Molecular gastronomy in Singapore: Alive and bubbling

Molecular gastronomy in Singapore: Alive and bubbling

Four places in Singapore to satisfy all your sci-food and sci-bev desires
Theatrical kitchen at Carousel.

Ferran Adria closes El Bulli. Heston Blumenthal declares that molecular gastronomy is dead. The Italian Ministry of Health issues a ban on the use of liquid nitrogen in kitchens.

The future looks bleak for molecular gastronomy ... that is, unless you're in Singapore. 

While Adria goes back to the laboratory to rethink and recreate, in Singapore there is certainly no lack of effort to explore this science-based cooking style.

Three restaurants and one bar currently claim to be proponents of this culinary method. Here's a look at each of them:

FiftyThreeFiftyThree's Welsh lamb rump with root vegetables.FiftyThree

For those who have dined at Michael Han's restaurant FiftyThree, you have The Fat Duck to thank. Heston Blumenthal's iconic restaurant proved to be the training ground for chef Han before he opened FiftyThree in 2008.

Marie Choo, founder and director of Alchemy Consultancy and a regular of FiftyThree says, "I dine there almost once every other month. I like that Michael does not overdo molecular gastronomy. He does not try to be too gimmicky with his presentations. He is creative and combines the art and science of cooking. Some people think that molecular cuisine is just a gimmick and not a proper meal, but meals at FiftyThree are always filling and fulfilling at the same time."

Attuned to the fickle nature of Singapore's diners, Han makes changes to the menu every six weeks. But regardless of season, every meal starts with the signature burlap sack of homemade bread -- muffin-shaped potato flour buns and/or black buns made out of charcoal power -- kept warm by heated stones.

The current dinner menu offers a charcoal-grilled Iberian pig and black garlic with stems of vegetables and wood sorrel, a Mara des Bois strawberries and green peppercorn dish presented dry until a waiter squirts red 'gravy' over the berries, producing a bubbly, pink soup that peeks up from the bursts of peppercorn flavors in your mouth. 

But just when you think dinner is over, the waiter presents a smooth, large pebble with gummies, which tastes of apple, lemon and gin -- a sophisticated twist on a childhood classic and a memorable way to end a meal at FiftyThree.

53 Armenian Street. Tel: +65 6334 5535

Molecular cuisine at CarouselCompressed watermelon with mascarpone cheese, pesto crumbs and mango ravioli at Carousel.Carousel

Hats off to the halal-certified restaurant bringing molecular cuisine to the masses via a buffet line. Chefs in lab coats wield syringes and play with bubbles, while giving succinct explanations of dishes -- rock melon caviar anyone? -- that are a world away from your typical chicken rice and char kway teow buffet offering.

Executive culinary chef Abraham Lau says, "Guests have been very intrigued by the way scientific techniques were incorporated into food. Initially they are skeptical, until the chefs at the theatrical kitchen explain, then they become less shy as they listen and ask questions about the rest of the dishes. For example, savoring jellified soup from test tubes is a new experience for many guests and they find the dishes surprisingly flavorful."

Lau goes on to add that dishes where the "original forms are changed" such as the mango ravioli and tomato jelly consomme grab the most attention. As for what he hopes to achieve next, he says, "I would like to reinvent local dishes into avant-garde cuisine."

Some chicken rice jelly perhaps?

25 Scotts Road. Tel: +65 6737 7966

BluBlu's Caviar waffle served with creme fraiche, chives and eggs.Blu

If you want waffles and eggs for dinner, then Blu at the Shangri-La is the place to go.

But instead of syrup with your waffles or bacon with your eggs, chef Kevin Cherkas fills up the waffle squares with caviar, creme fraiche, chives and eggs.

Not quite molecular but more progressive cuisine, dishes such as the "Egg," served on a place mat printed with images of toast, is actually an egg opened up with a mango and passionfruit "yolk" sitting in a "shell" moulded from coconut cream.

"It's all very interesting. I wasn't sure the dishes would be worth their prices and the hype but I was convinced after trying," says Jonathan Chua, a finance executive who has been to Blu several times. "I think what has succeeded here is the novelty factor and taste. For example I was once served a cotton candy tree, where I had to pluck balls of cotton candy off the "tree" and even the soil and leaves were edible. It all makes for a very fun experience."

22 Orange Grove Road. Tel: + 65 6737 3644

Tippling Club Tippling Club's Kopi-O: A Dark rum, tobacco maple and express concoction. Tippling Club

The molecular concept isn't just confined to food. At the Tippling Club, it extends to the cocktail menu.

Mixologist Matthew Bax's mcB's Apple Pie, made from roast apple calvados, cinnamon, Italian vermouth and apple liqueurs, tastes uncannily like the real thing and comes packaged in a cheeky cardboard box heavily inspired by the golden arches.

The Kopi-O, which they call 'the most elegant local coffee in town,' is made of dark rum, tobacco maple and expresso and served in a plastic takeaway bag. The taste is far more complicated than anything a kopi uncle can stir up -- and it goes down dangerously smooth, while delicately balancing the both sweet and bitter notes with a subtle hint of smokey tobacco maple.

The standout of the menu has to be the Velvet Fog, a gin, Creme de Violette, champagne mixture topped by its own 'fog' (mist created from the drink with dry ice which surprisingly has a subtle taste of violet).

Interesting concoctions, but how else will Bax intoxicate us in future?

"I like challenging myself by starting out with concepts that have not been accomplished yet. It's hard to say what the impossible would look or taste like. I've thought about levitation for a while -- floating garnishes and flavors that hit you before you hit the drink."

But before he can defy gravity, we'll just have to settle for other flavors like Smokey Old Bastard and Penicillin. Yum.

8D Dempsey Road. Tel +65 6475 2217

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