THE FINE DINING RESTAURANT IN ORCHARD ROAD BOASTS CULINARY SKILLS OF THE FRENCH AND PRECISION OF THE JAPANESE
The French are known for their culinary art while the Japanese, their attention to detail. When put together, the result is often impressive.
I found one such example at Beni. The 15-seater restaurant at Mandarin Gallery conjures French fare, the Japanese way.
The restaurant, which means ‘crimson red’ in Japanese — thus lending an auspicious touch — and ‘blessed’ in French, aims to provide guests a cinematic experience. Red velvet curtains are drawn to reveal a dimly lit dining room. The interior is kept simple, if not bare, with just soft lighting bouncing off angled mirrors on the walls. What I’m meant to do is focus on each dish that’s plated in front of me.
Menus are kept simple, with two sets each for both lunch and dinner, priced at $118 and $228, and $188 and $298 respectively. The latter dinner degustation features a stellar 10-course line up, including a starter of your choice. All dishes, with the exception of the Ozaki wagyu A5, change according to the catch of the season.
With an almost theatrical effect, three Japanese chefs appear from the kitchen, separated from the dining room by automatic sliding doors. All three were personally approached and selected by Hashida Group — owner of Beni, Hashida Sushi and Hashida Garo restaurants — to set up Beni. The trio was involved from the get-go, from conceptualising the interior right down to selecting tableware.
The chefs get down to business. Tanoue places a spoonful of Gyokuro tea leaves into a glass teacup, before pouring hot water that barely covers the leaves. When I’m done drinking the tea, Tanoue collects the cup, adds a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt before returning it to me. “It’s a salad,” he laughs. I nibble on the leaves. An aroma fills my mouth; the salt has intensified the flavour of the leaves, bringing out the unmistakable umami taste.
The entrees are paving the way for an unforgettable night. The blue lobster salad is coated in a light and creamy artichoke puree, and delivers the right amount of crunch. The pan-seared Hokkaido scallop (an additional $22) is done to perfection. The foie gras, done two ways — with Sangria jelly and mango chutney — whets the appetite. Dishes are served one after another, with just enough time to spare in between. All three chefs take their turns at the counter, adding finishing touches to each plate.
Then come the mains. The first is a pan-fried tilefish, done Matsukasayaki style. The scales are left on the fish, but are fried till crisp, providing a twist to the tender meat. I have high hopes for the Ozaki wagyu A5, and I’m not disappointed. The dish is generously showered with Italian truffle. I’m told that the season for white truffle is starting, and Beni will soon be switching to that. My taste buds are tingling with each bite. Unlike other wagyus, this one isn’t too fatty, but still oozes with flavour.
Yamanaka explains his choice of Ozaki wagyu. “We want our wagyu to be known for its taste, and not just the marbling,” he says. The wagyu, named after the breeder Muneharu Ozaki, is the only beef in Japan to be named after the farmer, instead of the place where the usual wagyu cattle is reared. Ozaki feeds the cows by hand every day, and slaughters just 26-30 cows a month. “With the high demand and significantly lower supply, we are lucky to be the only restaurant in Singapore to serve the tenderloin and sirloin cuts. No other restaurant in the city has access to it,” he beams.
Throughout the meal, we are served Royal Blue Tea, a semi-fermented cold brew tea that uses ‘hana’ green tea leaves grown in China. It takes up to six days to brew the tea. Sommelier Hiromi Maraoka explains that the method of cold brewing keeps the tea fresh. The result? A light green tea flavour with a burst of jasmine.
I’m stuffed by the time I’m done with my pre dessert, a raspberry grosse with yoghurt granite. Miraculously, I manage to polish the apple tart that offers a light bitterness from the caramelisation.
I leave the restaurant satisfied, wondering if I’ll ever get to enjoy another meal that can top this. Beni may have recently opened, but I’m excited to head back on a regular basis just to give my tastebuds a surprise.
333A Orchard Road