Up, up, and away. The sky’s the limit for two relatively new kids on the Orchard block, both of which are producing sparks
I went to the Salt Grill & Sky Bar on the 55th floor of Ion Orchard on three occasions. Once of my own volition, and twice at the behest of others. On each visit, the experience was almost spectacularly unsatisfactory. On my first sojourn the food was ordinary and expensive, and the service was surly and inattentive – not a great combination. The next two occasions were slightly better, but that may have been because I didn’t have to dip into my pocket to pay for overpriced food.
Flnt, where Peruvian ingredients and Japanese techniques abound
The restaurant started well enough, I have been informed. The splendid views lured saps from far and wide, and the initial involvement of Australian ‘celebrity chef’ and restaurant empire builder, Luke Mangan, ensured that standards were high, and punters were prepared to shell out… a lot, as Donald Trump would have said, over and over again. I miss him already.
Then the establishment rested on its laurels and assumed that the altitude and vistas would distract diners. It worked for a while, and then it really didn’t. I swore that I would not return, and I stayed true to my word, until recently, when I was forced into the elevator to surge up 51 floors to the latest incarnation of what is a truly great space. And I’m glad I did, because what is now happening on level 55 is not only a breath of fresh air, but also a culinary adventure.
Nikkei cuisine is seriously interesting. Simply defined: Peruvian ingredients, Japanese techniques. Nikkei itself refers to people of Japanese ancestry who have settled in other parts of the world, taking their culinary tastes and influences to foreign climes. It makes for fun food that is clean and ingredient-driven, and, horror of horrors, it tastes and feels healthy. I remain convinced that there is an inversely proportionate relationship between good flavours and nutritious food, but I am prepared to be confounded, and Flnt goes a long way to achieving that objective.
Dishes are relatively small, but not overpriced bearing in mind what goes into them, which means that the diner gets the opportunity to delve into all manner of tastes and textures before being stuffed to the gunwales (pronounced ‘gunnels’, just in case you were wondering).
Ceviche has always been a favoured dish for me, and Flnt’s iteration features fresh fish (raw), yuzu, roasted hazelnuts, leche de tigre, lime, shallots, tomatoes, avocado and white corn. For those not familiar with the dish itself, basically, it’s fish ‘cooked’ in citric acid, which doesn’t sound particularly appetising but can be genuinely delicious. Flnt’s version is as good as it gets, letting the leche de tigre – a spicy, citrus-based marinade that’s translated as ‘tiger’s milk’ – gently change the structure of the fish in a delicate cooking process that retains all the inherent flavours and then gives you an electrifying acid hit.
The Foie Gras Taco (rocoto yoghurt, flying fish roe and kaffir lime) is delightfully playful and ridiculously flavourful, combining ingredients that on paper wouldn’t appear to go together that well. Fortunately, you can eat this dish off a plate, and trust me when I say that one will never be enough. Some might say that the foie gras gets overpowered in the combo, but bearing in mind its inherent richness, this may be no bad thing. It’s still there, and doesn’t always have to be the dish’s diva.
The Gindara Misoyaki (grilled miso cod and aji verde sauce) didn’t work quite as well, however, despite the fish being moist, juicy and perfectly cooked. The aji verde (traditional Peruvian green sauce – cilantro, parmesan, amarillo peppers paste – there is no definitive way of making this; everyone has their own recipe) didn’t do much for the delicate cod, in my opinion, and vice versa. There was just a little bit too much going on.
The Inka Sushi offers a variety of superbly composed pieces, from Flame Seared Salmon and Ikura (delicious) to Big Fin Reef Squid and Sweet Shrimp (sumptuous) and on to Grilled Wagyu and Uni – yes, you read that right. In the ‘what’s not to like?’ argument, solid ground would be underfoot, but when two huge ingredients get together there is always the possibility of a clash. Somehow, however, this works quite beautifully.
Flnt is a selfless restaurant (there is no ‘I’ in Flnt – see what I did there?) and there are so many dishes on the menu that sound delicious and that I would like to try. This, by the way, is how to keep customers coming back for more, just in case there is a restaurateur reading this who hasn’t quite grabbed the concept.
Argentine food on Fire
But it’s time to step out and to step up in this particular double tasting/review, with a visit to the 56th floor and the opportunity to experience a different concept. Fire is Argentine, and as the name would suggest, flames are involved, and central to many of the cooking processes is a wood-fired hearth grill. Different woods, including but probably not limited to, apple, oak and almond, are used on adjustable grates, and there are burning embers options as well.
It all adds up to a very distinctive style of cooking with equally distinctive flavours and there are dishes that work better than others. The Mud Crab Rescoldo (cooked under almond embers, Hokkaido scallop, clementines and fennel pollen) is quite superb – the fresh, delicate crab being gently licked by the heat to bring out its full flavours.
Excellent too are the Patagonian Red Prawns Parilla (northern Criollita sauce – onions, tomatoes, wine vinegar, peppers). In fact, they were nigh on perfect – beautifully cooked, just the right side of almost raw, and seasoned to within an inch of their lives. Red prawns can be problematic because of their delicacy as a delicacy, but Fire’s chefs have got it spot on.
The Salt-Baked Whole Rainbow Trout (fennel seed, parsley, lemon zest and salmoriglio) has a good flavour, but can be a tad dry. The dish, however, is rescued by the salmoriglio (more green stuff – this time a tangy, mildly acidic sauce made from lemon juice, olive oil garlic and any number of herbs – although I think oregano and parsley are musts).
And then it was time for the big guns, in the form of ‘Devesa’ Argentinian Grain-fed OP Rib (served with red chimichurri). This chunk of meat weighed in at about a kilo, tasted good, was bouncy to the bite, but was overcooked (even for medium-rare) and as a result was quite dry. This was a huge disappointment, especially after the build-up and the expectation that this should have been the blue riband event. The char was good, the meat was good, but overcooking a fine cut verges on the inexcusable.
There are saving graces in the form of the Plato De Verduras – an absolute cornucopia of fired-up vegetables that includes heirloom carrots, new-world potatoes, purple asparagus, wood-fired corn (a standout) and Palermo peppers. One would be left with feeling that had the same rigour been applied to the beef, there would have been nothing to complain about at all.
A final word for a great end to the meal that came in the form of the Flan ‘Adriana’ – a recipe concocted by Her Excellency, the wife of Argentina’s Ambassador to Singapore. I had the honour to sup several glasses of wine and break bread with HE Federico Alejandro Barttfeld many months ago, and he’s an engaging character who takes his food and drink very seriously. While he helped to evolve one of the signature cocktails at Fire, his wife’s recipe graces the dessert menu, and trust me when I say that as dulce de leches go, it’s just about as good as it gets. Rich, thick, creamy, but with a remarkably controlled sweetness that is the culinary equivalent to a book on anti-gravity. You just can’t put it down.
Bottom line: There’s some great food to be had at both restaurants, each of which has a very distinct identity, which is commendable in this day and age. Right now, Flnt is the more assured and Fire has a little catching up to do, but I have little doubt that the people behind the concepts will manage it.