FOOD REVIEW: At Allium, food exists as a celebration of technique, flavour, and produce

Nurzatiman
Lifestyle Contributor
Allium. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

SINGAPORE — In a way, one can safely assume that Allium does not crave attention, nor does it seem like it wants to be found. In a huge departure from his precursor, Gastrosmiths at Katong i12, Allium is Chef Dillon's and his wife, Chef Lulu's newest project located at mixed development project, Kensington Square, away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Serangoon and Tai Seng, cradled between absolutely non-descript units to its left and right. 

Allium is the perfect representation of understated, quiet, and earnest, offering but 16 seats in a 63 square meters space that is upholstered with furniture in dark wood and walls the colour of a vanilla whipped cream. There's a kitchen behind, too, but not on the scale of what Gastrosmiths used to offer. Instead, here, there's only enough for the bare minimum—turning the kitchen from something utilitarian to a transformative space, where every inch is put to good use. 

The kitchen is the heartbeat of the operations at Allium. Here, they pride themselves on food that is eco-conscious using produce that is sustainable and fully utilised. It's a commitment to as little waste as possible during the cooking process, which means that an ingredient may find itself in different 'homes' throughout the prix fixe menu. And since dinner is strictly by reservation, Chef Dillon knows precisely how much of one thing to prepare, ensuring minimal waste. 

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Forgotten Vegetable. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

I note deference to broths and soups in tonight's nine-course menu, an observation I brought up to Chef Dillon, who confirms my impression. Making flavourful broths and sauces is a passion of his which is hardly out of place in a menu like this. It starts with a succulent Amberjack Crudo cooked with caramelised sand ginger—a delicate thing of an herb that ties everything so heroically together. This is followed by Double Boiled Forgotten Vegetable Broth with Chicken & Black Chanterelle Dumpling, so named as it is made with vegetable parts that are often discarded such as stems and roots. A long brewing renders the broth dark with herbal undertones and a bold earthiness, almost veering on bitter but not unpleasantly so. 

NZ Wild Blue Cod Goujon. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

A plate of delicate NZ Wild Blue Cod Goujon fillets arrives with nary a fanfare, sitting in a pool of dark orange sauce tomat, a homage to the Hainanese Sweet and Sour Fish. The sauce is bold, complex, and bursting with nuances of flavours. Unlike its inspiration, here, the sauce tomat is not merely sweet and sour. Instead, there's a pleasant burnt taste at the tip of the tongue that comes from laborious cooking over time. It complements the perfectly crumbed sweet fish very well, and though plated simply, sufficiently commands control over the entire presentation. 

Local Vegetables Jamon Iberico de bellota. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA) 

Chef Dillon shares that the Local Vegetables Jamon Iberico de bellota is his tribute to the familiar Gado-Gado. The similarities, though, ends at the medley of leafy vegetables. From there, things take quite the unstoppable rollercoaster of flavours that at times come close to the peanut sauce that makes up the bulk of Gado-Gado before veering away in a completely different direction. Here, locally grown leek, cabbage, and sweet pea take centre stage, with a generous sprinkling of beautifully salty Jamon Iberico de bellota. The sauce is a light beurre blanc made with raspberry vinegar and Jamon Iberico fat and is all at once emollient, fatty, and buttery with a heady flavour and a bold explosion of umami. 

Abalone & Iberian Pork Cheek. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Wonders never cease as we plunge headlong into the 5th course of Abalone & Iberian pork cheek floating in a two-year-old stock from Gastrosmiths, served with a bowl of congee made with celery root. The stock is overflowing with bitter tannins of Cognac and is surprisingly robust, vibrant, and rich. I recommend not mixing the two, instead, have it separately and let it mix in the mouth like a chaser. The broth, when paired with the mildly sweet porridge (from the vegetables it's been cooked in), becomes a masterclass on flavour pairing without the cliché of disproportionate balance. 

Wild Caught Red Prawn Noodles. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

I reserve the highest praise for the Wild Caught Red Prawn Noodles—a class act of the transformative power of elevating something familiar into an even better version of itself. Here, in true minimal waste fashion, every part of the Argentinian red prawn is used, whether as a broth sweetener or as an oil. There's a lurking aroma that precedes a rush of intricate flavours as you take mouthful after mouthful of the silky smooth longevity noodles that cling on to every drop of broth with each bite. 

Citrus Kaffir & Lime Sorbet. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Desserts are handcrafted and individually plated by Chef Lulu. There's a Citrus Kaffir & Lime Sorbet—a tri-coloured palate cleanser with a playful take on layers of citrus flavours from mandarins, calamansi, and lime. This is followed by a deconstruction of the famous Indonesia street snack—kue ape, traditionally made with rice flour, coconut milk, yeast and palm sugar. Here, chef Lulu has taken each textural element of the kue ape apart and crafted it into an artful presentation of green and earth. 

Gula Aren Steamed Sponge Cake. (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

A gula aren steamed sponge cake sits side by side a scoop of rich and creamy bright green pandan ice cream, made with the concentrate of pandan juice that has been separated by letting it stand. These sit on a crumble of coffee crumbs that adds a slight tint of bitterness to cut through the overall richness. Where the kue ape is served covered in grated coconut, here in this deconstruction, coconut comes in the form of crisps for a much welcomed textural crunch. 

As you can see from the pictures, excluding desserts, every dish seems content to exist as nothing more than a celebration of technique, flavour, and produce. Allium doesn't aim to seek out glamour and filigree through the presentation. But what it purposefully lacks in looks, it more than makes up with an unshakeable focus on creating the best damn meal for a diner that knows and loves food. It's a side of Chef Dillon that he's kept buried in his time at Gastrosmiths. That he is now given the opportunity to shine, in this little corner of heaven, away from the eyes of the glaring and adoring public could only be to the betterment of everyone in the know. 

Prix Fixe Dinner menu is at S$98/pax for 7-course or S$128/pax for 9-course. Prices are nett. 

Website & Reservations | 2 Jalan Lokam, #01-11, Kensington Square, Singapore 537846

Thursdays to Sundays

Brunch (walk-ins): 10.30am to 3.30pm, Prix Fixe Dinner (by reservation only): 6.00pm onwards