IN A CITY where new food concepts pop up all the time in various quarters, it’s sometimes challenging for an established outlet to retain its relevance.
That’s apparent in the hotel cafes and bistros where there’s a need to balance comfort food for the international guests with new ideas for the local walk-in customers.
While some restaurants build up their reputation for certain types of cuisines, others are juggling the need to keep up with changing audience tastes and preferences.
Sometimes, your best bet is to bring in a foreign influence that will pique the interest of regulars and the adventurous alike.
The Four Seasons has always suffered for its location. On the fringes of Orchard Road and the shopping precinct on one side and the Botanic Gardens nearby, its facing ensures hardly anyone is going to stumble upon it.
But in 25 years, it has steadily built on its reputation for exclusivity and old-world hospitality, catering to those who like a certain predictability about their stay. It’s only in recent years that the luxury property has undergone signifcant renovations, picking up on the nature theme nearby.
The latest round of changes follows a month-long renovation to One-Ninety. Named after the property’s address, it had a buffet spread and above-average fare that was always well patronised during weekend champagne brunches.
The new manifestation of the One-Ninety takes on some novel initiatives.
The buffet is still there, but there’s a British chef on board and a Provençal feel to the menu. In this international soup, you add a changed environment of botanical panels and plants and you may be piqued enough to contemplate to try the offering.
To sweeten the offering, the price points have been lowered for the buffet and that is a good way to seal the deal when everything else is just becoming more expensive. The semi-buffet lunch is $38, and add another $10 for an entree.
An early Brexit candidate, Chef Kamarl John has been in Singapore since late 2017, but built his credentials at a number of top establishments in London, including the Four Seasons Hotel London. The city’s growing reputation as a cuisine capital has seen its reputation grow.
Chef Kamarl hopped to Singapore to give Adrift some direction at Marina Bay Sands before steering a course for One-Ninety.
“Moving to Singapore has been one of the most important choices I could have made as a chef. It forced me to become more organised, in relation to the bigger picture of what the kitchen has to deliver, and working with local chefs taught me new flavours that I didn’t really have access to in London,” Chef Kamarl explains.
The experiences have forged a flavour that is not immediate and not intended to hit you like a firework with a wow and then fizzle out.
Chef Kamarl’s cuisine is a slow investigation into carefully curated tastes that blend cultures.
“The challenge that I found the hardest when trying to blend the cuisines was finding the correct balance but still staying true to the original essence of the dish,” explains the soft-spoken innovator.
While experimenting with twists to the cuisine, he has also ensured freshness of produce as a key ingredient. Alaskan crab, French cheeses, crisp salads, herbs and spices that are familiar yet not frequently presented as such come together in a variety of offerings.
Provence is known for its wholesome home cooking, as if a French grandmother is in the kitchen. Any grandmother would like to have the affable Chef Karmal in the kitchen with his strapping form and cooking abilities.
The Provencal elements are noticeable in the bouillabaisse with mussels, clams and prawns topped by a large slab of fresh snapper grilled so the skin is crispy. This is a big portion served in a big bowl and is a meal unto itself. Good idea to share it, and savour the flavours as they unfold.
The ratatouille is also on some of the menu items, as well the tapenade. What’s missing is the aioli, the mayonnaise sauce made with crushed garlic and olive oil, often eaten on a Friday.
Do try some of the small plates that Chef Kamarl sculpts. Truffle on foie gras paste on toast sounds divine, and if you like liver it delivers. Avocado with jalapeno on fried rice cake is ketupat with Mexican toppings.
The local flavours are also retained — Hainanese chicken rice, laksa, hor fun and beef rendang add bolder spice flavours in contrast to Chef Kamarl’s delicately balanced creations.
And the desserts are sinfully tasty even if they will always be challenged by a strong entree selection.
But expect more experimentation.
“Once I became comfortable with the spices of the region, finding a way to utilise them in food was surprisingly easy. I was lucky enough to grow up in a Caribbean household, so spices from all over the world were always available, giving me a good 10 years to experiment at home with lots of disasters along the way earlier on!” Chef Kamarl adds.
For now, the fare at One-Ninety is far from that. But it could do with a bit more Asian in some of the twists, and possibly more Provençal attributes that will help educate customers about that cuisine.
One-Ninety is open for breakfast from 6:30am to 10:30am; lunch from noon to 2:30pm; and dinner from 6:30pm-10pm.