Open hearts and open hearth fire cookery take pride of place in recently-opened modern Californian fine dining restaurant, Rosemead.
What is modern Californian fine dining? According to David Tang, the co-owner and executive chef of newly-opened Rosemead, it’s a contemporary twist to fine dining that is more relaxed and convivial, yet remains refined. Admittedly it’s a cuisine I have no concept of. To learn what modern Californian dining really is I find myself on a visit to Rosemead where Tang holds court.
Rosemead occupies a multi-storey art deco heritage building right in the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District, the space that used to house grill house The Black Swan. Opened by the Jigger & Pony Group, the new restaurant is named after a small satellite city just about a half-hour car ride outside of Los Angeles, where Chef David used to live.
As far as we know, Rosemead, California isn’t exactly home to a cutting-edge (or even up-and-coming) dining scene. Quite the opposite. It is better known as the spiritual home for Panda Express – yes, that famous chain offering American Chinese fast food – as well as Huy Fong Foods, maker of the wildly popular Sriracha hot sauce. Both revolutionised the American dining scene for sure, but I’m certain they aren’t on the forefront of modern Californian fine eating the way Rosemead the restaurant probably intends to position itself.
Prior to Rosemead, Chef David helmed Jigger & Pony Group’s waterfront bistro Caffe Fernet, where introduced a very modern American look at traditional Italian classics to great success (he’s still executive chef there). There he proved you can change the most stoic of hearts and minds about a beloved cuisine, a formula he hopes to reprise at his beautiful new digs.
The interiors have been fully redone – gone are the almost-forbidding dark walls of The Black Swan, and in its place a brighter, cheerier marble-white space with wood and gold accents. A wide fire hearth occupies the pride of place in the open kitchen. It’s the first thing to draw your eye as you enter; our server knowingly and sneakily guides us past the bustling kitchen to inundate our senses as we head towards our seats. My salivary glands go into overtime as I hear the unmistakable sounds of angry sizzling as fat drips onto fire.
Fine dining the modern Californian way is apparently communal in nature. Unlike New York-style steakhouses where portions are largely meant for one, dishes here – appetisers and main courses, even – are good for sharing.
Like most fine dining concepts, dishes at Rosemead are seasonal depending on the availability of ingredients. What you see on the menu this week may not be present the next. It tries to be hyper local too, however difficult that is in Singapore.
Culinary influences come from all over.
Our Mangrove Crab Tartine, Avocado, Yuzu Citrus uses mud crab from Kranji’s Crab Lovers Farm, the delicate sweet flesh picked out and rolled in razor-thin slices of avocado like a keto-friendly version of a Californian sushi roll. The scallops in the Roasted Hand Dive Scallop, Sauce Nantaise & Prickly Ash comes from far further afield – Hokkaido, to be exact. This is grilled scallop taken its most umami extreme, roasted in scallop butter in an open hearth fire adding a lovely smoky undertone.
Rosemead does amazing things with vegetables. The Slow Roasted Carrot, Bone Marrow & Gremolata is absolutely gorgeous, the slow roasting extracting and intensifying every bit of sweetness from the carrot. Same for the Embered Kent Pumpkin, Squash Seed & Mexican Mole, the roasted squash sweet and melt-in-your-mouth. The tomatoes from the Chitose Farm Tomato & Basil, Crackling Pork Skin literally explode with flavour in your mouth.
And be sure to order their House Rolls & Shiitake Cultured Butter. A nondescript name, but these Dutch oven baked rolls rival some of the best breads you’ll find in any part of Singapore.
As for mains, the Slow-cooked Wagyu Short Rib Black Truffle & Bone Marrow is well-executed but not mind-blowing. Likewise the Wood-fired Lamb Shoulder, Tahina & Lebanese Pickle. Their elevated version of the Middle Eastern shawarma platter is more than competent, but I far prefer the visceral flavours of the original.
Far more impressive was their Spanish Seabass & Green Peppercorn, Sauce of Iberico Ham. Crisp skin and moist flesh that’s imbued with the savoury notes from the jamon iberico in the sauce, with briny and spicy pricks from preserved green peppercorn, what’s there not to like?
By now we’re too full for dessert, but I squeeze in a taste of the Burnt Honey Meringue & Malted Milk Chocolate. This is essentially a S’mores reincarnated as a Michelin-starred tart. I go in for another bite because, I tell myself, it goes oh-so-well with my Old Fashioned.
Speaking of which, cocktails here are fabulous, and no less than what one would expect from an establishment run by the Jigger & Pony Group, whose flagship cocktail bar Jigger & Pony is always on some awards list.
My signature Rosemead Old Fashioned, for example, is a ridiculous rendition of the classic whiskey based cocktail that uses Old Forester 1897 Bottled in Bond Bourbon. Which just so happened to be fat-washed with 21-days dry-aged duck fat for deeper, more complex flavours. That sizzling of fat I hear as I entered may have been prep for this cocktail, I don’t know.
For something more refreshing there’s the Chitose Cooler, sweet yet piquant from the use of strawberries, cherry tomato shrub, gin, PX sherry, and sherry vinegar. Otherwise there’s the Trigona Honey Bellini, the honey sweetness balancing the acidity of a Chardonnay-based sparkling wine from Tasmania.
Then there’s the wine program, which Rosemead’s principal sommelier Marcus Tan admits needs some beefing up. He’s trying to build a primarily American wine list, and is particularly on the lookout for options outside of California. In the meantime we were more than happy with our Au Bon Climat ‘Knox Alexander’ Estate Bottled Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley-based winery, the pinot elegant enough to pair with even our vegetable dishes.
Introducing a relatively new concept to Singapore’s very cut-throat F&B scene with an inordinate love for specific fine-dining cuisines – French, Japanese, and Italian, for example – can either be very brave or foolish. In all honesty I am still not too sure what modern Californian dining really is. You can accuse Jigger & Pony of a little bit of California dreamin’, but based on the earnest cookery, convivial service, and fabulous cocktails, I suspect Rosemead will leave a unique mark on Singapore’s culinary landscape.
Address 19 Cecil St, Singapore 049704 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 6pm to 10.30pm Wednesdays to Saturdays; 12pm to 10.30pm on Sundays; closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Tel (65) 9781 9084