Noma’s rise to pole position in 2010 in San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurant signified something much more profound than the end of an era dominated by pure molecular gastronomy; locality, seasonality and ethical sourcing were to pave the way.
I always had a soft spot for Singaporean food because it epitomised the diverse rich culture brought over by the regional migrants. The local dishes sourced from regional fresh produce spoilt diners for choices offering a variety of curries, freshly caught seafood, juicy tropical fruits and delicious desserts. Recalling all these wonderful food that was being offered for a pittance at the hawker centres, I kick myself every time I think about my meal at Iggy’s.
I only had time for one meal on my stopover from Melbourne to London, and given the hype around Ignatius Chan’s restaurant, I thought I’d organise a meal to catch up with my old friends and kill two birds with one stone. Little knowledge did I have that I was about to have my worst fine dining experience (to date).
Stepping into the restaurant, whilst I didn’t find the décor in bad taste, I found the absence of any natural light rather disconcerting and claustrophobic. This was a different level of darkness compared to other restaurants such as Guy Savoy’ flagship restaurant in Paris that only has a few skylight windows; three hours of tasting menu in a dark room!
Before I get into the detail I want to get one thing out of the way. The service throughout the evening was superb and I really couldn’t fault a single person attending us. I created a great rapport with one of the waiter and the sommelier chose a familiar but nevertheless delicious bottle of white Burgundy to go with our meal. So no qualms there!
The food in general however was uninspiring, tasteless at times and certainly lacked consistency in terms of style and substance. Glancing at the menu, it felt as if Iggy’s was just showcasing the best produces of the world without the ability to marry the flavours together. I would even go as far as saying that I had a dish with the worst combination of flavours I’ve ever tasted anywhere, but let me come back to that later.
The amuse bouches was a medley of fish comprising of tuna with ginger flower and meringue, violet potato ice cream and potato crisp, cod croquette with citrus emulsion and toro marinated in chrysanthemum. It was probably the best dish of the evening although I must admit there was little seasoning that meant you could taste the slightly fishy flavour of the tuna. The vegetable dish, From the Garden, which failed to replicate Michel Bras Gargouillou was a good example of the limitation on relying too much on foreign produce. The vegetables clearly did not look or taste fresh which was understandable given the distances they had travelled. It was a shame because there was a lot of work put into the dish as they managed to incorporate thirty different ingredients on the plate.
The main course of the wagyu tenderloin with pink garlic and mushroom was the biggest disappointment of the evening. I’d tried Australian Wagyu a week before at Vue de Monde, which was sublime so I was looking forward to it. However, I found our steaks were overdone with chewy texture and the pink garlic was lost in the midst of this otherwise one-dimensional flavour.
The rice, sakura ebi, konbu and shellfish oil had hardly any flavour and the delicate prawn was lost in the oily texture. What I found particularly odd was that this rice course was served after the steak course. This seemingly incomplete dish lacked substance and it was overshadowed by the preceding course. Perhaps this is why restaurants traditionally serve light and delicate dishes such as seafood before the meat course.
When I order a tasting menu I am almost always full by the time dessert arrives. As my taste buds did not permit me to finish most of the dishes, I was looking forward to the dessert course, as I was still very hungry! The irony was that the carrot, pineapple and black sesame dessert course was possibly the only dish where I could not get beyond a mouthful. The pineapple sorbet was fine on its own but the liquorice praline that accompanied it was just plain wrong. I cannot emphasise how disgusting this dish was. This was worst flavour combination I’ve ever come across.
It pains me to think that this highly unoriginal restaurant was voted as the best that Asia could offer. How could this be considered superior to the vast number of remarkable restaurants in Japan like Kikunoi or Narisawa, or Amber in Hong Kong? Evidently the hefty price tag of $250 SG (c. £150 at the time) for the tasting menu is necessary to cover the cost of importing luxury ingredients like black caviar and wagyu beef. However, it is clear from this experience that expensive ingredients do not necessarily produce great or even good dishes. I wish they maximised the use of their regional produce to take the unique Singaporean street food to new culinary heights instead of heavily relying on foreign products. The bottom line is that Iggys is currently lost without a culinary direction; possibly something that could be improved if the Sommelier took a back seat and hired a head chef!
This review is in collaboration with Dining Without Borders.