Andrew Leci experiences sensory overload at JAG, as his taste buds take legal action over exploitation and overwork. Scent and Savour – a dining odyssey to experience and remember
Smile. That’s what great food can make you do. Sometimes (very rarely it must be said) you taste something, and you simply can’t help but break out in a grin. It implies that the flavours are just right; the texture spot on; the appearance pleasing, and the overall impression is one of immense satisfaction and almost immeasurable pleasure.
At a special tasting menu at Restaurant JAG recently, I experienced this. And it was after sampling an ‘intermezzo’ – a palate cleanser in the middle of a splendid meal that anyone can tuck into at the one Michelin-starred restaurant for five days only, from 25 to 29 February*. I hate to gush, but serious diners who both know and like their food, would be nuts (expertly curated ones, obviously) to miss out on it.
Along with perfumery Maison 21G, which sits, coincidentally, right next door to JAG in the Duxton ‘restaurant-verse’ (new word) a culinary odyssey has been created. It may not be Homeric in scope, but it’s sufficiently epic. Chef Jeremy Gillon and Johanna Monange (her surname means, literally, ‘my angel’… and she certainly does have an ‘otherworldly’ vibe about her), founder of Maison 21G, have created Scent and Savour, an olfactory experience that will engage every taste bud housed within your body and send your sensory neurons into overdrive.
It will wake up those that may have been dormant or in need of a bit of exercise, and have your memory bank scurrying around manically to cope with all the withdrawals. Smell and taste – being processed through the olfactory bulb (which is part of the limbic system, the brain’s emotional centre) with access to the amygdala – have a bigger role in the creation of emotional memories than, say, sight or sound. This explains why food and perfume can instigate a response and trigger memory like nothing else, and is, presumably, the reason behind Gillon and my angel’s… sorry, Monange’s vivifying collaboration.
The similarities between creating a dish and formulating a fragrance are obvious. You have a set of ingredients and you try to put them together to make a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. It sounds easy, but it isn’t, especially when you bear in mind that the list of such ingredients is limited only by the imagination of those who have compiled it.
The key is to take flavours and aromas and combine them in the right way, deciding en route what works and what doesn’t; what’s complementary and enhancing as opposed to unworkably antagonistic. Conceptualising and evolving a fine fragrance is a tricky job – one that involves having a good ‘nose’, but also a scent ‘mind palace’ that enables the formulator to delve into recesses (both dark and light) and draw from experiences that are sometimes not even consciously remembered.
When it comes to evolving a dish, the situation becomes yet more complicated, as you have aroma, taste, texture and appearance to involve in the equation. This is to take nothing away from Monange, whose expertly composed fragrances provide the opening notes for chef Gillon’s culinary offerings and stimulate the palate into greater receptivity. But, you don’t have to chew or drink a perfume.
JAG only opened in 2018, and seems to have been given a Michelin star about 10 minutes later. OK, it was a few months, but it is clearly well deserved. One of the reasons for the laurel has to be the incredible depth of thought and assiduity with which chef Gillon plies his trade. The restaurant imports more than 40 different indigenous herbs from the Savoie department of France – the man was born in Normandy; there are appropriate accents in some of his dishes that speak to his upbringing – but there is definite alpine inspiration in much of his cuisine.
Each plate served up for delectation is complex, containing seemingly innumerable ingredients, but they comprise a series of marriages made in heaven, and nothing is included without thought and understanding. The parallels with Monange’s conception and formulation of a fragrance are undeniable, which makes the Scent and Savour experience so stimulating and fascinating.
I could go through the menu items and tell you how good some of the dishes are, and even give you fragrance notes on Monange’s creation, but we would be here all day. Just the ingredients in each dish run to three lines of description / text. My recommendation would be to book a table and give it a go. When your taste buds recover and you learn how to smell the truly unextraordinary again, you’ll look back at Scent and Savour with such fond memories. And they are memories that will stay with you… forever.
*Select dishes will be available at JAG, upon request, for the whole of March.
76 Duxton Road
Tel: +65 3138 8477