Note: This meal was a media tasting. Much gratitude to the hosts and fellow diners.
No, no, no. This is too much, even for me. See, I’ve never been one to mind going to a park out of season, or when the weather isn’t miles of blue sky and scorching sun. Going to East Coast Park when rain has driven the rollerbladers, barbecuers and pretty young things all away is a surreal sort of pleasure – you buy a drink, preferably mildly alcoholic, and sit in one of the pavilions staring out at the iron-grey sea under clouds like mille-feuille or great banks of cotton candy. Or maybe take a book along with you. Everyone should try this at least once, it’s brilliant.
But even this sort of beach holiday has its limits. It’s certainly not recommended for the day I was invited to Sunrise Bistro and Bar, situated in what used to be Big Splash amusement park; between the drizzle and the haze, I cannot see the sea that is at most 200 metres away. You can imagine my relief, therefore, when I ducked out of the smog and into the restaurant – a deep, almost cavernous place that leans into the coastal vibe with its woven chairs and blue-lit marine fish tank. Its decor is relatively simple; they know they’ve got space working for them and don’t try to pack it too tightly, which adds to its relaxing feel.
Chef Vincent Teng, looking nothing like his actual age or impressive resume (the late Table 66 and Skyve Bistro and Bar, among others), heads the kitchen and has designed a menu that plays to his strengths. Sous-vide cooking is amply represented here, but the food, while looking and feeling predominantly French, also packs little hits of elements from local cuisine, most prominently from the venerable zi char tradition.
Ah, fusion, you may say, reaching for your most sardonic pair of quotation marks. To which I say, stay your hand. The tasting menu we got, ingredients lovingly detailed, does look like a love child of a French bistro’s leatherbound menu and a laminated zi char list. It looks like the crudest kind of fusion, just knocking the elements from one list against the elements from the other. And yet the dishes that look the most ‘crude’ turn out to be little revelations of their own.
The starters are good cause to be optimistic already. A seafood chowder, more like a bisque really, is fortified with the aroma of crustacean shells and generously topped with seafood; foie gras on a square of brioche, oozingly fatty, is accompanied by a sprightly hit of mango. The cocktails are to be reckoned with as well. The Gentleman’s Club, pictured above, tastes just like its colour suggests – caramel, wood and jostly, intimate cloves, the scorched cinnamon giving it a clean, elevated fragrance.
But it’s the larger plates that really are the highlights. The Sunrise ‘Fish and Chips’ has the usual companions, nicely floury fries and tartare sauce, but the fish itself is a winged red snapper, wreathed in citrus from its seasoning. Everything about the dish works to its advantage – the choice of a firm, flavourful tropical fish, the fierce deep-frying that renders the fins edible and turns the skin into a pockmarked, sweet crackling, while flavouring the fish with its own juices.
Cod, the more traditional chip shop fish, is instead roped into something even better suited to it. Butter cereal – one of zi char’s richest, greatest innovations – is draped on a hunk of the white, flaky fish like a shawl, the fish itself soaking in a dark but clear broth with Chinese characteristics – ginger, sesame oil among others. It has a logic to it, matching a rich but mild ingredient with two unsubtle elements, one rich and sweet and crumbly, the other straightforward and savoury.
But if cod and cereal has at least one subtle ingredient, the Marmite pork shoulder is a dish of trumpets and horns. Pork shoulder – the sous vide treatment tenderising it thoroughly without taking apart the separate textures of the meat and fat – is seared and glazed with a thin film of Marmite. Restraint is key here; the yeasty, fermented umami of the Marmite goes a long way, even when mellowed with honey, enveloping and taming a strong porkiness.
For the dessert we get a deconstructed tiramisu – with a touch of raisins sozzled on rum as a lovely interloper – and a lava cake which looks standard-issue all the way until it spills another zi char classic, salted egg yolk sauce, on cutting. The sauce is almost too thick to flow in a picturesque way, but it’s because it is a generous, and therefore intense, serving of the egg yolk, where taste is the first priority. By itself it is intense and happy. But alongside an equally unctuous and robust chocolate cake it devolves into a struggle between two flavours rather than any sort of synthesis.
Then again, when you consider the range of items on the menu, it’s almost inevitable there will be one or two clashes. More impressive, to me, are the successes – that cereal cod, or a warming hit of five-spice packed into a duck confit. Chef Vincent’s main ideas run like leitmotifs through the tasting – the intercultural kicks, the fascination with what sous-vide cooking can do to preserve the nature of their ingredients. But he resists, mostly, the impulse to take everything apart and rearrange it. Instead the mixes are about addition, but done with plenty of skill and thought into what makes the ingredients good in their own right. Put together – and that’s the whole point of the place, putting together – it makes Sunrise Bistro a worthwhile place to visit.
Sunrise Bistro and Bar
902 East Coast Parkway
Big Splash, Block B #01-05
Mon – Fri: 11:30am – 1am
Sat: 9am – 2am
Sun: 9am – 11pm