Sunday, June 03, 2007

Cuisine Harmony

Reif + James
80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-03, The Pier
Tel: 6238-8817
Opening hours: brunch - 10am to 3pm on weekends and public holidays
Lunch - 11.30am to 3pm on weekdays
Dinner - 6pm to 10pm daily
Closed on Mondays.

Riverside dining has becoming a trend among Singaporeans especially with the evolution of restaurants from Boat Quay, to Clarke Quay and most recently Robertson Quay. Because of saturation and competitive nature of this business, each area tries to define their unique identity. Clarke Quay has The Cannery with their bars and hippy restaurant concepts, Boat Quay keeps the chill out image and Robertson Quay has been trying to carve itself as a niche for fine food. Some of the good places already there include Sage @ Robertsons Walk, The Chocolate Factory and Canele, The Patisserie. The latest kid in the block is Reif+ James, a six month old thirty seat restaurant. It may be a kid in terms of size but it has been flexing its culinary muscles to the delight of many who had been following the successful team of Chef Reifaie Kee and Manager James Charles when they first partnered together in ZUKO!@ Upper East Coast. Before the media could step in, their success @ The Pier and Chef Reif’s talents had already been spreading like wild fire by the word of mouth throughout the locally culinary community. On Saturday night, if you have no reservations, u can forget about walking in.
The menu here is small but creative and to me this spells quality as the chef is able to give more attention and detail to every dish. They have also migrated a selection of signature dishes from their last collaboration in Zuko! and given them an upgrading touch. I took on a set menu while N preferred to have me build one for her from the ala cart selections.
The prelude to a wonderful meal or a disastrous experience often starts with little things on the table as we observed on the many occasions we dined out both locally and abroad. Bread is one good indicator for measurement. There were great slices of Rosemary Foccacia Bread with 3 fantastic accompaniments to choose from. I like the Sun Dried Tomato with Fresh Basil while N enjoyed the fruity Balsamic Vinegar with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. In between, a piece of quality butter is there for cohesive reasons. Our Amuse Bouche was a delicate twirl of Cold Angel Hair Pasta crowned with Fresh Tuna and Lobster Oil. Simple clean flavours to whet our appetites, I like the flavour of the Lobster Oil which gave the noodles a delicate flavour and partnered it well to the raw dices of tuna.
We both had seafood appetizers as we had opted for meat & poultry for main courses.N had a Grilled Scampi which was actually 3 large yabbies spilt open and grilled naturally. The scampi tasted really good though I often find their texture a little too soft for me than crayfish which has a springier texture. Importantly, the shellfish was not overcooked as it tends to be with grilling. The balsamic vinaigrette tossed salad provided a nice contrast and acidity between the shellfish and slight bitter greens. My Grilled Baby Octopus with Chili Jam, Marche Leaves and Lychee Petals was more exciting with bolder flavours of spices like lemon grass coming through with the chili jam. The citrus dressing with Marche leaves also accentuate the supple textured grilled octopus while the lychees provided a nice soothing touch to the chili spice and the citrus dressing acidity. Both starters went very well with the in house white wine which was a Sauvignon Blanc from Chilie.
Out of curiosity, we opted for a “dry” soup which was the Tuscan Tomato Buffala while the Cream of Wild Fungus with Truffle Emulsion was already part of the tasting menu that I chosen. The “dry” soup turn out to be a rich and robust tomato soup completely soaked up by bread pieces and interspersed with chunks of buffalo mozzarella cheese in between. A sprinkling of fresh basil leaves enhanced the soup with its perfume like fragrances and makes it more rustic mama Italiano in character.
I salute the Cream of Wild Fungus for its “forest character” on my first sip of the creamy soup. The soup had three different layers of flavours. I was hit with the white truffle aromas on the first sip while the second reveals the flavour of button mushrooms, giving the soup it's necessary platform to embrace the truffle oil and a mysterious third layer of flavour. The mysterious layer pointed to the use of morel mushrooms to give the soup its earthy characters with a fragrant mushroom woody muskiness. Just before the main courses, N and I shared a plate of Spaghetti with Crabmeat, White Wine, Tomatoes and Pine Nuts. The pasta was done very well with the sweet luscious fresh crabmeat giving the white wine tomato brothy sauce lovely subtle seafood flavours. A couple pieces of diced chili padi gave the dish its sensational spiciness while I love the refreshing notes of fresh basil and parsley as a finishing touch. Most importantly, the pasta itself was cooked al dente ala Italia not Singapura. For many others, this would be considered uncooked pasta but I had fondly missed this texture ever since coming home from Europe in 2002. This is by far the best pasta dish I have had in the last five years, true to its Italian nature and roots. N’s main course was one the most exciting items on the menu. The Trio of Canard ala Reif was the Chef’s special that comprised of duck and foie gras with roasted potatoes. The duck itself was done two ways, a nice juicy pan roasted duck breast and a crispy confit of duck leg. The breast meat was in a rich hue of deep pinkish red and tasted very good on its own. The gamey liver like taste profile that commonly prevails in many imported ducks was also absent, making it very pleasant for a non organ meats lover like me. I found the balsamic tossed spring salad on the side a good taste of balancing the rich fatty notes of duck meat and the house red was also a good accompaniment to the crispy confit. The whole slightly cured duck leg had been cooked gently in its own fat for more than three hours with herbs and spices. After removing the excess fat, it goes under the salamander for its skin to crisp up before being served with a fruity sauce. The resulting meat is so fragrant and tender that it flakes easily with a fork. Finally the piece de resistance was the slightly charred and caramelized piece of seared foie gras which literally melt in your mouth. That was the orgasmic part of the whole dish with the warm burnt buttery notes of duck liver washed down with a fruity merlot.
It was my first experience with Hokubee Beef, which has not been as widely marketed as Wagyu yet. The latter is currently the hippest variety of beef offered in many fine dinning restaurants and is touted for its intense marbling that offers the ultimate tender juiciness due to the inactive lifestyle of the cattle. Personally I had always preferred the USDA Prime grade of beef than the Wagyu as the beefy meaty notes are richer with just the right amount of marbling. That piece of Hokubee Ribeye or Meltique Beef as it is more commonly known in Australia, had been seasoned with truffle salt which is coarse salt infused with aromas of white truffle. This gives out the wonderful aromas as the piece of beef cooks and part of the truffle flavour is infused into the meat making it a delicious marriage made in heaven. I found the Hokubee less fatty than that of the Wagyu but nonetheless still miss out on the characteristic beefy notes that I am looking for especially for US beef. The beautifully medium done meat was accompanied by an equally delicious mashed potatoes and a mushroom ragout. The ragout was cooked with fresh button, porcinis and trumpet mushrooms in a rich demi glace (brown sauce), giving it a rustic autumn character.
Up to this point, I must make a mention of the excellent service rendered so far. The staffs are knowledgeable, alert and cooperative to make your dinning experience pleasant. N and I Iiked their systematic way of doing things with a friendly disposure.

Desserts were a hard choice for N as everything looked so good on the menu. I was already assigned the Warm Molten Chocolate Cake with Verbena Ice Cream and was looking forward to it. Finally N chose a duo of green brulees with red berries. The first brulee was infused with Kaffir Lime notes making it rather refreshing and pleasant. The custard texture was just right, neither too firm nor cloyingly rich and heavy. The other brulee with a green element was infused with green tea. N found the green tea flavour rather lacking but it was fine for me. The herbaceous green character and slight bitterness of green tea is such a delicate flavour that could have either been mask by the creamy custard or lost in the baking process. Maybe a Jasmine note somewhere would have helped. I love berries with brulee because their acidity always tones down the rich creamy elements making it less heavy on the mouth feel.

My Warm Molten Lava Chocolate Cake was more like a freshly baked soufflé that was oozing with rich dark chocolate as I spade in with a little spoon. Hot and cold sensations contrasted with one another as we alternated between the lava hot chocolate and exotic verbena ice cream. Yummy! Little pralines (first time seeing this in a fine dinning restaurant!) were served, with the staff considerately giving us two heart shape pieces of ganache filled chocolates. Oh yes, their coffee was darn good too!

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