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Restaurant review: FiftyThree (closed)


So subtle is the sign and so discreet the entrance to the restaurant at 53 Armenian Street, that a young woman is stationed at the invisible door to run after and retrieve would-be diners who threaten to wander off down the side of the building and get lost. We’re glad she does, because chef-owner Michael Han’s eight-course degustation menu this Friday night is simply stunning.

That’s all there is, so there’s no burden of choice. Before the service commences, outstanding waitress Chie Nagao first establishes that there is absolutely nothing we don’t eat.

Pre-dinner snacks warn us to expect something special: crispy chicken skin flavoured with Jack Daniels and maple syrup; tiny, piquant ciabatta crisps sandwiched with Iberian ham; herb toasts: perfect little gardens of miniature herbs and their flowers piled onto wafers.

Out-of-the-oven mini-muffin loaves come with both salted Danish butter topped with buckwheat and a sweeter French butter. By the way, this is a chef who is not afraid to use salt judiciously; no dish requires more or less of any seasoning.

High-octane service is provided by the superb Brent Mahon (who hails from my home town of Durban), and the knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic sommelier, Zachary Tay.

Standouts include: crab-meat with gooseberries and crème fraiche; intensely flavourful lobster with crunchy duck-tongues (why have I never tried these delicious morsels before?); naturally rich and creamy Japanese striped prawns, virtually sashimi, with three types of samphire (wild coastal plants) – marsh, rock and Japanese – in a briny liquid that is the very essence of the sea; a sip of exquisitely potent potato consommé followed by heritage baby potatoes served on a chunk of igneous rock; Wagyu beef wonderfully flavoured with smoked bone-marrow; a strawberry and green peppercorn dessert that is an indescribable explosion of tastes and textures.

The cost of the eight-course menu is nominally $240 per head, but adding on a few glasses of good wine and the usual taxes brings it closer to $400. Verdict? Well worth it, if you can afford it.

Spotlight on the Chef

Even before being awarded a Master’s degree in law from the UK’s Bristol University, Singaporean Michael Han, now in his early thirties, knew that his passion lay in the kitchen rather than at the bar.

After working in a small restaurant, he was employed at Michelin-starred establishments such as The Fat Duck in Bray, England; Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain; and Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark.

FiftyThree, which opened some 19 months ago, is a successful joint venture between Michael and the Les Amis group. In the small kitchen, he is helped by sous chef Leandro Stagogiannis, who worked with him at The Fat Duck.

What inspires Michael? “Nature, what I see around me, what I eat. The prawn dish you loved was inspired by the sea; we open live Venus clams to obtain that briny liquid.”

Inspired? It’s brilliant.

FiftyThree is at 53 Armenian Street. Call +65 6334 5535.

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