SINGAPORE — I worry a lot when I review fine dining establishments where often, the artistry of food tends to easily overshadow the original intent of eating—to satiate and satisfy. There’s also that perennial problem of a restaurant’s gilded reputation preceding itself when setting up, at the very least, semi-realistic expectations of a menu that often starts at S$160 upwards. You want it to be great because you’re psychologically prepped to not regret the experience; not at the price point, you’re paying.
V Dining by V Zug gives me similar vibes, even without ever having visited. I wonder if I’m too underdressed in a Mustard Yellow Uniqlo t-shirt tucked into black pants, wearing chunky but comfy Skechers shoes, and a Ralph Lauren jacket to ward off the cold. At many fine dining places, visitors are often lulled into hushed conversations and polite musings, not out of duty, but due to a sense of place.
It’s like you have to be on your best behaviour. Too loud and one worries about being labelled a ringarde. Servers slide up to you and look you square in the eye when explaining where this bottle of exquisite red comes from and which year it was harvested. It’s all very personable and attentive, and that can scare some people off.
At the centre of it all is head chef John-Paul Fiechtner who’s on a mission to make fine dining accessible. The tea pairing option sets the right tone for this mission of accessibility such that first-timers aren’t too intimidated by what they’re eating (and drinking) while seasoned food writers are still coloured impressed. I had certain expectations of what the food would be like, but now, faced with a tea pairing concept, suddenly everything and anything is possible.
These words never rang more true than when a trio of Snacks appeared, boldly signalling the start of an evening that will eventually render me speechless. One of it, an Oyster Pearl with Nasturtium Kimchi flower, is a pearl of oyster ice cream dipped in cocoa butter that theoretically should have left me confused. Still, instead, I am thoroughly impressed with this seductive mingling of sweet and savoury so early on in this meal. Slow down Chef JP. At least buy me a drink first.
The Braised Taro was a particularly poignant lesson on looks that can be deceiving. For something that comes off as placid, it manages to completely arrest my senses—sentence them to prison, lock it up, and throw away the keys, I beg of you.
The broth these taro slices sit on is a deep shade of true umami, heightened by the presence of mirin and dashi—two ingredients that make for a riotous flavour party in the mouth. There’s also a creamy dollop of whipped parmesan foam layered within these taro slices that brings everything together succinctly—it’s criminally impressive.
There’s a course of Crab which came covered in raw zucchini flower, glazed with sweet tomato and dashi honey. I particularly liked the taste of chives that danced a brief pirouette on the tongue.
As an accompaniment to all of this is a small bowl of peeled cherry tomato and fresh raspberries in mud crab oil—a combination that might seem as offensive as pitting Mariah against Whitney, but you’ve heard ‘When You Believe’ and that song works on all levels, much like this bowl of fruits.
A bread course in the middle of a menu is almost unheard. But here, it's meant to connect the crab from the previous course to the crab miso butter that I slather on these homemade roast barley crumpets. Have it on its own first and when you’re ripe and ready, drizzle lightly with honey for a flavour pairing that is predictably impressive.
I did feel like the Fish course was slightly lacking in focus. Here, a Rouget (essentially a Red Mullet) is served on a bed of pumpkin and sunflower seeds braised in a Babi Guling-esque spice mix. The entire thing sits on an intense stock, reminiscent of a bouillabaisse, and a dollop of fermented red capsicum.
It pains me to critique this because I know that fish makes such hard work of the chef who has to deal with its mild and finicky taste, always on the verge of being overwhelmed. Here, individually, everything is brilliant and easy to love. But this course is one of those where the payoff is not equal to the sum of its parts. It’s a bold attempt, though. I’ll give you that.
Fortunately, we end on a high note with a cut of Pork Loin that had me swooning in my seat. Under an umbrella of a peppery nasturtium leaf, is a bitter leaf that tastes almost like radicchio. I lapped up this deliberate bitterness and applauded it’s balance to the beautifully fatty pork, giving it almost an impression of a char, yet, not quite. I wanted the sweet bone marrow sauce to be punchier, but I reckon any punchier, and it would threaten to overshadow the incredibly and generously flavoured pork.
By this point, the mood at the table has considerably shifted from that of cordiality to one of jocund conviviality. We’re all clearly and willingly seduced by the charms of Chef JP, whose food manages to be fun, familiar, and experimental all at once. Pastry Chef Joe Leong continues on this trajectory of fun with a three-part dessert course that is all sorts of things—brash, refrained, innovative.
There’s a Plum dessert which sits on a plate with a Banksy inspired artwork that acts as a great palate cleanser. Then there’s the Brown Rice and Miso Amazake ice cream that is flavoured precisely with equal parts olive oil and brown rice which lends it a nice, malty flavour.
But the piece de resistance of dessert comes from the hands of Chef Joe who approaches the table with a mammoth tray, lined with paper followed by another tray of ingredients. He calls it Cake of the Day, but with more theatrics.
Ready your camera as Chef Joe assembles the cake with components such as a white chocolate match that looks like a pandan leaf, a yellow custard cake that looks like blocks of butter, and chocolate ganache that looks like an egg.
It’s a fitting end to a dining concept that aspires to be fun and approachable. Judging by the laughter at our table as the night comes to a close, I reckon that much is achieved—easily and with much aplomb.
Dinner: S$128++ for seven-course
Beverage pairing: S$88++ for alcohol, S$36++ for organic tea
Website | 6 Scotts Road, 03–13, S228209
Mon - Sat: 5.30pm to 10.30pm
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