is polished off in one bite.

A plump oyster is hidden from view by a blob of creamy oyster emulsion, brightened up with icy apple sorbet and perked up with bits of sharp green apple. Mild-flavoured Kaluga caviar adds a luxe if unnecessary touch.

Smoked eel is an interesting match with pumpkin gnocchi balls and slightly pickled pumpkin slices, and savoury aged parmesan espuma – displaying a preference for siphoned cream – and a generous shower of black truffle.

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Our favourite is the barely cooked, lightly grilled langoustine with a slice of golden brown roasted eringi mushroom, bathed in a potent broth of ceps and foie gras that’s heady and intense. Although the pink roasted duck breast is not to be sniffed at for its meaty juiciness and little croquette of minced duck meat.

There’s a pre and proper dessert but both are equally elaborate – the first a pretty combination of Japanese strawberries marinated in vanilla oil, with vanilla ice cream, matcha cream and an elegant leaf-shaped matcha tuile.

The main dessert is a chocolate fantasia of aerated chocolate cubes, sticky chewy cremeux topped with white chocolate ice cream, candied hazelnuts and armagnac-soaked medjool dates. It’s for chocoholics who aren’t careful about what they wish for.

Stay on for the petit fours, which are the real dessert highlight. Little bites of joy comprise warm buttery madeleines, crisp-moist caneles, yuzu meringue tart and chewy dark chocolate tart.

It’s a strong debut for chef Barker but if anything, the menu is memorable more for its meticulous detail and technical execution than for any personal story that chef Barker is trying to tell. One wagers that in time, we’ll find out much more about this newly minted Number 1.

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

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