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Waku Ghin [Singapore]

I will start with the conclusion: great food, but we really didn’t enjoy our meal, and left fairly disappointed by the experience, maybe more disappointed because we have eaten at Tets’ restaurants since his early days in Rozelle (Sydney).

It is expensive, but that doesn’t put is off, although S$400 per head (or S$468 after tax and service) is pushing it , especially when you compare the food to other restaurants in this league. Compare to a French or Spanish 3 star and you get far more for your money in terms depth and breadth of menu. I understand the “less is more” concept of this type of food and it works well on the plate, but I am not certain I can really stomach the “less is more” philosophy on the bill. Look at the attached photos and I think you will see what I mean, quite small plates and quite small portions, with many dishes really only showing a single element, unlike a more classic restaurant that wil have four or five complex elements on the plate. Clearly they are expensive ingredients but not a lot of cooking, and after all that is what you pay for in a restaurant.

To reserve you leave a S$800 deposit (for two), OK we have had to give credit card details before at restaurants but this is a little draconian, it is also slightly concerning they do two sittings, 6:00 or 8:30, at this price I expect a table for the night. The restaurant is in the “Marina Bay Sands” complex but not in the hotel as I had expected. Is sits above the casino and is accessed via an slightly obscure lift lobby in the shopping centre. Here the lift takes you to the floor with the other “Celebrity Chefs: (their words not mine), so it is next door to Guy Savoy and Santi. We arrive and are ushered into an empty bar, as our table isn’t quite ready, and I mean literally empty as there are no bar staff.

A waiter emerges and offers us the wine list, and again we suffer sticker shock, the wines we would usually select are all S$350, and this is for wines which retail for AUD$25 (Riesling) or €30 (Chablis) – I understand wine mark-ups and different countries have different tax rates but these prices are extreme. At the bottom of the list we debated the merits of an Albarinio or a cheaper non-cru Chablis, and we asked for advice. The advice consisted of a fairly superior lecture from the sommelier about the wine growing areas the wines came from (both of which we have visited) rather than a compare and contrast of the flavours of he actual wine and their relative merits for the menu (which you don’t see as it is a surprise). We chose the Albarinio (S$120) which was OK but not as good as the ones in Hong Kong which are HK$350 in restaurants.

We are then ushered to our table, two seats of six at a Teppanyaki table, soon after the other four seats fill (were they hiding these diners in other deserted bars?). The room is simple, and very minimalist, but that means there is little to look at apart from the chef who arrives and asks about allergies (I worry about one guest who doesn’t eat shellfish and beef – maybe not the best restaurant choice). He then presents a big basket of fantastic looking seafood - as you can see from the photo - but remember all the raw food photos are for all six diners it is not per couple.

The first dish arrives a “Flan oyster with Puree of Bacon and Spinach”, this is prepped in the kitchen not in front of you (a recurring theme that means you spend the meal looking at an empty deserted teppanyaki table) . It is a superb dish with a fantastically poached oyster sitting on a very well flavoured ham custard. A great start. Next the signature dish “Marinated Botan Ebi with Sea Urchin and Oscietre Caviar”. This is superb, a wonderful dish that has great textures and flavours: a real triumph. I would have licked the shell but for the spines.

“Pan Fried Fillet of Ayu with Daikon and Fennel” follows which is subtle and delicate, but sadly gone in two mouthfuls. This followed by “Cold Soup of White Asparagus with White Miso Cream and Oscietre Caviar” which again is subtle and very good.

The “Tasmanian Abalone with Polenta, Tomato and Garlic Cream” is a dish that really does under whelm. I just don’t get abalone and whilst I am certain this is cooked very well (the first dish cooked in front of us) it is chewy and not a particularly interesting flavour. I am certain the whole piece of Abalone was probably a big part of the cost of the meal but it didn’t do much for either of us. “Braised Canadian Lobster with Tarragon” is again cooked on the hotplate, and it is OK, it comes with a very rich, slightly bitter sauce that makes me suspicious that it is slightly burned. It isn’t an unpleasant taste and it definitely has strong lobster shell elements but it slightly jars with the sweet flesh.

We then get a small plate of “Charcoal Grilled Mixed Vegetables” these are simple and are a textbook example of how a simple technique with great ingredients can pay dividends. These almost get served at the same time as the beef, which is “Australian Blackmore Wagyu Roll with Wasabi and Citrus Soy”, it is wonderful, but miniscule. I know David Blackmore’s beef isn’t cheap as my local butcher in Sydney stocks it (A$120 a kilo) but I found the portion size her to be insulting, was it 10g or 20g? It can’t have been much more.

A “Consommé with Rice and Snapper” is the last dish of the savoury round, it is very clean and quite perfet to wrap up the meal. Right at the end they serve a very fine “Gyokuro” Japanese green tea, very good and another really top end product.

At this stage they move diners into another room for dessert, as if by magic other people (all 26 of us) emerge from their own private rooms to join together for the last courses. This startes with a “Graita of Grapefruit with Chartreuse Jelly” which is OK, then “Chocolate Mouse Cake” which is fine but more reminiscent of a take-out from a patisserie rather than a restaurant dessert. And to finish petit fours, and these do put the "petit" in the term as they are tiny. If it wasn’t a set price menu maybe it is best to nip next door to Guy Savoy for dessert as I understand he usually puts on a good selection.

So to sum up; great food, some really world class dishes and superb cooking, but a few missteps which may be down to the perceived need to deliver luxury ingredients in each course. Service is very slick but quite cold and impersonal; the initial wine service was followed by more comments and interactions, which assumed we were fairly ignorant diners. Maybe by ordering the cheapest wine on their list at S$120 gave the wrong signal, our fellow diners were tucking into a Chateau Lynch-Bages, which is probably more of the norm here (although why a big Bordeaux with this food is a mystery – I drink mine with robust beef and lamb dishes).

The bill for two was S$1,137 (US921) which is our most expensive meal ever and leaves the very 5 hour food and wine extravaganza at El Bulli a very distant second in terms of cost, but doesn’t really bother it in terms of generosity, service and overall experience.

I wish the place was cheaper, but with these ingredients and in this complex that may be unrealistic (the other restaurants all price their set meals at S4$00ish). However what really disappoints is that it is a boring meal, gazing at an empty grill for most of the meal in a small room decorated like a sauna doesn’t do much for me, and that is sad because food this good needs a far better vehicle that will allow people to really enjoy the experience.

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    1. I must say a very complete write-up. And I can position myself in your thoughts, however I did enjoy eating there.

      One thing that struck me a bit though was the enormous amount of olive oil used in almost all the dishes. You did not mention anything about it, but did you notice it?

      1. Great write-up & photos. I agree with you that the cost did seem too high. In fact dining out in Singapore had reached ridiculously high levels compared to a mere 2 years ago when a S$160 meal at Iggy's or Les Amis would have raised eyebrows. These days, like you've said, S$400++ seemed to be a norm in the luxe dining temples in Marina Bay Sands & Resort World Sentosa - 2 places where a congregation of new eateries by international celebrity chefs had set a new benchmark in fine dining in Singapore. Dining costs would have caused even seasoned New Yorkers or Parisians a-shudder - Kunio Tokuoka's restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa (currently closed for upgrading) charged S$870++ per person for its most expensive set meal! I'd never paid that much in all my dining experiences in Tokyo & Osaka.

        I would have been "okay" (maybe) to pay S$400++ for a meal at Waku Ghin if Tetsuya Wakuda himself had been cooking in front of me ;-)

        1. I'm a great fan of Tets but I do agree with you that Waku Ghin is much more expensive than it needs to be. I can't imagine paying A$400 for a meal at Tets' Sydney restaurant.

          1. Thanks for report and camera skills. Yes, prices have changed a lot since my last trip to Singapore.

            1. In the past few years, I’ve been amazed by the development of culinary experiences in Singapore. The Merlion island is always behind Hong Kong pretty much in lots of different aspects. However, it may not be the case anymore, in particular talking about the non-Chinese gastronomy food. The big names such as Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Kunio Tokuoka etc. decided to open their ‘serious’ restaurants here. Some of you may have known that the latest invasion of famous chefs also includes Tetsuya Wakuda – arguably the best chef in Australia. He opened a restaurant called Waku Ghin. Unlike Robuchon or Savoy, Tetsuya chose to open one that’s not a copy cat of his Sydney restaurant. I haven’t been to his Sydney’s establishment, hence cannot compare between the two

              Food (and wine) – 94/100

              There’s only one menu available (Japanese ‘omakase’ style) – 10 courses degustation menu. I would say the cuisine is inspired by Japanese and with some influence of French technique. The food is generally light and clean, but still delicious. For 1st visitor, they will usually serve a series of their signature dishes with a few seasonal items. Some of the memorable dishes I ate are (based on 2 separate visits),
              - Botan ebi, uni and caviar: the restaurant’s signature dish is a must have one. The uni was velvety sweet that enhanced the shrimp’s sweetness and texture; the caviar’s brininess showed some contrast. This was a decadent and rich dish without any bad after taste. Excellent!
              - Alaskan king crab: a simple dish, focusing on the crab’s tender texture and inherent taste. The crab was cooked under a copper pan, with some lemon scented olive oil. It’s hard to find any fault on this dish, a fine example of tasty and clean dish
              - Ohmi wagyu beef: great Japanese food identical with fresh seafood and top quality beef. The beef was marbled, rich and delicious. A freshly grated wasabi and the ‘ponzu’ sauce give another dimension of an already wonderful stuff. Again, another simple but delicious dish
              - Don’t expect elaborate dessert preparation like in many European 3-star restaurants. Both the cheesecake (light with some mild lemon curd) and chocolate mousse (rich with exceptional chocolate quality) demanded your full attention.

              I will show some ‘contrast’ of my abalone and lobster dishes – the basic cooking are the same except the side dishes and sauces were not
              - Abalones
              Tasmanian Abalone served with Polenta, Tomato and Garlic cream - The 'greenlip' abalone was still alive. It had beautiful texture with right chewiness. The side dishes represented the summer spirit with fresh cherry tomato and cream's sourness.
              Australian Abalone served with Fregola and Tomato - Italian-influence dish. The charred 3-year old abalone was firm yet not rubbery, with subtle sweetness. The basil-laced fregola was delicate and worked well with tomato's acidity. Love the refreshing 'soup' - this dish was better than the abalone with polenta version

              - Lobsters
              Braised Canadian Lobster with Tarragon - The lobster was lightly cooked to produce right texture. The 'sauce', generating deep flavor, was not too rich but very tasty; the broth consisted of lobster bisque, olive oil, tarragon and butter. Great dish in generous portion
              Braised Canadian Lobster served with Couscous and Tagine spice - This dish has Moroccan's flavor. Lobster's claw was a bit too soft while its tail was perfectly cooked. The couscous was good, but the 'stock' (lobster's juice, long pepper and paprika cream) was somewhat very tense. It's hard to go wrong with lobster, but I prefer the one with Tarragon

              I truly enjoy both of my meals here. The restaurant usually remembers you after the first visit – I suspected that’s why they re-assigned Chef Yagawa to cook for me again on my 2nd visit. It’s a bit unusual that in one Teppan room, there are 2 chefs. I suppose they want to make it more personal for me. I usually give grade to my meals, and this ones were 94/100 (solid 2 ½* by Michelin standard) – seriously, this score was about the equivalent of my meal at Alinea Chicago, Le Bristol Paris and La Pergola Rome

              Service (and ambiance) – 93/100

              The service is typical Asian – friendly, courteous but hardly personal. The service staffs are dominated by Filipinos (who are usually kind and helpful) and a few Japanese who used to work at Tetsuya’s Sydney. The décor is simplistic with some wooden panel and cold steel. The interesting part will be the dining concept itself. Diners may begin their aperitifs at “the caviar lounge”, then they will enjoy their appetizers and main courses at the Teppan room (there are 3 of them, and each seated about 6 guests). Lastly, to wind down and enjoying desserts, diners are seated at the high-ceiling main dining room that has a beautiful view of Singapore sky-line in the evening. I think it’s already time for Michelin to finally come to Singapore. There’re many good restaurants here, and this place may put serious challenge to HK’s dining scene (especially at 2-3 star levels). I’m confident Waku Ghin deserved at least a 2-star award (with a slight chance to push it to 3 as Michelin’s non-Europe edition tends to be lenient)

              More detailed reviews: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspo...
              Pictures of the dishes: https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...

              15 Replies
              1. re: Bu Pun Su

                It is always heartening to hear foreigners complimenting our dining scene here in Singapore.

                Kunio Tokuoka has not re-opened his restaurant in Resort World Sentosa yet after 8 months. Maybe he's pulled out of Singapore but was too polite, in a Japanese way, to say so.

                Did you like the wines at Waku Ghin as well?

                1. re: M_Gomez

                  Fully agreed, M-Gomez. It was very sad that Kunio never caught on here. I had the pleasure of trying the $750++ kaiseki in mid-2010 (on someone else's coin, of course) and it was simply amazing, easily the best luxe meal I have had in Singapore. The tokishirazu salmon sashimi and the pop-in-your-mouth freshness of the ikura were experiences I can never forget.

                  On the flip side of PhilD's coin, I visited Tetsuya's on Kent Street many seasons ago, my "last hurrah" dinner in Sydney before I moved to these sunny shores. I was distressed at how mono-textured, mono-temperature everything was - it was polite, mushy food that would offend neither toddler nor octogenarian, but neither would it excite. And our waitress, so stoked to introduce the Petuna ocean trout confit that she was tripping all over her words... well, talk about building up expectations (unmet, it goes without saying)!!! Simply put, it was boring and at A$200 a head excl. beverages, it was one of Sydney's most expensive menus at the time. If nothing else, that Tetsuya could keep his three hats serving such anodyne rubbish, while far better places languished with far fewer, proved that the Sydney food mafia were irredeemably corrupt in playing their game of favourites. Its demotion to two hats in 2010 was a long time coming.

                  I haven't been to Waku Ghin, and I'm not really sure I want to, giant price tag or not. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

                  1. re: M_Gomez

                    Hi M_Gomez,

                    Thanks for reading
                    I enjoyed my wine by the glasses too, but the choices were rather limited
                    I usually don't spend that much on wine, especially if the food price tag is already expensive and I dine alone
                    The wine list is quite good though nowhere to Les Amis' list, but again as many have mentioned - it's very difficult to get "bargain" wine
                    HK/Macau possibly has list with more reasonable price

                  2. re: Bu Pun Su

                    True, I am also finding that Singapore has matched or surpassed Hong Kong on the standard of non-Chinese gastronomy food. But unfortunately, dining scene in Singapore is much more expensive than Hong Kong in recent years, primarily due to the strength of SGD.

                    1. re: FourSeasons

                      Not just the strength of the SGD, FourSeasons, but also the ridiculous rents in Singapore nowadays, plus bloody-minded profiteering by landlords, restaurateurs, etc.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Rental in Singapore is still cheaper than Hong Kong.....

                        1. re: FourSeasons

                          And let's not speak of the wine mark-ups here in Singapore. Yes I know HK is tax-free, but the gouging on wine prices in Singapore is enough to drive one crazy.

                          1. re: FourSeasons

                            ... which leaves profiteering as the prime motive then.

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              Totally. And they wonder why Singaporeans like to BYO.

                            2. re: FourSeasons

                              it could be transportation cost ... ippudo at singapore costs alot much more than in hk.. maybe the downtown rental is more expensive here?? there are much more downtown areas in hk..

                              1. re: Lucil

                                How much is Ippudo in HK? Its hard to compare prices given fluctuating exchange rates.

                        2. re: Bu Pun Su

                          Wonderful write-up, Bu Pun Su - really loved your detailed description of the dishes tasted. I'd have loved to try Waku Ghin, but still baulked at the price tag.

                          Maybe I'm being silly: I don't mind paying as much dining in a Michelin-starred establishment in France or Tokyo, but simply couldn't accept that price tag in my own backyard as yet. Your description of the service by the mainly Filipino crew (hiring Filipinos as wait-staff these days seemed to be the case in almost *every* major eating establishment in Singapore, with perhaps the exception of Chinese ones) as being " friendly, courteous but hardly personal" was spot on.

                          Still, introduction of the Filipinos have certainly elevated the standard of waiting in Singapore, which used to range from lackadaisical, amateurish to plain rude when it was just mainly local Singaporeans.

                          I hope you'll dine in other good spots here on our sunny island (you're the first person I'd ever heard referring to Singapore as "Merlion Island", ha-ha) like Restaurant Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Santi, Restaurant Andre, etc., and share with us your opinion on those.

                          1. re: klyeoh

                            Thanks for reading

                            It took me sometimes as well before deciding to dine at Waku Ghin. But then, I didn't have a chance to return to Europe sometimes soon and missed great food - I thought this is one of the few choices left. I know the price tag in Singapore doesn't make sense - close to the 3-star Michelin in Paris.

                            I'm quite glad to that many Filipinos help enhance Singapore service levels. Usually, it's even better when the European guys came and lead the team - I experienced this in Caprice HK. Nothing wrong with the local staffs, but the former Le Cinq manager could connect and serve the diners better IMO

                            I've visited several Singapore restaurants too (mostly and luckily at the other's expenses). I, however, very unlikely to visit Guy Savoy. I had a nice experience at the Paris place, but the food is relatively "weak" compared to the rest of 3-star there. Since the flagship place didn't impress me, I'm not sure if I have to visit the Singapore's 'branch'

                            Santi sunday-only set lunch menu was not too bad - both the price and the taste. Of course, nothing compared to Can Fabes during Santamaria's leadership

                            1. re: Bu Pun Su

                              When I dined at Can Fabes about 6 years back, I had Santi Santamaria autograph his cookbook for me. He was kind. I was shocked when he died during the official launch of Marina Bay Sands' restaurants here in Singapore - but I guess he died whilst doing what he loved most.

                              1. re: Bu Pun Su

                                Agreed on Guy Savoy, the Paris one didn't blow our minds but was our most expensive meal in France, so no inclination to try the Singapore branch as well.

                                To be honest, it's hard to fault the food at Waku Ghin, except that we came out feeling underwhelmed, because despite the hype and pricetag, we didn't get wowed by anything. In fact, we have had teppanyaki meals in Tokyo which were equally good (though interior not as nice admittedly) for half the price (some dishes we had were considered standard teppanyaki dishes in Japan like the seared 'live' abalone and the wagyu.

                                We expected Waku Ghin to be more innovative given Tetsuya's reputation.

                          2. There is not that many gastronomy places in the world that I’ve visited more than twice. I can count with my fingers that a few of those restaurants are L’Arpege, Gagnaire Paris and L’Ambroisie. The new restaurant that just join my “exclusive list” is Waku Ghin (WG), currently Tetsuya Wakuda-san’s best establishment. This can happen also because Singapore is a lot more accessible for me than Paris. I will not talk much about the restaurant’s story or setting as you can find it at my previous post (http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspo...). Let’s jump into the main stuff: the food. The content is very similar especially the main ingredients for several dishes, but some of them prepared differently.

                            The signature items:
                            -Marinated Botan shrimp served with Sea urchin and Oscietra caviar - A lot has been said of the restaurant's most famous dish. Still as delicious as it gets even for the 3rd time. Botan ebi, uni, and caviar - no matter what combination I scooped, they're sensational!

                            The beef: finally I had the opportunity to taste and contrast Tasmanian vs Ohmi beef.
                            -The tender grass-fed beef from Australia was still pink on the inside and it's very good as expected. The beef was paired well with creamy and not-so-spicy mustard, a special recipe of Wakuda-san. It’s indeed enjoyable and possibly better than any steaks at Morton/Cut
                            -Ohmi beef is a "must have" dish at Waku Ghin. The cattle was raised in special environment and water; the beef was really marbling and its fat has viscosity. The result is a heavenly wagyu roll that melt in the mouth – make sure to add a bit of citrus soy and wasabi on the beef, umami experience!

                            The rests:
                            I could not recall where I had been deeply impressed by WG’s first 3-4 dishes (non-teppanyaki) except of course the botan ebi uni caviar. Not much different this time – they’re just alright. For this visit I began with mild flavor of marinated Sayori with nanohana and strawberry; the 3rd dish was pan-fried Sweet fish fillet with daikon and fennel – the only good stuff from it was the Ayu’s crispy skin

                            The teppanyaki is generally the best part of Waku Ghin’s meal – it’s part theatre, part cooking lesson. I missed the Alaskan crab last time, so I asked to have it again for this visit.
                            -The charcoal grill king crab was simple, slightly sweet and succulent. The 'lemon sauce' added flavor contrast balanced the dish. Steamed or grilled Alaskan crab? Both are well executed here
                            -Grilled abalone was slightly chewy and tender as it should be. It was served with French asparagus that has fine texture & delicate taste. Although tasty by themselves, the dish was improved by the decent Aonori (seaweed) sauce
                            -Braised lobster was served with white miso (from Kyoto). The miso broth also consisted of lobster juice, butter, ginger and spring onion. This ‘sauce’ was light and complemented the juicy lobster's inherent sweetness - excellent!
                            Note that: from 3 different visits, the restaurant managed to cook 3 different preparations of Abalone and Lobster – awesome!

                            When it come to pre-dessert: 2/3 you will likely get something relate to granite – usually sour and refreshing. The dessert is better and this time I got Chef Wakuda's interpretation of the classic dessert “Montblanc”; the sweet had chestnut and vanilla chantilly and the 'soup' is made of earl grey tea and vanilla. A pleasant and sweet dessert without being cloying
                            Forgot to mention that the meal also includes gyokuro as well as consomme of snapper with rice. My meal was accompanied by a glass of sake (about wine tasting portion) and Spanish dessert wine

                            Somehow during all my three visits I’ve been served by Japanese chefs. I learned that my ‘regular’ chef Kaz had left WG earlier this year to open his own venture in this island. My new chef (forgot to ask his name) used to work in Hilton Osaka – his cooking is also very good, but a bit lacking in English. The waiter for our room was an enthusiastic and friendly Filipino lady. Guests are more likely to interact with their chefs when they dine at WG. The thing I love most about Waku Ghin is that the high quality ingredients are front and center; they take good care and respect the ingredients. Most of the dishes look deceptively simple (remind me of Le Louis XV though not at that level yet), but they’re delicious with the execution that is almost flawless in particular the teppanyaki part. I have no doubt that food-wise, they’re very closed to Michelin 3-star standard (95 pts, equivalent to 2 ¾*) – the highest score I ever give thus far to any Singapore restaurants (tie with my Joel Robuchon Sentosa meal in Dec ‘11). The overall experience is still 94/100 (2 ½*)

                            Pictures of my meal, https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...