EVEN in basic black and white, Executive Chef Fernando Arévalo is able to conjur powerful reactions with his dishes.
The Chef and “Author” of Preludio, located on the third floor of Frasers Tower along Cecil Street, is tall, bald and commands attention. But you can see behind a seemingly serious front lies a slightly twisted and wicked sense of dramatic humour, which plays out well in the dishes he creates.
Monochrome presents mental challenges for the diner, testing the connect between what you see and what you taste.
The first two dishes — Elude and Allude — look similar but confuse your palate with their contrasting flavours. The names sound familiar, but mean different things, and this is reflected in the dishes.
Looks The Same, But…
Elude has sweet beetroot baked for over two hours with burrata from Puglia which is cut by just one woman, alongside primeur Sturia caviar harvested from Siberian sturgeon.
Allude has veal marrow, fermented tree ear mushrooms, a mushroom potato mousse and Oscientra Sturia caviar from Russian sturgeons.
The optical delusion plays out well as the different flavours are savoured, as you marvel at the loads of ingredients in a small dish that’s all but inhaled by many at the surrounding tables.
Do they not know how to savour a dish and luxuriate in the flavours that wash through your mouth in subtle and delicate waves?
The amuse bouche is a good example of this. An almond macaron serves as the delicate base to layer on chicken liver pate, port jelly, black summer truffles and grilled plums, delivered on contemporary Luesma & Vega crockery. Pop that in your mouth and it has the taste equivalent of a six-course meal in some other restaurants.
By his own admission, the Colombian-born, New York trained Fernando says he wants to “mess with the minds” of his customers. Though he uses a more colourful verb.
He seems to have mastered the art of presenting that which seems obvious but is anything but.
What you see is not what you taste. Certainly when presented in Monochrome.
La Cortina is named after the room he stayed in while visiting the producer of il borgo balsamico, in Modena. This exquisite mix of ingredients — agnolotti dough, butternut squash, rosemary, thyme, garlic olive oil, almonds, parmesan, pepper, brown sugar and probably others that have slipped in for effect — is topped by a 20-year-old balsamic vinegar that has been reduced by 90% through five casks. The balsamic vinegar and its decanter are part of the show leading up to the appreciation of the dish.
Pop it in and you have the mysterious flavour of oranges bursting through the melange. Marvellous.
Alongside the food are the wines, paired by Chip Steel, who brings a stylised hirsute scruffiness to the sommelier’s craft. The spirited offerings are sourced from lesser known vineyards. For those who prefer the non-alcoholic route, there are Prudent drinks that liven up the palate.
Chip brings in the syrah from Syria, the Domaine de Bargylus Grand Vin de Syrie as the Pata Negra (main picture) is served. The shoulder cut of the Iberian pork is from the province of Salamanca and is marinated for 12 hours in garlic and a spice mix of seven ingredients. It is then oven roasted for 2 hours, then rested for another hour. Still not done, it is then pan fried with a coating of pulvarised squid ink and panko bread crumbs. It looks like a smooth piece of chocolate cake that is sliced to cheekily display the pink flesh.
For all the preparation leading up to its presentation, this was consumed in stunning silence by an otherwise chirpy table of ladies. Rich with a complexity of flavours, the tender pork melts with little effort in your mouth, accompanied by the Datterini tomatoes and apple puree.
Dessert, in the delicate hands of Chef Elena Perez de Carrasco are delectable wafers of strawberry, vanilla, white chocolate and milk ice-cream, called a Strawberry Milkshake in another confusing moniker, and Alba, a blob of hazelnut ice-cream on a Guinness stout sponge cake with milk foam.
The one issue with Preludio is perhaps its lighting. While it’s great for the ambience, it’s not ideal for photography, and these days, sadly or otherwise, if it isn’t Instagrammable, you’re going to upset the “influencers” who will have to work harder for their supper.
Complementing the outstanding cuisine is a team of excellent and attentive service staff who are knowledgable and clearly well schooled in what is being presented.
The contemporary decor with lots of little quirky highights add to the entertainment factor of Preludio; like the cat peering out from the centrepiece, the sculpture bench at the entrance and the marble bar.
The private dining room seats a dozen in a narrow space, which takes you away from the dramatic flourish of the main room and the delightful reactions of the diners to the stunning cuisine being served.
The black-and-white offering of Chef Fernando’s first chapter is in basic Monochrome, albeit with much flavour. If this introductory chapter is anything to go by, we can expect a sensational ride as the colours, sounds, hues and textures are layered on in subsequent writings.
Preludio. 182 Cecil Street. #03-01 Frasers Tower. Singapore 069547. preludio.sg