Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Singapore Series - Ocean by Cat Cora

Who doesn't like travelling?  Even better than travelling is visiting some amazing restaurants while travelling.  Last year I had the opportunity to spend some time in New York and was able to dine at some of the most amazing restaurants in the world (see here).  Recently, I was fortunate enough to travel to Singapore, also recognised as one of the finest foodie destinations in the world.  I was travelling for work for a conference but there was plenty of time after each day had finished to explore the best restaurants that Singapore had to offer.

It had been almost twenty five years since my last visit to Singapore and as you would expect, the city was unrecognisable.  In my mind, it was still the bustling little Asian city from my youth but the reality of my folly became readily apparent on the drive from the airport to my hotel.  Singapore was massive and completely modern, with a simply stunning skyline that was centred around so many tall buildings and the incredible looking Marina Bay Sands (more on that in future posts).

I was booked into stay at Sentosa Island at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was where the conference I was attending was to be held.  In case you're wondering what the conference was about, it was for the regional qualifiers for the world contact centre awards.  I was there to present and hopefully win.

I'd left on a Saturday morning and the travelling took most of the day and by the time I'd reached the hotel, it was getting on in the evening.  What it actually meant for me was that it was dinner time and I needed to find a place to relax and have my first (of many) dinners in Singapore.  Luckily, Sentosa Island is home to quite a number of fantastic restaurants and after a little research and a quick phone call, I was booked into one of the Island's best.

For those of you who are reality TV fanatics, you might remember an awesome cooking show called Iron Chef.  It was a kitschy and cheesy Japanese cooking show that saw a top chef compete against one of three Iron Chefs.  If you've not seen this show before, do yourself a favour and check it out (see link here).  The show was incredibly popular and, as is usually the case, the show was adopted for the American (gringo) market and became a popular show in its own right.

My little segue into TV history was for a purpose!  The restaurant that I'd chosen to visit first in Singapore was called Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora, who is a well known celebrity chef in the United States.  Cat Cora is better know as the first and only female Iron Chef and the first female chef inducted into the American Academy of Chefs culinary hall of fame.  I was pretty exited to be visiting Ocean Restaurant and seeing what Cat Cora had been able to achieve in her first Singaporean restaurant.

But first I had to find the place, which turned out to be much harder than I had anticipated.  It was my first night in Singapore and at the Sentosa resort and I'd yet to get my bearings.  The directions to the restaurant were quite weird, I had to find it through an underground car park that was massive and I kept circling back to the same spot.  Eventually, I found it by following a couple who were striding with purpose in the direction I thought I needed to go.  It ended up being a good move and I soon found myself at the front door.  Once I entered though, I understood why I needed to go deep underground.

The Ocean Restaurant sits next to the worlds largest sea aquarium and once I walked into the dining room, I was transported to an undersea wonderland.  It was breathtaking.

One whole side of the restaurant was floor to ceiling glass with the aquarium and a multitude of sea creatures on display for the diners to enjoy.  I was taken to my seat, but had my eyes on the majesty of the sea the whole time.  It was going to take some getting used to.  While I was sitting there open mouthed, my waiter for the night placed a menu in front of me but it took some time before I could drag my vision from the wonder wall before me.  The menu at Ocean Restaurant is of course heavily influenced by seafood, which would dominate my menu choices.

My meal started off with the obligatory amuse bouche, which came presented on a rectangle of slate and was a tiny little pancake with different textures of salmon.  It was quite a dainty little mouthful of food and was nice, but the textures of the salmon were a little lost with the pancake.  There was a definite flavour of salmon, which packed quite a punch and saved the little bite from being a little boring.

I'd been a little greedy and decided on two starters for my meal, the first of which was the 42 degree sous vide salmon with salmon mouse, citrus minestrone, ikura (salmon roe) and shaved fennel salad.  This was a simply stunning looking dish which managed to pull a lot of ingredients together to look both fresh and refined.  I found that the salmon was perfectly cooked and had the right texture, but it lacked a little flavour, which was a little disappointing.  While the sous vide salmon lacked flavour, the salmon mouse more than made up and delivered a wallop that sat nicely on the palate and was significantly enhanced by the salty salmon skin.  The orange and fennel salad was lovely and quite fresh and helped bring balance to the dish.

I chose a second starter purely on it's name, I really wanted to see what the 'Lobster Milk' would look like.  My plate was delivered with some raw marinated lobster, herbs and creme fraiche and the had a beautiful lobster bisque pored over the top.  The bisque then started to cook the delicate lobster flesh and the creme fraiche started to melt to give the soup a milky texture.  It was an enjoyable dish with bags of flavour and a generous amount of lobster, which I devoured in short order.

It had started as a quiet night in Ocean and my dishes had been delivered quite quickly and a few minutes after my plate been cleared, my main of buttered fried red gurnard with Scottish mussels, mussel-basil emulsion, dill cream and preserved lemon was delivered.  I'd never had red gurnard before but was happy with the mild flavour of the fish, which was complimented by an amazing pale green emulsion that tasted incredibly fresh.  The compilation of ingredients all worked together well but I found the mix of herbs and preserved lemon placed on top of the fish hid the beautifully red and crispy skin.

I'd managed to have fish for each of my courses, which was completely appropriate for a restaurant named 'Ocean' but it was time for dessert and I had to deviate to something a little less fishy.  After struggling to decide on a dessert, I finally settled on the vacherin, which was textures of strawberries and creme fraiche.  I quite liked the presentation of the vacherin, which had colour and height on its side, but I found the dish incredibly difficult to eat.  The strawberry flavoured merengue was a little tougher than I expected and I ended up crushing the dessert to try to break it down.  Despite the little setback, I still managed to devour the dessert, which was fresh and not overly sweet.

I'd been pretty happy with my first meal in Singapore and while it had not blown me away, it was definitely a memorable meal.  It had been memorable for a number of reasons, firstly, it was just a well cooked meal but it was also memorable because it was my first experience with the high price of Singapore fine dining... Phew, it was pricey!

The thing that had made the meal completely memorable for me though was the setting, it was simply breath taking, mesmerising even.  It was a fantastic experience sitting in a restaurant that was essentially at the bottom of the biggest aquarium in the world.  It was so great that I didn't leave the restaurant for a long time after finishing my meal, a situation that must occur quite often as the staff just indulged my request to sit and watch.

If you ever get to Singapore, then this is an experience that you must seek out.  The food was lovely, the service spot on but most of all, its just so peaceful sitting down and watching the aquatic life swarming by.  It was just so ironic that I was indulging in some wonderfully cooked seafood at the time!

The restaurant is right in the aquarium and is set up to just enjoy the view
My view as I walked into the restaurant, it just got better as the night progressed
My view of the food and the aquarium - lovely
Dessert and aquarium

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