It was the end of an era, when chef Sam Aisbett packed his knives to leave modern Australian Whitegrass after over two years. Taking over his place as head chef of the restaurant — which still retains its name — is Japanese chef Takuya Yamashita, who previously helmed Tokyo’s one-Michelin-starred Ciel et Sol.
While it retains its name and interior, the menu has been completely overhauled — with Yamashita taking the space to display his ingredient-focused French-Japanese cuisine. While both chefs have come from Michelin-starred pedigree, Yamashita has … differently shaped shoes to fill.
Aisbett — who has experience in the kitchens of Sydney’s Quay and Tetsuya’s — endeared his way into the heart and stomachs of Singaporean diners with his flair for combining that progressive, no-cultural-holds-barred style of “modern Australian’ with regional ingredients.
While Yamashita’s cuisine is completely different — something he calls “La Cuisine Naturelle”, where he uses French techniques to showcase an ingredient’s natural flavours — it’s hard to avoid drawing comparisons to the previous iteration of Whitegrass.
If a brief understanding of Yamashita’s pre-course snacks are any indication, the direction of the restaurant is edging its way toward an attempt at context. Uni comes perched on — perplexingly enough — pandan-flavoured toast; while a tartlet filled with crunchy candied peanuts come with a delicate showering of pungent comte cheese.
Dishes proper though, have a stronger showing. Yamashita has a hand for balancing classically-heavy French dishes with a very Japanese sense of restraint — without venturing too closely to Japanese flavours.
A deboned chicken wing, stuffed neatly with arborio rice and pistachios; and topped with earthy shaved tokachi mushrooms — comes sitting in a clean-tasting but intense consomme. Said consomme could have come with dashi for an easy umami boost, but it doesn’t. There is wholeness in this chicken-construction, without extraneous colours — and that takes some manner of confidence.
Many of the ingredients are sourced from around Japan, including Yamashita’s home prefecture of Nara, where he’s maintained relationships with the farmers (many of whom are old neighbours and friends). Seasonal, line-caught fish appears in a dish called Ikejime — the Japanese method of slaughtering to prevent rigor mortis and enzymatic breakdown of the fish’s delicate flesh. Here, Yamashita encrusts the seafood with sansho leaf for a mild spice, before serving it in a cream sauce dotted with the flavours and textures of spring: bamboo shoots, green peas, and house-cured bacon.
Other highlights include hefty, briny Hyogo oysters, which are just barely poached in white wine and balanced with granny smith apple puree; and Maruta beef — a cross-breed between Japanese waygyu and a Holstein female (traditionally bred for dairy production) that produces beef with the buttery sweetness of wagyu, but also some chew and depth of flavour from the cattle.
In fact, dessert might be the most Japanese-tasting thing you’ll find on the menu. Ice cream made with sake kasu (lees) comes silky, creamy, and suffused with the subtle perfume of fermented rice. This gets cut with tart rosehip gelee and fresh strawberries for something understated, but quite complete.
01-26/27 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street. Tel: 6837-0402