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Aug 25, 2009 03:05 AM

FiftyThree: Singapore's answer to The Fat Duck?

FiftyThree joins the pantheon of Singapore fine-dining places which stretch their clients’ imaginations … and credit card limits! S$250 (US$170) per head for dinner – this includes perhaps a glass of wine, is de rigeur in this stark, modernesque restaurant (which looked to be designed by Ikea, given Philippe Starck’s budget) run by a young kitchen genius with no formal culinary training (hmm, is that good or bad?)

Our dinner spread (menu degustation plus a selection of tiny freebie-eats) that evening included:
1. Amuse geule of wafer-thin discs of chicken skin & potato crepes
2. Jamon Iberico sandwiched between ciabatta crisps
3. Japanese radish on brown-butter emulsion/malt - very imaginatively served: the radish looked like we'd just plucked from the garden, and served in a pot of black soil, except that the "soil" was edible malt.
4. Basil Burrata cheese, with horseradish - clean & refreshing appetiser. Love the cold basil soup which juxtaposes beautifully on the burrata
5. Boston lobster with confit of duck’s tongue, “textures of apple” (crisp apple discs, apple puree) - realy loved the lobster, but the size is probably that of a baby crawfish! The trio of duck's tongue were simply unforgettable though
6. Japanese mackerel with smoked unagi (eel) & wood sorrel – delicious combination of varying textures & tastes from the 2 principal fishes on the plate
7. Sharpe’s sous vide potatoes (cooked for 7 hours till they are glazed & soft) served on a rock, with coffee/parmesan crumbs & duckweed
8. Chicken consommé as palate cleanser (yech, tasted like Brand’s Essence of Chicken)
9. Wagyu beef (from Kagoshima) with smoked bone marrow, pennywort/onion petals/nasturtium – my favorite dish for the evening: perfectly done!!
10. Strawberry daiquiri with cucumber foam – palate cleanser
11. Mara de Bois strawberries & green peppercorn – ok. Not really into the strawberry “foam” thang.
12. Chocolate mousse with Jerusalem artichokes, mango & mangosteens – delish!!

All in all, quite a satisfactory dinner – Chef Michael Han is a Fat Duck alumnus. Must have made quite an impression on him – their butter was apparently sourced from the same supplier that provisions Fat Duck. Pricewise, very prohibitive by Singapore standards – though the nightly full house belie that fact. We had to cook a week ahead!

53 Armenian Street
Singapore 179940
Tel: +65 6334 5535

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  1. Book a week ahead? For S$250 per head? Oh my, and we don't even have a Michelin guide here yet! I think one of the reasons why we have to pay so much is because we have to import all our ingredients. Singapore doesn't have any local produce, unlike in the UK or France, which take pride in their local foodstuffs.

    2 Replies
    1. re: M_Gomez

      Wait until you visit Chiraishi at Ritz Carlton and Aoiki at Shaw...minimum per head is $300++ if you sit infront of the head chefs/owners. Unfortunately, for high end dining, that is the price you have to pay in Singapore. In Iggy's and Gunthers, you just have to expect to pay around $200 ++ for dinner, which ends up $235 nett plus whatever drinks you order. So Fifty Three just price itself on the high end market, not more expensive but certainly not cheap either.

      Beside the import issue that you raised, there are lots of restrictions and regulation on items that can be imported, which restrained what the chefs are able to cook here in Singapore. I was told One on the Bund in Singapore is not able to remake the same standard of their legendary dishes at Hutong in Hong Kong (even though with the same owner and head chef) because they were not allowed to import specifically what they wanted, so by substituting from other sources, they failed to impress the crowd here.

      Fifty Three seems to face a similar problem. I asked them how often will they change their chef's menu. (I was expecting once per month) They are not able to reply my question, requesting that I tell them ahead when I made the reservation that I have visited there before so that they can change certain dishes. They are still new in town, and I suspect facing the same kind of restriction that I described above so not able to change the dishes as much as they would want to.

      1. re: FourSeasons

        I remembered the one & only time I lunched at Aoki, the bill gave me a shock, more than S$100 for each of us! I don't think we in Singapore are paid this much to afford such exorbitant prices!

        Actually our customs had relaxed their import restrictions somewhat, they now allow whole legs of Spanish ham to be brought in whereas previously, they were banned. I love Citysuper in Hongkong precisely because they all thos stuff: jamon Serrano etc which we didn't have before.

        Also, about 20 years ago, I brought a friend (professor from Shanghai) to lunch at Chang Jiang Shanghainese restaurant in Goodwood Park Hotel. The professor asked for chao tofu, and was told by the restaurant manager that the dish is banned in Singapore (in those years) because the process of making chao tofu was deemed a "health hazard"!

    2. u have good reviews for all restaurants ... but more discerning foodies may have to disagree with your tastes... alot of negative reports here and i think a michelin standard restaurant far surpasses any restaurant in singapore...period. hungrygowhere latest review is professional and gave it a very low score.. i think i would rather try BLU at shangrila..

      8 Replies
      1. re: Lucil

        Dining experiences can be very subjective, Lucil. I avoid giving negative reviews and tend to exclude any "bad" restaurants from my write-ups (if I can!), as other diners may have different experiences/opinions - so you'll only see my write-ups on restaurants which I feel is worthwhile going to. Other CHs may see giving negative reviews as a way to make restaurateurs buck up & improve their food/service/ etc, but I'd rather prefer give write-ups to places which I have positive experiences.

        That said, I do believe that FiftyThree delivered on its promise, though at a much more prohibitive cost than I'm comfortable with, and it may not justify the experience - in fact, I told my dining companions that I paid less than half to have a better dinner at SF's 2-Michelin Chez Panisse, and about the same for a much better experience at 3-Michelin-star French Laundry, for instance .

        You may/may not want to try FiftyThree out for yourself but, if you do, try & compare it with your BLU experience and let us know. FiftyThree is relatively "new" - a few months old, but its kitchen highly efficient, and the service is way above Singapore standards.

        Foodwise, its very much on par with BLU, which has ventured into molecular cuisine lately ( I rather missed the BLU which espoused Californian/slow food cuisine when it first started in 2000).

        With regards to Michelin, it depends - I liked FiftyThree more than, say, HK's one-Michelin-starred Pierre, which was just too fancy, and with some dishes that didn't quite carry off as well as expected.

        Try Googling for more write-ups by S'pore foodbloggers: I'm sure you'll find most of them actually liked FiftyThree. As for "professional" reviewers which you quoted from hungrygowhere - I'm not too sure: CHowhounds are meant for non-F&B professionals like us who appreciate good food.

        But that said, Singapore Straits Times food editor, Wong Ah Yoke, and Business Times food writer, Geoffrey Eu, seemed to have enjoyed their experiences there as well - you can read their write-ups here if you'd rather prefer professional advice:

        Whilst it may not measure up to HK or Tokyo's best, but it's really up there with the best here in Singapore.

        1. re: klyeoh

          I agree with klyeoh. Fifty Three is not comparable with the best in HK and Tokyo, but based on my visit there a month ago, I thought it is the best dining experience I had in Singapore, even better than Iggy's and Gunthers. It is comparable to some of the Michelin 1 star that I have visited in other places.

          I don't rely that much on hungrygowhere. Most of the reviewers on that site lack international perspective, which is why I am more active in CH. That site is a more reliable source for local food. Don't expect to get a professional-like review for fine dining, Cantonese and Japanese food.

          We had lunch at Fifty Three but specifically requested for dinner menu. Unfortunately they did not have enough time to prepare the proper dinner menu so came out with a psuedo dinner menu priced at $150 pp ++, that also includes no.1, 4,5, 7,9, 11, 12 on the description above. Yes, expensive but that is the price you pay for high end dining in Singapore.

          1. re: FourSeasons

            I find it interesting that hungrygowhere is used as a source on fine dining... it's even less reliable than OpenRice in HK...

            1. re: FourSeasons

              Managed to squeeze in for lunch at FiftyThree when I was in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, I'll leave the full-blown review for later, but in short I think it's a very worthy dining addition to Singapore. I'm from HK and I haven't found a place in HK that can deliver such creative, daring food without going overboard and successfully combine it with a casual atmosphere and friendly, professional service. So not every dish works, but that's the same as a lot of non-Chinese restaurants in HK. As for the prohibitive prices, I totally agree with others who've suggested going for lunch.

          2. re: Lucil

            Lucil - I just took alook at hungrygowhere just now. There were 18 reviews for Fiftythree and 14 gave it good marks! 8 of the reviews gave it more than 9/10 for food.

            One sounded neutral (rate food 6.5/10)

            Only 3 were negative. I guess you are referring to "Greedy Eat More" who gave the lowest score of 3.5/10. But you will notice that he is also a first-time poster whilst others have posted 100-300 posts before. Mybe we shouldn't write off Fiftythree based on just "Greedy Eat More"'s view.

            1. re: M_Gomez

              but dont u think greedyeatmore review was the most detailed among the rest? his comments was that the food had too much gimmicks, and the the condiments did not complement each other.... ( judging from the way he wrote )
              i dont really care about the other posters who have 100 over reviews.. they usually do not have an international perspective...

              1. re: Lucil

                What I'm saying is that we shouldn't discount the many good reviews and choose to believe only the worse one. I'm not sure what you mean by "international perspective". I wouldn't be too quick to judge other posters in hungrygowhere (you were the one who brought the site up in the 1st place) - they do seem to be a well-travelled bunch.

                As for myself, I spend most of my life in Hongkong/Macau (30 or so years) & now Singapore (last 15 years), and much of my girlhood/teen days in Melaka, Malaysia, so yes, you may think me as one of those with limited international perspective. But I don't think it's going to stop me appreciating & knowing good food where I find them. P.S. - I havent' tried Fiftythree yet thoug, but will wait for more feedback before I do. Besides, I don't think I'd want to pay that much for a new and seems to be a controversial spot.

                1. re: Lucil

                  who cares what the posters on hungrygowhere say and what the reviews are? personally i really like KLYEOHs posts and usually they are solid picks.

                  besides hungrygowhere gives garbage chain restaurants such as fish and co and soup spoon high ratings.

            2. Thank you klyeoh and others for your outstanding recommendations about places to eat in Singapore. We're recently back from our trip and I will post a complete series of comments soon.

              Regarding looks like we had dinner there just a couple of nights after you, so the menu was exactly as you describe it. Our experience was absolutely first rate. We found the place itself and the service exemplary, and the food both interesting and delicious. We've had the great fortune of eating in many places around the world and thought that, at the top of its game, 53 really ranks up there with some of the best we've had most recently. Certainly, everyone's individual tastes will dictate how much they enjoy the taste combinations, but I do think for any dedicated food enthusiast, they'll find this an interesting adventure.

              NOTE FOR THOSE CONCERNED WITH COST: No question, dinner is expensive. BUT - from earlier posts we were reminded that you can eat at 53 for lunch for approximately $50 (Singapore) per person. We did this too, and found it to be a great way to experience the restaurant and a few of Chef Han's creations. It was this wonderful lunch that convinced us that we'd be willing to dole out the cash for the full dinner experience.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Geoff

                Good to hear back from you - we look forward to your post on your eating impressions in Singapore.
                Re: Fifty Three - it is indeed very expensive by Singapore standards, certainly not a place one would go back on a whim. For e.g. Napa's French Laundry, it's one of the best restaurants I've ever been to - but I only lunched there in one out of my last 10 trips back to San Francisco.

              2. I had dinner at Fifty Three last week and certainly it was one of the most intriguing dining experiences I've ever had in Singapore. Yes, some dishes imply a touch of Fat Duck or Mugaritz, but chef Han has created his own style there. Enjoyed their food thoroughly.

                I also had dinner at One on the Bund, but since it was a buffet, I will postpone my review on the food. They had great ambience though, even better than Hutong in Hong Kong! :)

                1. Re-posting from another thread:

                  I finally got around to posting pictures and review of FiftyThree on my blog. In a nutshell, I had a great meal and I would go back again. Not all the dishes were home-runs for me, but a good number of them were absolutely memorable and most definitely all had unique flavor combinations and presentations.

                  Visit for a full review.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: aj84

                    I dined at FiftyThree recently and shared your opinion, aj84. Very nice, comfortable place, fantastic service and very interesting dishes. I'm not really into those modern molecular cooking dishes, but I enjoyed almost everything I had at FiftyThree and would gladly go back tomorrow (if my dear hubby would pay for it again, of course!). In your blog, you mentioned that the Danish butter was fantastic, did I read somewhere that FiftyThree got their butter from the same supplier of butter to Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck?

                    1. re: M_Gomez

                      Hey M_Gomez, I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did :)
                      I'm not sure where they got their butter, but it was great. Really soft and creamy and the buckwheat toppings just made it the more memorable.