A Roundup of the Best Dishes in 2018
As 2018 comes to a close, it is probably an appropriate time to be more wistful or sentimental. After all, it’s been a wildly fortuitous year from being named World’s 50 Best #Tastehunter to the enthralling trips in bustling Tokyo, fashionable London, cutting-edge Berlin, and finally back home to witness local kitchens play host to illustrious chefs from around the globe. It has been a journey like no other, and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything in the world; apart from a chance to dine at Alinea followed by an opportunity to visit Jamaica’s world-renowned Appleton Estate. One can only dream. I can only hope that in 2019, my lascivious hunger for all things delicious and beautiful will continue to grow, with a whole lot more of scrumptious moments.
Out of the many amazing experiences I’ve had the privilege to partake in, some were transient, while others would force even the hungriest of diners to revaluate their choices. So without further ado, here are my top 10 bites that may just tempt you to get on the next flight.
1. Harwood Arms, London: Braised Tamworth Jowl with Carrots
It’s hard to put into words the emotions evoked when the first gelatinous silver of porcine touches your lips. It’s slippery, full-flavoured and nuanced with just the right salt. The poached carrots with marmalade gel fill in as perky sidekicks that contribute balance to the unctuous equation. Underneath lies a trail of black pudding crumbs and magical shards of crispy crackling—the unspoken heroes of the dish next to the rich sonorous jus.
2. Preludio: Agnolotti
Newly opened Preludio flaunts a unique kind of ‘thinker’s’ cuisine that requires a certain level of maturity to decipher and appreciate. Its opening chapter: ‘Monochrome’ not only translates into edible canvases of black and white, but is representative of Chef Fernando Arévalo’s rebellious ethos against the preconceived notions of fine dining.
My favourite dish in the tasting menu is the Agnolotti. Butternut squash first sits in a marinade of rosemary, thyme and garlic oil to allow for its flavours to intensify before being roasted and mixed in with ground almonds, brown sugar and parmesan cheese. These ambrosial pockets frolic in a divine pool of parmesan sauce, which you will dream about in your sleep. The entire dish is lifted with brisk acidity from the prized 25-year aged Il Borgo Balsamic Vinegar drizzled table-side from a curious shell-like vessel. The liquid gold and agnolotti hold hands like a unison of cosmic collision.
3. Luca Fantin, Tokyo: Spaghetti Monograno Felicetti
Choosing a favourite dish at Luca Fantin would be tantamount to showing favouritism amongst your children. However, should biases prevail, I will admit to having a soft spot for the Spaghetti Monograno Felicetti. Squid Ink festering with the highest grade pasta that yields from a single type of wheat. Their motto reads ‘kneading flour with heaven’, and the moment your lips grazes the briny strands, glittered with caviar and the furtive shavings of lemon zest—you’ll understand.
4. Barrafina, London: Quail risotto
Just a brief look at this dish is not merely enough to uncover the tremendous amount of work required for the final product to materialise. Quail, cooked in various ways to justify the legs and breasts, are stacked like firewood above risotto. The supple grains are cooked to a curious place between gelatinous and al-dente. The shimmering puddle reveals hidden secrets of both beef tendons and quail stock for late measures of richness and flavour. I would recommend that you eat this at a snail's pace, so as to prolong the ephemeral experience.
5. Tamashii Robataya (Singapore): Wagyu Katsu Sando
You know those Wagyu Katsu Sandos that have taken Instagram by storm? Tamashii Robataya has raised the bar by using Grade A5 Miyazaki beef. The lemon-like bites of homemade apple vinaigrette act as rays of sunlight and break down the ostentatious nature of the prized marbled cattle. It’s $98 dollar price tag is clearly high-minded, but all grievances are tossed out the window right at that moment when you tear through the pillow soft finger sandwiches. Beef juices and citrus hits mingle in a euphoric tango in your mouth.
6. Dewakan, Kuala Lumpur: Black Banana Porridge
For those who have grown up in Asia, this dish is so cleverly ‘inspired’ that it would leave you starry-eyed from the emotional food memories. Here, a porridge is made with Bears Keladi, a type of hill rice from the Lun Bawang people in Sarawak. It is then cooked with black banana, a victim of Maillard reaction rather than caramelisation with a myriad of tame spices along the way to produce a smooth starchy congee. An accompanying homemade duck sausage is delicious on its own, but works in line with the rest of the condiments (like pickles, etc.) to truly reinvent the wheel. This manifestation of local gastronomy is jazzed up, without ignoring traditions.
7. Esquina, Singapore: Sucrine Lettuce
I am a bit apprehensive about the plant-based diet movement at the moment. But upon warming the seats at Esquina, you know your appetite is in the safe hands of Head Chef Carlos Montobbio. There’s a green mirage of Sucrine Lettuce that quickly jumps into 2018’s not-to-be-missed dishes for gluttons alike. Carlos uses wit and technique to make the sucrine lettuce shine. It's grilled till slightly blackened at the hearts and paired with herb yogurt and toasted macadamia nuts. The kitchen finishes strong, letting you relish in a slight inspiriting tanginess from cider vinegar glaze. They make a convincing case if you're contemplating going vegetarian. Just maybe.
8. Lerouy, Singapore: Pigeon/Almond/ Beurre Noisette/ Cherry
Perfectly executed pigeon is toppled with a nappage of almond, yogurt and beurre noisette. Consequently, cherry and liquorice provide a nice tart as a corrective to the underlying sweetness. It’s zany, a little misunderstood due to the grittiness of the sauce. However, the proof is in the smashing kaleidoscope of flavours that are so balanced that no one ingredient outshines the other.
9. Ikoyi, London: British Mackerel
“The fish is freshly caught today,” our waitress laments as she ferries two blue porcelain plates with long strips of mackerel gently curled over Bunga bisque. There’s no denying its freshness and quality when married with the Bunga bisque, spiked with cinnamon, spices and basil. The prowess lies in the lightly torched fish itself; shy pink flesh beneath salt flecked skin frolick with the feisty sauce. It is pleasurable, and I’m left musing about this dish days after.
10. Restaurant 108, Copenhagen: Rausa Kombu Ice Cream
Desserts from 108 are brilliantly refined sugar bombs. Chef Kristian Baumann’s obsession with seaweed presides over this dish in the most haute fashion I’ve ever witnessed. Tangles of seaweed garnish titillate the olfactory senses lightly. With heightened senses, you approach the rausa kombu ice cream with caution. It’s a daring splash of autumn across the plate, guarded by rings of homemade hazelnut oil and a flavour assault akin to a seaspray with the ponderosity of Kristal de Chine caviar. I wax enthusiastically about the dessert to friends from the neighbouring table. It would take a maniac of a chef to conceive such cultish flavour combinations, yet with Kristian, you get the sense that anything is possible. You are left baffled and rendered speechless.