SINGAPORE — It’s hard not to feel suitably intimidated by the absence of people at the fourth-floor lift lobby of Ion Orchard. Here, a mechanical cart whisks you up 55 floors to the cavernous space of 1-Atico—formerly occupied by Salt Grill and Sky Bar—an ambitious project by the folks over at 1-Group for whom sky-high dining is a destination by default.
Within the mise-en-scene, the space is further divided into two floors, creating an upstairs and a downstairs area within the restaurant to reflect the two vastly different cuisines, similar only in as far as the number of letters in their names. Below (if you could even call floor 55 that), the food at FLNT is a confluence of Japanese and Peruvian sensibilities, a homage to Japanese immigrants from Okinawa who arrived in Peru in the late 19th century. These immigrants gave birth to the Nikkei cuisine movement through food—essentially Japanese interpretations of dishes of Spanish origin.
A short flight of stairs up and the diner finds themself in the world of Fire where authentic Argentinian food takes centre stage. Here, if the moniker wasn’t obvious enough, the kitchen is a temple to cooking with fire using a curated selection of woods that lend exotic flavours to the food on offer. The question though is whether this dual-concept, single-space shenanigan works.
In some ways, yes. Though, to be fair, it’s inevitable and wholly expected to compare one against the other when presented with two options. Is the comparison unfair? Perhaps. But can I stop myself? Unfortunately not.
Concept-wise, and without tasting, it would be easy to crown Fire the victor of this restaurant among the clouds. The stereotype is that nothing bad ever comes out of a cooking method that’s intense, brash, and seemingly created to compel exciting flavours out of anything it comes into contact with. So it’s utterly perplexing when a Mud Crab ‘Rescoldo’ (S$36++) served with hearty chunks of Hokkaido scallops seems to be a tad underwhelming in the flavour department. Even the addition of mandarins, which should traditionally lend a bright burst of acidity, isn’t enough to make this whole.
The Woodfired Sourdough brushed with Wagyu Fat (S$10++) on paper seems to impress. It has all the elements necessary to elevate a simple bread course—including a serving of sea urchin butter which came unsalted. I meekly asked for salt with this, which proved a wise decision since it just made the whole thing ripple with umami I never knew possible.
The bouquet from the Patagonian Red Prawns ‘Parrilla’ (S$28++) is thrilling, with a heroic medley of flavours and textures, all without the brininess of prawn ever taking a back seat. Unfortunately, the Salt-baked Whole Rainbow Trout (S$52++/400g, S$70++/600g) was a little harder to love even with a punchy fennel seed parsley to help lift flavours. It veers so close to being one-note—I desperately want more savouriness.
At S$210, the ‘Déveşa' Argentinian grain-fed OP Rib should tick all the boxes for the perfect steak, but it was a bit hit and miss because, at some parts, the meat tended to be a bit tough. Perhaps, it’s the unpredictable nature of fire that makes the doneness finicky, though the delightfully bright and tangy chimichurri in some ways, save the day.
Thankfully, this absence of flavour is nowhere to be found over at FLNT, where, I truly believe, all food goes to be lovingly seasoned and gently coaxed to perfection. The Ceviche Nikkei (S$25++) for instance has a laudable balance of sweet and sour flavours helped by the inclusion of Tiger milk, a heady mix of citrus, garlic, ginger, and fish stock that makes the whole thing simply exquisite.
Elsewhere, a Foie Gras Taco (S$12++ per piece) is the epitome of approachable and familiarity. Bring it close to the nose and take in a whiff of the kaffir lime leaf—it’s an impressive bouquet. Everything works, even the foie gras is not too cloying, hard as it tries to peek out against the backdrop of a creamy and tart Rocoto Yoghurt. At this price, though, I’d much prefer to have two. We are, after all, living in hard times.
If there’s one dish to convince you to stay downstairs, it would be the Gindara Misoyaki (S$28++), a handsome fillet of grilled miso with an incredibly buttery and flaky finish. And then, there’s the Aji Verde, a beautiful concoction of Aji Amarillo pepper paste, lime, scallions, and cilantro. It’s the kind of sauce I never knew I needed in my life till today—I can’t get enough.
It’s a classic tale of two Aticos, a downstairs-upstairs situation, on this 55th floor where we lay our scene. It’s a business model that, when executed with aplomb, translates to more revenue. But when one restaurant shines brighter than the other, it makes me wonder if this is a case of biased love. If it is, then I reserve my affections for the gem that is FLNT, clear proof that there’s no need for extravagant concepts for food to work and that perhaps, all food needs to succeed is but a touch of calculated neglect.
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