Newly-opened contemporary fine-dining restaurant Caviar is a veritable showcase of exquisite caviar creations, and of Singapore’s homegrown young culinary talent.
Caviar may be one of the most coveted delicacies known to man, but the luxurious ingredient arguably doesn’t lend itself into many culinary applications. It is why traditionally it’s often simply served atop a carrier – usually blinis or lightly buttered toast – alongside a plethora of garnishes such as sour cream, chopped herbs and onion, as well as diced hard-boiled eggs.
But in recent years creative chefs have been experimenting with more ways to serve up caviar. There’s the signature caviar, French egg and celery cream creation at three Michelin-starred Les Amis, for example, or combined with a potato terrine and mushroom foam as part of the “nua Irish cuisine” over at one-starred Cure.
Now, an entirely young team at newly-opened Caviar in Palais Renaissance looks to spearhead new ways of appreciating the not-so-humble fish eggs. While it is not Singapore’s first caviar bar – that distinction goes to contemporary Italian eatery 28Wilkie – Caviar’s 28-year old Head Chef Karleen Kasim and her similarly youthful team aims to further revolutionise our way of eating, well, caviar.
Chef Karleen is a 2014 graduate of At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy and held positions at Cure and Naeum before she was personally chosen and propelled into culinary limelight by Caviar’s owner Jason Ong – who is also behind Uni Gallery – and helm his newest contemporary intimate fine-dining restaurant.
What’s particularly intriguing? Chef Karleen’s background is pastry; at Cure she was responsible for putting together the dessert menus for Cure Concepts eateries such as Cure and Butcher Boy.
“(At Caviar) we’re keen to maintain its exclusivity by balancing it only with ingredients that showcase its incredible flavour,” Chef Karleen tells us. But does her pastry background help or hinder her approach, we ask. “Dessert making requires a lot of texture and flavour balancing so with caviar, incorporating the brininess into dishes is very similar,” she points out.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And here, Caviar scores top marks.
We were there during lunch to sample its five-course tasting menu, and what a showcase of exquisite skill. Our meal opened normally enough. First to come was an amuse bouche of choux pastry topped with smoked Japanese oyster and Polanco Siberian caviar, a literal umami bomb tempered by the buttery sweetness of choux. Chef Karleen’s expertise in pastry is fully in play here. We also see what she means by the fine balance of flavours and textures.
But can she deliver an actual savoury course? Yes, she can.
The first entree to arrive was a beautifully plated Botan Ebi, the delicately sweet seawater shrimp turned into tartare. Providing contrasting flavours and textures were discs of finely sliced water chestnut and little pops from both pomelo as well as Polanco Oscietra caviar, and rounded off with tangy buttermilk and a subtle herbal touch from dill oil.
This was followed by Spanish Octopus, gently coaxed by sous-vide into tenderness and served on smoky custard cream. Hidden within is local sweet corn. Dig deep enough into the pudding and you’ll find puffed buckwheat all ready to provide crunch. What an unexpectedly delightful combination.
For mains we had a choice between its signature Uni Pasta, or an A5 Westholme wagyu rump. Both are well-executed, although somewhat prosaic. My Westholme rump came perfectly medium-rare, graced with a flourish of caviar on top. But the accompanying grilled leek – supposedly fermented in plum extract – looked anaemic and added nothing to the dish.
My companion’s Uni Pasta turned out better, the Moroccan-style shreds of salted preserved lemon and Kaluga Queen Crossbreed caviar combining for an intricate dance of acid and brine on the palate.
Dessert was a deconstructed and reimagined Clementine cake, worthy of Michelin plaudit. But this is almost expected, considering pastry is Chef Karleen’s bread and butter.
Also amazing to witness was Chef Karleen’s composed and tight running of Caviar’s open kitchen. There’s very little kitchen drama. Chef Karleen and sous chef Joshua Hariharan – formerly from Salted and Hung, and also an At-Sunrice alumni – have an almost telepathic connection with the rest of their kitchen team, and worked seamlessly with the front-of-house.
Experience, it seems, not only comes in spades but can also appear on delicate little mother-of-pearl spoons.
And as befitting of a caviar bar-restaurant, Caviar offers a well-curated selection of champagnes and wines to help you wash down your meal. There’s the Champagne Legras & Haas Intuition Brut NV by the glass, the classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier elaboration a citrusy, zingy tipple that pairs fabulously with caviar. What also works is Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel, the Provençal rosé offering luscious fruit flavours with just a slight tannin bite to pair with most caviar-inflected dishes you order.
If it is not evident by now, we’re rather big fans of Caviar. And caviar. We’re really excited to see how else Chef Karleen and her team is going to elevate this prized ingredient.
Caviar’s five-course Executive Lunch Menu runs at S$98++; while the six-course and nine-course Degustation Menu for dinner is offered at S$248++ and S$328++ respectively.
Address 390 Orchard Road, #B1-06-07 Palais Renaissance, Singapore 238871 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 12pm to 1.30pm and 6pm to 8.30pm on Wednesdays to Saturdays; 6pm to 8.30pm on Tuesdays; 11.30am to 4.15pm on Sundays; closed on Mondays
Tel (65) 9888 1217