SINGAPORE — We Singaporeans are a demanding lot. Like a child, we hanker after the shiniest new toy to land on these shores, almost as if virtue-signalling to dining operators that they are only interesting and relevant until the next exciting concept comes to town.
Chefs and chef-owners find themselves in an unenviable position of pandering to what the consumers crave (remember the rage for Impossible meat in and on everything and anything?) and at times, sacrificing gastronomy vision for a healthy profit and loss balance sheet.
Although to be fair, there is a fine line between stubbornness and commitment to craft—a divide I too often see chefs struggle in the quest to keep the business afloat. It's an art, this precarious balance, a skill that someone like Chef Dylan pulled off with The Masses—COVID-19 be damned.
It is praise well-deserved for a chef who was one of the very few to offer a full takeaway menu way back in March before the mad rush of converting a dine-in menu into one suitable for travelling distances. Some may call it foresight, but in actuality, it is a sense of humility that drives Dylan to quickly adapt when the current de facto model of dining is in danger of failing.
Now, rising from the proverbial ashes of COVID-19, and with a new delivery concept, 'Direct to the Masses', Dylan is back to tantalising food enthusiasts once again with version 10.0 of his Franco-Asian menu and a storefront that has been refreshed and embracing of the colour blue.
Yes. You read that right. Ten menus over three years are what over-achievers look like. But, for a restaurant like The Masses, it feels like a coming-of-age story. The proverbial child is now all grown-up and very certain of her roots, her motivations, and using that inspiration of self-growth, to carve a better, more joyous version of herself. All, without straying far too far from Dylan's mission to make French cuisine accessible to the masses. It's a wildly exciting Southeast Asian play on French food, and I'm living for it.
It's hard not to regard these menu changes as audacious. I say that only because the execution and presentation do not seem proportionate with what it’s priced. A plate of Young Corn starter is S$3 and comes slathered in comté, crème fraîche, and a spicy, zesty yuzukoshō—a fermented paste of chilli peppers, yuzu peel and salt.
Oysters from River Bélon in France start at S$6 each and are renowned for being one of the rarest oysters in the world. It is served with a citric lemon gel and popping sea grapes which really takes the edge off the brine of oysters. It truly doesn’t get any better or fresher than the Bélon variety.
Balancing the New Normal:
Elsewhere a bowl of French Onion Velouté (S$15.90++) is a stunning, silky picture of cream, offset by a burst of colours from nutty morel and a deeply umami French Plantin black truffle paste. It achieves this hue by eschewing the traditional technique of browning onions—instead, are left to sweat to coax the unmistakable tannins of onion out. It makes for a velvety mouthfeel with overtones of sweetness that lingers.
I get excessively emotional when I see a dish like the Trio Pepper-crusted Pork Tomahawk (S$26.90++)—a beautifully fried tomahawk pork that Chef Dylan has employed in previous menus and given a different type of love.
In this iteration, pepper is coaxed into the spotlight in a sexy ménage à trois of spices—green peppercorn, white pepper, black pepper—but not too excessively that your mouth burns. Instead, it leaves the lips tingling with excitement, as most, ahem, ménage à trois are wont to do.
Have I already mentioned how taken I am with the price points of this menu? If I haven’t, then it's important I reiterate especially in this fragile economy where eating out is no longer a simple exercise, but a selective one. The Pork Jowl Pithivier (S$15.90++) is one such example of value.
Visually, it looks like a handsome baked pastry, which in some ways it is. But, take a knife through it and inside is a seductive reveal of saccharine char siew style pork jowl with the most impeccable balance of fats and lean meat thrown in with some smoked bacon.
There's also cabbage from the Savoy region of France. Not that ordinary diners would realise, but therein is a prime example of fastidiousness—when a chef insists on high-quality ingredients that absolutely no one will know, except in contributing to a more exquisite mouthfeel.
Fish finds its way into the menu the same way it did with the previous nine menu iterations. Here, it’s Threadfin (S$23.90++) that’s more commonly seen during Chinese New Year, pan-seared and served with bergamot gel, olive, XO sauce.
The fish flakes like a dream with overtones of sweetness. But even better than the Threadfin, is the side of salad it comes served with. I can make out jicama, radish, French beans, and apple slices, drizzled with an umami anchovy chicken mayonnaise. Tres chic I say.
The Yuzu Semifreddo (S$13.90++) is a joyful exercise of textures and flavours—a tall order indeed for a dessert. The Yuzu semi-frozen dessert sits centre of the plate, topped with brittle meringue and soft yuzu sponge. It’s elegant, it’s refined, and it employs a deep understanding of how dessert should be constructed if only to avoid the oft used cliche of “Oh, I like the dessert! It’s not too sweet”.
Instead, this semifreddo is a pleasing medley of flavours that swirl in the mouth in quite a jocose way. All this joy I’m feeling is the reason why The Masses remain one of my top recommendations for a culinary experience you won’t soon forget. And if the tenth time’s the charm, I can’t wait to see what menu 13 would look like.
Website | 85 Beach Rd, #01-02, S189694
Mon – Sat: 12pm – 9.30pm (last order)
Sun: 12pm – 9pm (last order)
Balancing the New Normal: