Review by FoodCanon, photos by ieat
You may have heard of this phrase: “Follow the chef, not the restaurant.”
This phrase has stuck in my mind in my occasional visits to fine dining places. These are eateries which you do not go to daily, unlike your favourite hawker haunts (and now, the right choice made easier by the new ieat hawker app).
Often, I am with a friend, a loved one or a guest. The raison d’être goes beyond just eating to one which involves a celebration of some kind or to have an important work conversation.
|Chef Stephan Zoisl (pic: novus.sg)
I first met this young Austrian chef, Stephan Zoisl at a cooking class at TOTT. His passion for cooking with modern techniques and attention to details were both impressive and inspiring.
He helms Novus Bar and Restaurant, located at the heart of the National Museum, as the Executive Head Chef.
His professional chef career started with a 3-year apprenticeship at the five-star Grand Hotel Europe in Innsbruck -at the age of 15. Since then, Chef Stephan has worked at some of the world’s best restaurants, such as the 2 Michelin star Steirereck in Vienna and the 2 Michelin star Villa Joya in Portugal. Part of his training at a recent Sabbatical break included a short stint in the famed The Fat Duck in UK. The work of this UK’s master of molecular gastronomy, Chef Heston Blumenthal, has influenced his culinary approach.
Though he is familiar with our part of the world and has married a local who craves for Char Kway Teow when she is abroad, his creations at Novus is decidedly modern European fare. That is what he wants to offer in an already crowded food scene here. Just as you visit a Japanese Restaurant to be transported to the unique world of this far east nation, Chef Stephan takes you to the evolving culinary world of modern Europe.
“Novus” means new. We normally associate the museum with all things past. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find a restaurant there which serves cuisine going the other direction. The bar was humming away as we were ushered into the quieter restaurant. The Museum was more crowded than usual as it was Deepavali Open House Day.
We chose to sample his Executive Set Lunch Menu, at $32++ for a 2-course or $40++ for 3. As we opened the menu, we could see that the items offered were not poor cousins to dinner ala carte items. Many of them are the Chef’s signature dishes, each attractively described. As there were limited sampling capacities between the two of us, we had to make a wise decision: Let the Chef decide!
The first thing which appeared was a bowl of ice with two leaves. Pop this herb into your mouth and you will be surprised by this familiar seafood taste. It is oyster-leaf, rich in flavor of its namesake and was first discovered growing wildly in the seaside of Scotland. We could almost hear the bagpipes as we chewed on it.
Next up was the first part of this three-course meal, the starters.
The 36 months Aged Jamon Iberico De Bellota (acorn) came beautifully plated. It has the reputation of being the finest Jamon Iberico ham from free-range pigs which roamed the borders of Spain and Portugal. They ate only acorns during their last period. Though Ieat has had his fair share of this delicacy, which he has blogged about, this was my first experience.
I was rather Iberico star-struck and almost ignored what was offered with it. But having it with the rest on the plate was the way to go. Even Ieat let out a sigh. It was a borderline Spanish and Portugese experience.
I should pause to say that we continued to savor every olive that was presented throughout the meal.
Ieat: It isn’t fair to rate a dish where most of the work has been done by the people who cured this marvelous ham. But I rate dishes according to how I feel about the whole taste experience and this dish for me was a 4.5/5
Next came the intensely plated Foie Gras Parfait Treated Like A Salad.*
Ieat was quite blown away by the foie gras parfait while I was digging around the fruits and leaves. The acidity of the marinated mesclun leaves and sweetness of the fruits balanced the smooth and flavorful richness of the parfait. It may be an unusual salad treatment, but it worked beautifully.
*Note: This dish is offered as a part of the Dinner Dégustation Menu. On the lunch set is the Autumn Edition of Foie Gras Parfait, served with in-season Wild Mushrooms.
Ieat: This was a 4.6/5 for me. The parfait captured beautifully the essence of what makes Foie Gras so delightful and concentrated it twofold!
Next up were the mains.
The Snow Cod in Black and White was an unusual visual treat to begin with.
It came with squid ink crumble which resembled charcoal pieces. It is hard to make black squid ink visually spectacular. In this, the chef succeeded using his array of equipment including the dehydrator. It looked like a piece of cod which has fallen through the grill into the charcoal below. Only with this, the visual deception explodes into something else when you take your first bite.
There seemed to be a few ways of cooking cod well. The Chinese method of steaming it in a light sauce with scallions. Or, a Western pan-fried version, where the skin is crispy and placed on the usual bed of something. Or, my personal preference for miso-cured ones done Japanese style.
But this black and white experience was something new altogether. We were not sure though whether the squid ink, both in taste and texture, enhanced the eating experience of the otherwise perfectly Sous Vide cooked flaky and creamy cod. Growing up in our cuisine here, squid ink is neither a regular item for plate nor palate. We can understand squid ink pasta though but this combination escaped us.
Others have raved about this signature dish but we have to squirt our honest opinion. And to put it in black and white, we were more impressed with the visual than the taste.
Ieat: Agree fully with Terry. Technique is excellent but at the end of the day, taste is what wins the game. Although I must say that using New Zealand Snow Cod is interesting as most of the Cod we get here are either Atlantic Cod or Black Cod (Sablefish). So it is quite novel to try NZ Snow Cod for the first time. 3.75/5
The 200-day grain-fed Black Angus Beef Tenderloin was the other main course that was served.
The long title tells you that this beef is of a Datuk pedigree. With Sous Vide cooking, this predictable perfection is what you will find in many restaurants these days. We won’t need to tell you what a good tenderloin tastes like.
Ieat just came back from US, where he visited the famed Dan Burke Primehouse and had a piece of 55-day aged boned in Rib Eye. I can tell that it was hard for any beef here to top that. Not even this perfectly cooked tenderloin.
It did not come bedded with the usual pile of roasted asparagus and pommes purée (a rather grand sounding name for mash potatoes). On this note, the chef did not disappoint. The in-season wild mushrooms and nicely shaved broccoli went well with the beef, along with a great tasting demi-glaze.
The triple cooked French fries were however soggy. It sat too long on the kitchen counter and probably reflected on how busy the kitchen was, especially as it was shared with the busy bar. In fact, by now, the restaurant itself was getting peopled.
Ieat: It’s a tenderloin steak with chips and veg in disguise. It was executed perfectly but if you close your eyes, it is at the end of the day, grilled tenderloin steak with veggies, albeit a good one. I am however unconvinced that Sous Vide method is the best way to cook a steak. It might look uniformly pink all the way through, but for me, the American style high heat broiled steak with a pink centre and graduated doneness towards the surface ending with a charred crust is still the perfect steak. 4/5
Then we came to the desserts.
The Valrhona Chocolate Test passed with…oh well, I will not go with the cliché.
Beautifully presented and labeled, it was chocolate done five ways: mousse, soufflé, sherbet, warm custard and dehydrated. It is a choc-lover’s dream come true, five times over. Ieat loaded a pic of it immediately on his facebook. That says it all.
It passed with…no, I will not give in. Let’s just say that it passed the test with flying Ieat fingers pushing photo and text on FB.
Ieat: It’s the kind of dish that surprises and delights. Having not one, but 5 desserts pushes your happiness level up a couple of notches. Plus its Valrhona chocolate! I guarantee it will win your heart as well as your sweetheart’s heart 4.5/5
The Raspberry Curd Soufflé uses heavy rich curd from his country of origin (Austrian, just in case you were half-reading and too busy gawking at the pics). It was perfectly done, with the raspberry added at the table so that it remained “puff up” (verb – souffler) longer on your table. The pic above was taken a good few minutes after the raspberry was added. Indeed, the ‘puff up’ goes before the fall as the dessert was half an inch higher when it hit our table.
By now, we really wished our wives could join us just for the desserts as we were too full to appreciate the last masterpiece.
Ieat: Very interesting twist on Souffle! I don’t usually like the tartness of raspberries, but that is my personal taste preference. 4/5
Each creation came cleverly tagged with background details as if it is a Museum artifact. The placard describes the preparation method and where the produce is sourced. Knowing what you are eating lifts the food appreciation to another level. Plus you can bring it home as a momento of your meal at Novus!
And this is what you will find in all of Chef Stephan’s dishes: meticulous attention to details in both preparation and presentation. The latter is pleasing – at times, mesmerizing – and this is something you can expect with each and every of his creation.
You can have the art…and eat it.
It is easy to forget that the dishes were not part of a dégustation spread or priced that way.
And talking about this, Novus also offers a 6-course dinner experience for $128++. Considering what the MBS ones are charging for their dégustation menus (and eating there, pronounced in French, please), we find this priced reasonably for what you will be experiencing.
Chef Zoisl is conducting a Masterclass on 29th Nov 2011. Check out the details here, including more info on items for the lunch set and dégustation menu.
Will we be back? Most certainly. We shall look forward to sampling the other items on the menu. The next time round, no shoot, no post, just eat.
Visit the past before you go nouveau.
About Food Canon
The Food Canon publishes his recipes on local homecooked food on www.foodcanon.com. His website showcases his late mother’s traditional recipes and I use his site frequently to learn about the science and art behind preparing our local favouites like Lor Mai Kai and what Soy Sauces are the best in the market! He also dabbles in modern cooking techniques and shares his experiences in his Sous Vide Diary.