Preludio: More Than Just a World in Black and White
Once upon a time, I was obsessed with film photography. As a budding photographer, I chose to immerse myself in black and white images and it became one of the single most important aspects of my photographic development. Parameters of a world without colour forces you to see things differently, stretch your eye and find ways to be more creative. When the canvas is stripped of colour and elements of light, quantity and quality become pivotal points in conveying your message. The pursuit of visual aesthetics in this raw art form was something that I became very enamoured with.
When you’re not distracted by colour, it’s purely about the emotional connection you build with your subject. And yes, I know it sounds like a whole lot of idealistic, romanticised gibberish. But trust me, you’ll get a sense of this passion-driven exercise at the brand new Preludio. A ‘rebel’ movement led by Fernando Arévalo, a highly accomplished chef you might not have heard of yet.
The first chapter*, ‘Monochrome’ passes like a dream. A crispy rice cracker roof gives way to the back of a spoon—revealing butter-cooked heliantis dusted in smoked paprika alongside a smorgasbord of treats: Roasted chanterelle mushrooms on a bed of mustard and yuzu egg yolk emulsion, Pork Pressa enrobed in squid ink panko crumb, and a ravishing quenelle of salted black sesame ice cream nestled in sesame snow—hiding as a surprise.
Your mind challenges the preconceived notions of it’s ‘Monochrome’ grain. ‘Fine dining is as rigid as it is. Why instil an additional element of limitation?’ You might ask. Hear me out, this is going to be a story for the books. If you’re not interested in understanding Chef Fernando Arévalo’s rebellious antics and inspiration, I suggest that you turn away now. Preludio’s food is made for the open-minded, and an accompanying sense of humour is much appreciated too.
Despite my impartialness, I must admit that I had difficulty processing my thoughts on the meal. There’s a layer of frostiness in the air as you tread across the natural marble slabs; the sparse presence of guests in the room denotes the restaurant’s fresh-faced entry. However, the chapter flows seamlessly from bespoke art pieces, patterned ties to the transparency of table service. Chip, a friendly face sporting a handsome handlebar moustache breaks the ice. “We dye our wines black and white too, to fit the theme. Kidding.” Brownie points if that were to ever become a reality. Chip starts me off with a bright and juicy Celine and Laurent Crémant de Bourgogne. If you’re still thinking of the wine pairing, take a leap of faith—their wine list is as tasteful and ingenious as it can get.
An amuse bouche of beautifully sliced hamachi makes an appearance. It sits with sour pickled radish, pear and crystalline elderflower jelly. A tuber with white concentric centres is called to your attention, and you question what it is. French White Beetroot (sweetest of all varieties) alongside stellar playmates like burrata, dill marinated cucumber, yogurt foam and fresh Primeur Sturia Caviar provide a symphony of flavours. The supple “Bone-Jolly” Gamay with sneaky hits of acidity amplify the delicate salinity in the roe.
Preludio is big on expressing its slant, with tongue in cheek. I will never quite forget the look on my partner’s face once the next course was presented. Bewilderment and feign annoyance. “Didn’t we just have this dish?” Hook, line and sinker. The waitstaff bask in the moment, allowing confusion to fester before explaining its Déjà vu objectives. Apparently, that plate of black and whites were meant to twin with the previous dish to the hundredth degree, lest the observable porousness of the white foam and a genial warmth emulating from the shallow dish. At Preludio, Fernando is the kind of chef who can persuade you to gobble down a plate of marrow even if you don’t eat beef. So, if it’s not a life-threatening allergy, we suggest you shelve your food preferences.
There’s audaciousness exhibited in the menu, as dishes occupying the culinary grey area. The jasmine rice cracker cracks under pressure to reveal smoked eel and multiple foreign greens. I conduct a forensic examination of the delicious chaos and discover Lampascioni, Heliantis and Crosnes taking centrestage. No, there aren’t a bunch of Greek Gods, however, their combined powers do transcend mortal comprehension. Organic lampascioni bulbs are painstakingly pickled with sherry and red wine vinegar. Then there are heliantis cubes cooked in butter and smoked paprika, crosnes sauteed with white balsamic vinegar and roasted chanterelle mushrooms, all tied together with a moreish egg yolk emulsion fashioned with mustard and yuzu. A serve of namazake proves to be excellent in highlighting the delicateness of the rice cracker.
My favourite dish takes place in the next course, 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. 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 25-year aged il forgo balsamic vinegar drizzled tableside from a curious shell-like vessel. The liquid gold and agnolotti hold hands like a union of cosmic collision.
Green almonds that are harvested in the briefest whisper of the spring season are paraded. The dish is a piece of succulent toothfish brined in tom yam broth and finished off on the plancha. There’s a joyful seesaw of richness and acidity from the cauliflower puree, pickled fresh almonds and leek with almond milk bubbles. The kalamata olive powder coated fish is so tender that it is gone within seconds.
You hold out till the end of the savoury courses and what awaits you is the Pate Negra, a solid meat entrée without poncey flurries. Squid ink panko crumbed Iberian pork presa is sublime and meaty, well endowed with fat meanderings. The white carrot and apple puree cuts through the richness. Then there are orbs of piennolo tomatoes, dressed for the black tie event with a furious char in the josper oven. The accompanying fruit heavy Nero Ossidiana Corinto Nero 2013 sparks epiphanies with the allusion of petrichor.
Desserts do not tire from the same monochromatic schemes. The salted black sesame ice cream provokes the nuttiness of the sesame snow below. The blueberry, Idiazabel sheep’s cheese and yogurt configuration is definitely fancy, and it almost feels like vandalism to ruin its artistry. But when you do, and you’re rewarded with a burst of tang, red fruit and funk on the palate—the perfect finale to a gripping meal.
Chef Fernando’s work obliterates the false preconception that black and white is limiting. Instead, it emphasises emotion and focuses on perfecting tones and composition. ‘Monochrome’ also extends to facets of life, encouraging creativity and personal growth. And among my rapturous adoration for Preludio’s first chapter, I do realise that not everyone will get it. Regardless, the proof is in the dishes, which are wonderful and speak for themselves. The lover and dreamer in me can’t help but admire and appreciate the food at Preludio. I’ve not been so quietly ecstatic since surreptitiously chancing upon my new favourite restaurant. I like what it represents and I’m betting the hordes will be rolling in soon.
*Dinner: 8 courses $218++ (additional $158++ for wine pairing)
182 Cecil St, #03-01/02 Frasers Tower, 6904 5686