Does SKAI Live Up To Its Elevated Expectations?
Early evening and I was being led into the depths of the newly opened SKAI, located on the 70th floor of Swissôtel The Stamford. It was 6pm, and the sun had not yet received the memo to remove its bludgeoning gaze from the sun-kissed furniture. Speaking of which, did provide a pleasant treat for those who didn’t quite fancy the tired, chinoiserie-inspired space once known as Equinox. Present day reveals stunning interiors inspired by modern Japanese simplicity and Nordin sensibilities. Think light maple wood, vertical design features that draw one’s gaze towards the lofty heights of the two-storey high windows with the final embellishment of Japanese flower motifs to instil a ‘homey’ vibe.
Sunset was a bejewelled affair, its fierce last front blasting through broken clouds to spray hues of warm tangerine and fresh yolk over our sprawling metropolis far down below. In the broad view, having the place to myself was unjust. However, nursing my Banana Kingson, a contemporary take on the perennial favourite, Negroni, bamboozled with an intense zeal of fermented bananas, while witnessing the sun’s dramatic exist made me grateful for the front row seat. My gratitude was sealed when a neighbouring table had diners who spent a significant amount of time rotating between replicated shots of subjects backed up against the window panes, along with the ill use of flash.
SKAI, pronounced as ‘sky’, is a high-end grill house with subtle Japanese touches, adding to an extensive list of top destination dining restaurants in Singapore. On the basis of cuisine alone, SKAI has quite a few plausible rivals, but the powerhouse combination of experience, food options and stellar views is unparalleled.
Sharing dishes were the order of the day and you can easily resolve a night out ‘above’ the town with a couple of those pulled together and fuelled by a list of organic and biodynamic wines. The Chopped Angus Beef tartare with fermented shiitake was the clear winner here, the restaurant’s lyrical ode to Mother Earth clearly reflected in the mix. There was an uncanny harmony between the virtues of good Angus beef and fermented shiitake, given a voluptuous glaze by confit egg yolks. Caviar was superfluous, but in elevated spirits, the lines were blurred.
I was enamoured by the Yellow fin tuna, dressed in soy ginger dressing and bespeckled with toagarshi. This was served with sesame crackers which you should use to shovel tiny mounds of ikura above elaborate swirls of radish into your mouth. My dining companion’s adversity to dairy led to a triumphant albeit emphatic fist pump. More burrata for me. The dish fell into the more classical vein, championing heirloom tomatoes that were well-rested on a floating bed of shisho and olive oil. It was a lively mix that erased the distinction between comfort food and paradise.
Chef Paul Hallett’s signature move came in the form of the Uni Saffron Risotto, a substantial mound that exuded luxury even from plain sight of its glistening grains. The al-dente risotto had the requisite bounce-back-on-bite that’s straight out of a manual. This was probably a deliberate demonstration of opulence leading up to the main beef course—think saffron and creamy uni folded into butter inebriated cooked grains, blessed with extra pleasantries from, you guessed it, more sea urchin. A teasingly spicy basil oil swirled at the corners while tempura samphire cucumber were elegant crunch mercenaries.
An earlier reveal of some lactose intolerant dietary requirements surprised us with an extra special dish, compliments of the chef. Sea bream cooked in bamboo leaf was given a final scorch, tableside with a blow torch brandished by Chef Paul. The sight of flames and aroma of burnt leaf elicited excitement all around the hushed dining room. This was served with razor clams, a thin sheet of nori crisp and tomato relish. Undoubtedly fresh, the sea bream flaked apart under crisp skin, and as represented in most other dishes, techniques were sound, but the only thing missing was some seasoning.
SKAI offers a solid medley of prime cuts sourced from some of the best farms in the world. On the menu, you’ll find everything from Australian Blackmore wagyu to U.S.D.A 360 Day Brandt tenderloin to the most exquisite Saga A5 Wagyu from Japan. Needless to say, a trip to the sky-high destination is incomplete without giving the artisanal steak tasting platter a go. Chef Paul Hallett’s steaks are given the familiar treatment of being grilled in a josper charcoal oven, a bespoke contraption on every chef’s lips that’s said to imbue tons of smoke flavour while locking in moisture. And inconceivably, everything sounds better in theory.
The Saga wagyu while meant to be lavish was dry, it’s prized marbling mismanaged on the grill. 32 days dry aged John Stone was deeply rich in flavour but suffered the same fate as the previous. So here I am, frantically trying to look on the bright side, making allowances for the smaller cuts that the chef had to assemble in order to form this tortured plate arrangement. Finally, I found it in the Wylarah Australian wagyu. At this point, I can’t continue to ignore the elephant in the room and proceeded to ask politely for sea salt, which arrived in a salt mill. I was flabbergasted. What in the world. Moments later, I solved the case of the missing salt. It’s all in the side of savoy cabbage flecked with roasted peanuts.
Let’s move on to the sweeter things, shall we?
Desserts will provoke lots of table spying. Pastry Chef Koo Jee has a penchant for theatrics and both desserts have a weird and wacky appeal that’s perfect for Instagram moments. An innocent looking soy bean cheesecake was torched for a desirable caramelised backbone—later revealing a zesty entourage of lemon textures from citrus jelly to lemon sorbet. The cheesecake on its own may be rather humble-sounding, but paired with miso fudge, and the depth of flavours come alive. Yuzu white chocolate and lychee was presented in a most unexpected way— rivulets of dark chocolate forming tree branches with chocolate balls the shade of daffodils filled with yuzu custard and curd acting as fruit. Taste aside, the impeccable presentation deserves praise.
There is no doubt that SKAI is a beautiful place to wine and dine, but perhaps in due time, their food will command the same attention as the view.
Swissôtel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Rd, 6338 8585