really, surprisingly, good vegetarian fine dining atop orchard central. I’m a big fan of vegetables, not so much of vegetarian eating – the latter with its not-always-positive connotations of overt ingredient manipulation, and the unhealthiness you often see in the Asian understanding of the cuisine (i.e. deep-frying and excessive use of gluten products).
I came here with absolutely no expectations – no review-reading, no foodie-asking – and they delivered a quite remarkable meal full of fresh ingredients and many surprises. and whilst the plates belie a care expected of the fine-dining standard they aspire to, the prices don’t (in other words, great for dates and impressing without being hard on the pocket).
as the meal inspired a rather impressive set of 29 photos (kudos to the architect that designed such flattering lighting!), let’s start with a quick brief.
the restaurant offers a popular degustation-style set with 6 courses at lunch, and 7 at dinner (see full menu here!). loosely categorised here as hot & cold appetisers, entrees, drinks and desserts – we sampled dishes from both the sets and the à la carte menu, a repertoire of dishes that impresses not only with its scale, but also with its myriad range of good-to-fantastic flavours.
it’s a long post today, so the tl:dr version – creative, flavorful, and pretty substantial. certainly a different style from the standard highly-glutened, deeply-fried chinese interpretation of vegetarian food.
[cold] tartare platter au naturel
a raspberry sphere on cracker, a mock-sashimi confection with seagrapes, a fish-skin cracker with wasabi and pine nuts. the best was that middle component – mock-sashimi is such an understatement and misrepresentation, but this lovely confection of carrot gellied up (with konnyaku?) had a texture that closely resembled its meat counterpart, and a seafoody flavor lent by the seagrapes.
[cold] zucchini tower
I wasn’t a big fan of this, although I liked the mild, raw zucchini strips. you need to smear the truffle mayo on the strips for better flavor and richness, as it’s quite plain otherwise – and I’d skip the rather superfluous puff pastry here.
cherry tomatoes prepared three ways – an interesting but quite unassuming dish with tangy flavors and different textures.
[cold] transparency of manchego cheese
odd name aside, this was a thinly-sliced piece of cheese under crispy croutons and a salad mix of olives, leaves, and tomatoes. be sure to get every component in each bite – the cheese provides a rich savoriness to the fresh flavours, and the toasted bread some substance and texture.
[cold] chopped salad with rice puffs
this was a melange of fruit, chopped vegetables and rice pops – doused in a very tangy dressing that was intensely sour and so savory it almost seems salty. it felt very fresh, and that dressing certainly wakes your ‘buds up (in a good way).
[cold] vegetable sashimi on ice with quail egg shooter glass
this was one impressive-looking dish. essentially a platter of alternative sashimi, the ingredient choices were stellar: I’ve already talked about the carrot confection, but there was also firm coconut flesh, crispy huaishan yam slices and a marinated jelly-ish strip (incredibly tuna-like) that went well with wasabi-and-soy. there was also a quail egg shooter that I didn’t have – but I was told it was very sharp and sour.
[hot] gratinated champignon with mozzarella
hot, stringy cheese is incredibly easy to eat – and there’s plenty of it on this escargot plate (with tender mushrooms instead of snails). it’s well-seasoned and flavorful – I admit without shame that I scraped that cheese off clean.
[hot] tempura platter on mash
this could almost be a dessert. there was a mix of crispy fried sweet yam, eggplant, apple and banana pieces, placed atop a sweetish orange-flavored mash. the charcoal adds drama but not flavor, and I would have preferred the regular dashi-broth over the sweet mash.
[hot] matsutake cake
ok, this was the only dish I did not like in the entire meal. the fried (baked?) mushrooms atop were delicious, but that cake was a little like a dense, moist muffin with a slightly sweet flavor that just didn’t seem to match the fungi. highly skippable.
[soup] snow pear and napa cabbage consumme
another slightly sweet dish, this was a clear, concentrated vegetable consomme sweetened with pear.
[soup] pumpkin velouté
this was plenty popular on my table, a smooth pumpkin puree with a swirl of cream and crunchy croutons that sogged in a quite lovely manner.
[soup] clear tomato broth with garbanzo
I like tomatoes and nightshades, and I like well-seasoned, concentrated soups like this one. it’s got substance with a spinach dumpling: thin wanton skin with a loose filling that meshed with the soup.
[soup] infusion of cepes and truffle
a fancy name for the commonplace mushroom soup – I thought this was quite a run-of-the-mill dish fragranced with the now-commonplace truffle. nothing special, but nothing extraordinary – this pales in comparison to the other soup offerings.
[main] hedgehog summer mushroom
BEST dish of the night. I already really like monkeyhead mushroom, an ingredient I had discovered before at lingzhi, but it was braised and well-seasoned here, and then fried in an inexplicably-delicious batter. I think I may have eaten more than my fair share of this dish, but it was fantastic. definitely worth returning for.
[main] grilled bai-ling steak on “pu-ye” hot stone
SECOND-BEST dish of the night. served on a hot stone that released the fragrance of the leaf it was served on, it was meaty, substantial, and that fragrance only added to the flavor of the mushroom.
[main] wild rice with eggplant terrine
the roasted eggplant terrine was mildly-flavored, but the star of the show was the fried wild rice, which had a wok hei (fragrance of the wok, a result of the maillard reaction) that comes only from expert frying.
[main] duo ravioli platter
[main] truffle risotto
both dishes have similar profiles – creamy, softer-than-al-dente, and mildly-flavoured. they weren’t too bad – but absolutely nothing to shout about.
[drink] pasionfruit aperitif
we were served test tubes of these passionfruit drinks right at the start of the meal, a fruity, refreshing start to things. on the sweet side, but chilled nicely and certainly a sight to behold on the ice bowl.
[drink] assortment of teas
flavored with a mix of fruit and herbs, these varied from the sweet to very sweet – I’m not partial to sweet drinks, but these were okay as a finish to the meal (make sure you let them know if you don’t like it too sweet though).
[drink] mocktail of love
these were even sweeter than the assorted teas – and intensely so. we each managed only a little sip of the pink liquid. by this point, I was really only thinking about how something sour would make a good digestif.
[dessert] warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream
perhaps the best dessert on the table – the chocolate cake was flowy and oozey, and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. it was also quite darkly chocolatey, and not-too-sweet.
[dessert] red wine poached pear with vanilla ice cream
not a bad dessert, but this was a little sweet, and could have done with a little more cooking. I did like that biscuit crumble though.
[dessert] cheese cake
a deconstructed slice of cheesecake, with a not-too-rich filling and biscuit by the side. substantial enough as a counterpoint to the otherwise clean flavors we had had, without negating any of the healthfulness you would have felt by now.
[dessert] truffle crème brulee
OK THIS ONE WAS ODD – we all had little spoonfuls to test, but it was just a little too creative for us to properly appreciate. redolent with the fragrance of truffle, it meshed well with the egginess of the pudding to form what seemed like a sweetened truffle omelette. uhm – I tried it once, but probably not again.
[dessert] yogurt pudding
I like this much more, a slightly-sweet, thick yogurt topped in fruit in a mason jar. a refreshing end to the meal.
WE ARE FINALLY AT THE END – I just want to say, it’s certainly a quite special place to have a meal. the restaurant is done up formal enough for dates, and its inexpensive pricing certainly makes things even better. definitely worth a visit.
Joie by Dozo
#12-01 Orchard Central
181 Orchard Road
tel +65 6838 6966
$$.5: 38.80++ at lunch, 68.80++ at dinner (lunch certainly is cheaper, but even 70ish for a dinner this extensive isn’t at all bad).
thanks to joie and hungrygowhere for the meal here!