A Bacchanalian Feast
Ambition, it is often said, is more important than talent. But Luke Armstrong, The Kitchen at Bacchanalia’s new head chef, delivers both in equal measure. At least that was the impression I got during a sampling of the five-course lunch menu (S$138++) in January, barely a month after the 29-year-old Australian took over the reins from Ivan Brehm.
The first course of Hand-Dived Scallops – Hokkaido scallops dressed with creme fraiche, black truffle, yuzu and soy – was an exquisite showcase of quality. Armstrong insists on using hand-dived scallops, which cost thrice that of the dredged variety, because of the higher calibre of the meat.
In the second course of Hamachi – tender chunks of yellowtail infused with the citrusy aromas of kaffir lime – Armstrong demonstrated his governing philosophy: that the food, rooted in French fundamentals but tempered with contemporary nuances, should always be “light, fresh and fragrant".
He explains, “When you have an amazing product, you really have to complement it with a lot of freshness. Because if you have seven, eight or nine courses, with canapes, champagne and wine, and there’s lots of cream, sugar and flour, you’re dead by the fifth course. So it was really important to add vinegar, Japanese and South-east Asian citrus, and to reduce sugar and fats from the dressing. You have to feel great after dessert and still be able to go out for a drink after."
Indeed, by the time dessert was served – a nutty-fresh confection of chocolate pave, mint ice cream, yoghurt, passionfruit and citrus – my gut was sated, not on the verge of exploding.
As in any tasting menu, there were highs and lows. The latter came courtesy of the fourth course, the Grass-fed Tenderloin. The beef was robust and succulent, but the accoutrements (aubergine compote, garlic veloute, bone marrow and thyme jus) seemed overtly, perhaps overly, ambitious.
“I’m an ambitious guy," Armstrong asserts. “And I want to inspire others. If you want to be in the kitchen for 16 hours a day, you should push it to the limit and explore all avenues of what you can do."