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