Ex-Quay chef Sam Aisbett has opened Whitegrass in Singapore, with a menu that cleverly draws on Australian exotica.
There’s a new fine dining option with Australian connections in Singapore’s Chijmes complex, built within the stone white grounds of a former Catholic convent. When you take your seat in one of Whitegrass’s three well-spaced dining rooms, you’re sitting where the convent’s first nuns used to sleep 160 years ago.
The experience today is altogether more sinful in all the right ways. Sam Aisbett, who worked under Tetsuya Wakuda at Tetsuya’s in Sydney and was head chef at the city’s famous fine-diner Quay, has created fine dining with an emphasis on Australian ingredients, complex structures and unique flavours.
Dinner menus are set at five or eight courses, and they require some explaining by a proud and attentive staff. Two examples illustrate what the place is all about: the second of the five-course dishes is a salad, but that’s underselling it criminally. Slow-roasted beetroot layered on a bed of cream mixed with smoked eel imported from Holland demonstrates the fine dining aspirations; but what makes it unique is the flavour pop brought by the addition of plain-old Aussie breakfast-spread rosella jam (topped, they are keen to stress, not with just any pepper but Tasmanian mountain pepper). The jam really makes the dish.
The course that follows features extraordinary slow-cooked pork that dissolves in the mouth. Again, it’s not enough to call it pork; it is Mangalica pork, from a woolly pig bred in Hungary. At the base is a jade tiger abalone, fermented cabbage and white turnip puree, and a fiddlehead fern and seaweed broth is poured at the table from iron teapots. Sprinkled through the dish are snake gourd flowers commonly found in Asia.
It’s this combination of complex, layered and sometimes unlikely ideas along with imported Australian ingredients that makes Whitegrass distinctive. The sashimi features nasturtium flown in from Victoria; and Whitegrass diners are among the few in Singapore to taste muntries, a native Australian bush berry. It’s great food, a good location, and a hell of a lot more fun, one imagines, than whatever the nuns used to eat.
Location: Caldwell House, 30 Victoria Street, 01-26/27, Chijmes, +65 6837 0402, whitegrass.com.sg
Cuisine: Modern Australian via Singapore
Atmosphere: Warm, brightly-coloured interiors with attentive service
Open: Tuesday to Saturday for dinner; Thursday and Friday for lunch
Big tick: Exotic ingredients with unique Australian flavours
Must-try: The Mangalica pork