"Food doesn’t belong to anybody."
Uttered by anyone else, it could be mistaken for an unnecessarily acerbic remark, particularly in food-obsessed Singapore. But this comes from a chef who knows a thing or two about culinary history.
After all, Ivan Brehm spent a good part of his four-year stint at The Fat Duck (where he worked his way up to development chef of Heston Blumenthal’s Experimental Kitchen) researching gastronomic history.
Indeed, at the newly-opened Nouri (which means nourishment in Latin), historical references are plenty. But, rather than seeking differences and pinpointing origins, chef-owner Brehm celebrates universal touchpoints and connections, and urges diners to leave the preconceived notions of cuisines at the door.
The native Brazilian does so with perceptive confidence that seems to represent a culmination of his experiences at Per Se in New York, Mugaritz in Spain’s Basque Country, Hibiscus in London and The Fat Duck, without of course forgetting the years he spent as executive head chef at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, helping it earn its first Michelin star last year. At Nouri, new creations are paired with familiar tastes, each constructed and layered thoroughly thought-through. The result is a comforting journey of discovery of new relationships and an appreciation of our shared ancestry.
To start, the humble bread and broth will evoke different memories for different people. It features naturally leavened sourdough and a comforting broth made using a steaming process to extract the “natural juices” of seven different vegetables. This dish also embodies Brehm’s belief that “we share more than we think” and references his love for the historical significance of bone broth, which gave rise to the word “restaurant”. And depending on your cultural reference, the texture of the silken cheese served as part of the dish can resemble tofu or panna cotta.
Diners can choose between a five- or seven-course dinner menus. Included in the latter is a delightful serving of Alaskan king crab. Paired with oscietra caviar, home-cured Mangalica pork lardo and golden chives, this layering of sweet and savoury is delicate yet decadent. For this alone, it is worth ordering the seven-course menu.
And just when you think you have figured out the Middle Eastern inspiration for the next dish that resembles a falafel, you learn it is actually a Brazilian street snack. Acarajé and Vatapá are the epitome of “crossroads cooking”, which Brehm explained is inspired by common culinary traits different cultures share. White pinto beans fritters, paired with a salted shrimp and bread sauce, hail from the chef’s hometown. The touch of brilliance is in the turmeric and coconut curry it is served with. I was convinced it was Thai curry, but the well-informed service team gleefully assured me that similar ingredients are used in Brazilian cooking.
Having tried the various options for the main course from previous visits, I would recommend the grouper. Remarkably fresh, the fish is masterfully presented in two ways. In the first, it is prepared like a ceviche. But the chef tells me “it’s actually kinilaw, the Filipino version of the ceviche”. That means it is seasoned with a light touch of fennel vinegar, torched ginger, brined peppercorns, coconut oil and a slick of caviar. The fish retains a firm bite and subtle flavours. Its pared down acidity allows the scent of ginger flowers to shine while the right amount of caviar calibrates the saltiness, adding a touch of brine.
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The other grouper dish packs a more assertive punch, thanks largely to the black pepper sauce, made with Sarawak peppers, that is served on the side. The fish is cooked sous vide, but to hold up to the heady sauce, it is topped with an intense white fish reduction and finished with julienned petai leaves.
It is Brehm’s nuanced balance of flavours and mastery of textures that make it hard to pinpoint a favourite dish, as they are all memorable.
The joy continues with the desserts. Cheekily named Milli Vanilli, the first is a masterpiece of banana puree, rum and salted caramel rendered from 48 hours of simmering care. The mix is then blended with cream to create foam and served with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. The finale—Big Red Robe, a tribute to the elegance of Chinese tea—caps the night. Varied textures of plum with luscious Mexican chocolate and buttery shortbread are, quite simply, glorious, made even enjoyable when paired with the warm, aromatic oolong tea.
Nouri, 72 Amoy St., 6221 4148, nouri.com.sg