Waku Ghin Review date: March 7, 2015
Overall score: 8.5/10
When I interviewed the legendary Wakuda Tetsuya last month, his eyes lit up most brightly when he talked about his beloved Tasmanian shrimping boat. The beautiful island off Australia’s south west coast also plays a starring role in the produce in his Singapore restaurant Waku Ghin, alongside Hokkaido, Alaska and even further afield.
Boasting such an extraordinary natural bounty from such wild regions, it feels somewhat incongruous then to find his restaurant in the Marina Bay Sands, a breathtakingly-enormous casino, hotel and retail complex in Singapore. To reach Waku Ghin involves walking around and above the vast gaming floor, a frankly terrifying demonstration of capitalism in its rawest form.
But the location ultimately makes sense, not least because of the price of the tasting menu – with wine and sake pairings, around SGD$400 – that’s approximately US$270. It’s a huge amount of money for a meal for one and I would have needed some serious luck on the roulette wheel to have justified paying for it myself. Instead, and as always in the interests of full disclosure, I was lucky in other ways as the meal was offered through the PR folks at Marina Bay Sands.
The location also makes sense because once you step over the threshold of Waku Ghin you are immediately transported somewhere quieter, more reflective, more peaceful, away from the hectic maelstrom below. Waku Ghin means ‘Silver arising’ and the space reflects it throughout. But first a cocktail in the bar, somewhere incidentally that anyone can show up for drinks and bar snacks.:
Behind the elegant counter, a selection of crystal decanters and glasses, cocktail shakers in all sizes, and most notably a chef’s knife – another Tetsuya passion.
From the Japanese cocktails list, the Ume-Komachi is a beauty, a Japanese fruit liqueur lifted unusually but perfectly by a shiso leaf. (Incidentally, at SGD$20, it’s about the same price as a glass of (not very good) house red at Jason Atherton’s venue The Study).
I move on to one of the dining rooms, a masterclass in minimalist cool, a single stool overlooking an enormous grill plate, a stage for chef Masa to play his leading role.
First however a young chef called Chris presents a basket of seafood to show its freshness – the lobster flicking an antenna with disdain in my direction, while even the abalone seems to shuffle slightly.
Maybe it was the glass of Billecart Saumon Rosé kicking in, the first drink accompanying eight of the ten dishes of the degustation menu. Sommelier Eric, like all the staff young, Asian and clearly proud to be working there, introduced it alongside the amuse-bouche of carpaccio of snapper with endive. (7.5/10)
He next pours a sake, one from Tetsuya’s own collection, to accompany the restaurant’s signature dish….
…Marinated Botan shrimp with Hokkaido urchin and French Oscietra caviar.
The word sublime cannot begin to do it justice. Arguably, how could these three ingredients not launch fireworks into the Singapore sky? But the success also comes in the presentation and contrast, so while the first delve of the mother-of-pearl spoon takes me away to the frigid waters of Japan, the last makes me want to move there. It is just the perfect marriage of extraordinarily good produce. (9.5/10)
Laughter and running footsteps then interrupt my moment of zen to remind that although this is a seriously culinary temple, it’s far from a stuffy one. Kids are welcome too and are clearly enjoying the ride elsewhere.
Next was fish with mushrooms and black truffle. Mushrooms cut so finely that they were not so much sliced as suggested. It’s a ridiculous idea to combine truffle with fish. But why not? It’s brilliant, but the most stunning aspect is the reduction underneath that finishes flecked with truffle shrapnel. (8.5/10)
Masa returns to prepare the Alaskan king crab leg. I’ve seen the Deadliest Catch and know what it takes to dredge them from the depths of the Bering Sea. I wonder briefly whether mine was plucked from the cages hauled onboard the Time Bandit et al. The cooking process does its long journey justice, a remarkable piece of culinary theater, executed brilliantly but with humility. A vast mound of sea salt is tipped directly onto the hot plate, heated, caressed, drops of water added, then the crab leg briefly added to steam it underneath a dome before a sauce made from lime skin, lemon juice, butter and shellfish stock is poured over the whole glorious appendage. But why relate it, when I can show it:
Human teeth are designed for cutting and grinding. They are completely unnecessary here. 8.5/10
Next, lobster was cooked on the grill, the pan angled to stay off the fiercest heat, a touch of olive oil and a laser-guided precision grind of black pepper. The accompanying sauce was another belter, olive oil, shallots and garlic, fresh tarragon and butter. (8.5/10)
It ended up with almost caramel notes, especially when paired with a glass of Belondrade y Lurton. It was a whole new one on me, the mandarin and citrus of the verdejo grape perfectly complimenting. Incidentally, they served a mini baguette alongside the lobster, to ensure that none of the sauce was wasted. They must have noticed the Celt in me.
I’m afraid I’ve never understood the attraction of abalone and tonight was no exception. Texturally there is none of the bounce or yield of scallop, or the slippery nonsense of bivalves. No matter however, as the accompanying fregola, garlic cream, seaweed, basil and tomato took it somewhere entirely new – somewhere I liked. (8/10)
From waves to fields, sea to terra firma. I love the way Masa treated the first Tasmanian wagyu, sliding oil under the meat, anointing it and letting it benefit from the (optional) Tasmanian sweet mustard . (8.5/10) Eric poured a cracking Chateau de Fonsalette 2009 to accompany it, all cherry and spice.
For the next iteration of Wagyu, first Wasabi from Shizuoka prefecture is grated in front of me:
…and served alongside and a bowl of ponzu dressing. After no more than 90 seconds Masa lifts the thin Wagyu strips and scrapes the residue from the teppan – the Maillard Reaction in action:
The trick is then to layer the wagyu with the thin garlic chips, add dots of wasabi and threads of spring onion before dipping briefly into the ponzu. Brilliant. (9/10)
A special mention for the wine to accompany the beef, one of the world’s greats, a Brunello di Montalcino:
After such decadence, a cleansing small bowl of shiso noodles before Masa makes a tiny cup of green tea from Kyoto to help digestion. (7.5/10)
Desserts are served in a different room, overlooking the Marina Bay. Fresh strawberry, Coconut granita and Lychee sorbet: (8/10)
A smoky chocolate mousse is subtle, nuanced and layered – not to mention picture-perfect: (8.5/10)
To round off an extraordinary dinner, the petits fours:
So as I sit and reflect on a brilliant meal with faultless service, an American behind me is on the phone, telling someone rather loudly that, in his opinion: ‘This could be in the top 5 restaurants in the world’. He may just be right.
L2-01, Atrium 2, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Dinner only, two Seatings 5:30pm + 8:00pm for the 10-course degustation menu. The Bar at Waku Ghin is open 5:30pm till late, no reservations required. Tel: +65 6688 8507 http://www.marinabaysands.com/restaurants/waku-ghin.html