Saturday, 28 June 2014

Singapore Series - Bacchanalia - uber cool dining

I'd been in Singapore a few days and was starting to get a 'lay of the land', in fact, given my normal propensity to get lost in suburban Brisbane, I was on geo-positional fire.  I have to say that my cause was helped by one of the most amazing public Mass Transit Systems I've come across, it's so simple to get around Singapore on their 'MRT'....

The day before, I'd enjoyed a great NYC style burger in db Bistro (see post here) and was given a Gourmet & Travel magazine to read through, which just happened to have the The Peak Annual Restaurant Award winner profiles.  I was looking for some great restaurants to check out and thought it quite serendipitous.  Flipping through the magazine, one restaurant jumped right out at me with its cool and familiar name.  Bacchanalia (similar to our own Bacchus) has just picked up Best New Restaurant for 2014, which meant that it was now on my 'must visit list'.

Suspecting that Bacchanalia might be hard to get into, I called for a reservation and was pretty stoked to get in straight away.  My call to the restaurant had me connected to an expat Aussie and we got to chatting for a while and made a note to catch up with him when I hit the dining room.  A short MRT ride to City Hall, which was the closest MRT station saw me in the heart of old Singapore and brought back memories of my first couple of visits to Singapore more than 20 years earlier.  It didn't seem to have changed as much as other parts of the city that I'd visited so far.  It was a weird experience!

It was stinking hot and the walk from City Hall to Bacchanalia took me about ten minutes, so by the time I finally arrived at the restaurant, I was a sweaty mess.  Not wanting to enter a cool restaurant looking like I'd just come from a swimming pool, I hung back for a while to take in the amazing building that Bacchanalia shared with the Singapore Masonic Lodge.....  Yep, that's right, the restaurant had actually taken over a large part of the Masonic Lodge and like most lodges, it seemed quite mysterious and even a little foreboding. Walking into the Lodge, I was confronted with a waiting area and four doors, none clearly marked and only two leading to the restaurant.  I wondered if this was a test!

I eventually figured out which doors to go through, mainly because I watched some Lodge members entering through the other doors, so the process of elimination helped me a fair bit.  Once I walked through the restaurant door, I was transformed into an uber cool and darkly lit bar area that looked as if it would be very exclusive on a Friday or Saturday night.  That feeling increased when I was greeted by what could only be described as a 'gate keeper' who scrupulously checked the reservation listing for my name (even though the place was empty).  I was only let into the dining area after confirming that I'd spoken to the Aussie bloke, which seemed to have been the secret password (almost like open sesame).

I was led through the uber cool bar area to an even more plush looking dining room, were all of the dining chairs were like big red comfortable lounge chairs.  It was at this point that I met the mysterious Aussie voice from the other end of the phone and Emmanuel entered my life.  Little did I know it at that point by Emmanuel would be like a guiding angel for the rest of my food journey in Singapore.  

Emmanuel brought over the menu for me to check out, which was constructed a little differently from most menus.  It consisted of four sections, Vegetable, Seafood, Meat and Dessert and was designed for the diner to create their own degustation.  While I was pondering over my choices, Manny brought out one of the Chefs, who was also an expat Aussie and we had a chat about the menu and food in Singapore in general.

It wasn't long before my first course arrived, which was the Norwegian hand dived scallops with borlotti beans, tobiko and cocoa.  I was 'over the moon' with the massive European scallops that are much bigger than those we get in Australia and couldn't wait to dig in.  The two large scallops came presented in their shells, sitting atop the beans and sprinkled with the cocoa.  In fact the scallops were so large, they were already pre cut to make eating easier.  They were deliciously sweet and perfectly cooked with the sweet flesh contrasting bite from the cocoa adding a nice depth to the flavour.  I wasn't completely sold on the borlotti beans but the tobiko (fish roe) enhanced the dish with a little saltiness.  I was a great start to my Bacchanalia meal.

Sticking with the fish, my next course was perhaps one of the nicest plates of food I've had in some time.  The Tahitian vanilla confit salmon was sashimi grad salmon, lightly confit in a vanilla oil and came with roasted garlic puree, shaved fennel and a honey emulsion.  This was simply a spectacular dish, with the perfectly confit salmon having a lightness of flavour and texture that was quite unbelievable.  The vanilla flavour was a stroke of genius and was not at all over powering, and when combined with the honey emulsion, set my tastebuds alight.  It was pretty as a picture but there was real substance to the dish and I would eat it any day of the week!

I moved from fish to meat and while there were many great looking options on the menu, I decided that I'd check out the 48 hour pork belly.  The crispy pork belly had been slow cooked over two days and came with braised red cabbage, granny smith apple and giant capers.  All I can say about this is, why isn't all pork belly cooked for 48 hours?  It was incredibly tender with beautifully rendered fat that was not over powering and the thinnest and crispiest crackling imaginable.  The flavour combination of pork and apple with cabbage is classic and it worked extremely well here, with only the giant capers not to my liking (they were easy to set aside).

I'd been chatting to Manny throughout the meal and we'd mostly been talking about food and restaurants.  I'd mentioned to him that I'd tried to get into one of Singapore's legendary restaurants (and world top 100 restaurant), Jaan, but had no luck.  To my surprise and delight, Manny had made some calls for me and arranged for me to get into Jaan...  What a legend!

It didn't stop there.  Manny had really wanted me to order some of the restaurants signature dishes and I'd foiled his plan by ordering from the fish menu instead of the vegetable.  So to my surprise, Manny brought out a couple of the vegetarian dishes for me to try as well.  First up was the french onion soup, which I was informed took the restaurant a staggering 72 hours to prepare all of the components.  It was quite a simple looking dish but there was a complexity and layering of flavours to the dish that were mind blowing, each mouthful delivered a new flavour and a new sensation.  No wonder Manny wanted me to try this one.

As soon as I'd devoured the soup, the next surprise came out, which would test my limits of eating to the max! Already completely stuffed from my previous courses the cauliflower gratin almost beat me.  If it wasn't so delicious, I would have been in trouble.  The gratin consisted of deep fried cauliflower florets with white truffle and cheese foam with gremolata.  It was quite incredible, with the deep fried florets remaining crispy, even submerged in the foamy truffle and cheese.  Incredible as it was, I was really starting to think I wouldn't get through dessert, second stomach and all....

The team at Bacchanalia really wanted me to check out some of their fancier desserts, but I had to call for the lightest, just so I'd get through it.  As it turns out, the chocolate cake with caramel white chocolate mousse, strawberry jam and strawberry sorbet was still incredibly rich.  But....  It was so delicious and creamy that I almost got through all of it.  It really was a Mr Creosote moment, any more food and I would explode.

I'd had a fantastic time at Bacchanalia and met some pretty awesome people, most notably Emmanuel, who simply could not have been more accommodating.  I'd really appreciated the effort he'd gone into in booking me into one of the most difficult restaurants in Singapore to get into and the hospitality shown.

As it turned out, I'd picked a very quiet night to come to Bacchanalia, it was just me and one other person there for the whole night, so it allowed the staff to really engage throughout the night.  It was difficult to gauge the atmosphere of the restaurant while nearly empty but Manny assured me that the place went off like a rocket when full and invited me along to a cocktail party later on in the week to check out the vibe.

I could see why Bacchanalia had been voted the best new restaurant in Singapore, the food was creative and very, very tasty.  I'd been intrigued by how a restaurant could secure such a large space in a Masonic Lodge and Manny said it all with just one word.  Connections.  I couldn't agree more as the connection I'd made with Manny would help me out even more on my Singapore travels.

And for the record, I went to the cocktail party for a short while but had to leave, the place was packed with all the beautiful people of Singapore and was indeed going off like a rocket.  I hung around for a while but couldn't get near the bar and decided to go quietly into the night.  I still had more foodie adventures to come.

Unusually the restaurant shares a space with the Masonic Lodge
This little pre desert treat was beautiful as well
The Norwegian hand dived scallops were huge
The bread was great but I could hardly eat any of it
The salmon was sublime - I'll remember this one for a long time
The plush red chairs were a stark contrast to the dimly lit restaurant
The restaurant is plush and decadent, just like you'd expect from a place named after a god of indulgence
I wouldn't get close to the bar at the cocktail party
This space was pumping at the cocktail party too!


  1. It's one of my faves in Singapore too. Such great food and a brilliant space. Apparently Fridays and weekends get really busy but I've always appreciated going early in the week. Must try it on a busy night though to check out the buzz!

  2. I agree Michelle, I was super happy I went and had a fantastic meal and was really looked after by Manny and the team (lots of Aussies)


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