Baked mackerel from the set lunch menu
SINGAPORE - Following last year's artful homage to all things affectionately allied to the birthplace of opera and osso buco, St Regis Singapore this year is honouring Great Britain in a 45-day tribute to its people and their pursuit of "taste, beauty, vision and art", which began early this month with the Paul Huxley art installation.
Filo ravioli from the vegetarian menu.
In a separate showcase that is possibly trickier to define, headlining celebrity guest chef James Sommerin, 34, from Wales will be tempting appetites with an imaginative journey through his interpretations of iconic British favourites. These will be served at the hotel's Brasserie Les Saveurs and will, of course, include signatures of award-winning restaurant The Crown at White Brook in Montmouthshire, Wales, which Sommerin has been helming since his promotion to head chef in 2003.
Dinner lobster course, served with broccoli, aubergine, fennel & orange.
That was also the year when the young chef began to really savour a newfound culinary autonomy, developing his own style of cuisine in the process. His distinctive flair and confidence eventually earned the restaurant a Michelin star in 2007, not to mention three out a total of five AA Rosettes (that recognises successful cooking at different levels across the UK), a notable accomplishment to say the least, given the short timeline.
But there was no mystery to where this boldly British marvel wanted to build a career. Like most chefs, his mother and grandmother had fuelled his passion for culinary alchemy from an early age, since he was just eight. Today, in the name of progress, he is more famously regarded for his inventiveness. Call it a knack for reinterpreting classical ideas with a modern twist.
Raspberry lemon cheesecake, deconstructed.
One could see this in his apple pie mousse served with a rhubarb jelly and cinnamon doughnut. Or even his raspberry and lemon cheesecake, which is featured on his six-course dinner bill of fare.
"Indeed, it is a very classical combination of ingredients," Sommerin confessed. "But it is actually the presentation skills and the attention to detail that make it much more modern."
To be sure, his is an ingenious approach, one that allows the traditional flavours and indigenous ingredients to shine. Like the celebrated Welsh lamb on his featured four-course lunch set, accompanied by a seemingly simple combination of leeks, confit of garlic and spiced jus. In fact, most of the ingredients used here, he affirmed, champion quality British products.
"From the lobster to the charcoal baked mackerel, or the goats cheese through the vegetarian menus," he said.
Even if the astute are able to discern an almost expected French influence in Sommerin's modern approach and technique? "I have never worked abroad, so I guess even though my cuisine has some classical French influences, it remains very British," he said. "I also think that in using local ingredients, my cuisine reflects the British market."
The country's wealth of ingredients - which, Sommerin stressed, is also very diverse - remains key its continued success, driven by a unique flair for tasty adaptations.
"There are so many different influences in British cuisine, from Moroccan and Spanish to Japanese or even Chinese influences," he elaborated. "Today, British cooking is all about mixing influences from abroad and its classical origins."
Of course, we had to ask him how he felt about an Indian dish like chicken tikka being considered a British national dish?
Somerrin posited: "Even though British cooking is (partly) influenced by Indian cuisine, for me the classical British dish remains fish and chips. This dish is an all-time classic of British cuisine, rather than a curry that was introduced much more recently."
For Sommerin, something from a decidedly modern menu could come to represent the best in British gastronomy - even if some might question his selection. "Lamb's kidneys. Years ago it would have been done in a pie or a pastry. Now, one would fry it and serve it with julienne potatoes and a tomato couscous," he said.
Sommerin was also confident that British cuisine could be as internationally popular as, say, Italian or French cuisines, which have installed themselves snugly in many other cultures. "I think that British cuisine is now known and recognised worldwide. For instance, you can get fish and chips all around the world, can't you? Plus, a lot of British cuisine is simple, like braised meat, flake beef, with some nice confit garlic, for instance, or potatoes and very good vegetables."
And while he felt that the British institution that is the afternoon tea is perfect as it is ("finger sandwiches and little cakes"), he did take a stab at suggesting a reinvention. "If I had to reinvent it, I would make it more unusual: Rather than scones, I would propose original ice-creams and fantastic pastries. That is what we do actually at the Crown at Whitebrook and for the British Arts Celebration in Singapore with (addtions like) the prune and vanilla egg custard tart, an egg baked tart with prune puree on the top. I would keep the small (serving) size to stay traditional."
Although he cites the classic lemon custard has his favourite adapted recipe ("we serve it in a de-structured form, served with some mint glass (sugar melted and reassembled to look like glass). Even the oatmeal biscuit on the side is completely deconstructed"), Sommerin said his favourite dish to cook at home is the classic - and basic - shepherd's pie.
"Lamb, meats and vegetables with gravy. Then the dish is braised, topped with mashed potatoes and baked in the oven," he said.
Simple and effective - just like Sommerin.
Chef James Sommerin
Chef Sommerin's Epicurean Lunch at S$68 (S$108 with wine pairings); a vegetarian alternative is available; Gastronomic Dinner at S$178 (S$208 with wine pairings), from Oct 10 to 13. He will also feature items in the Classic Afternoon Tea (S$56/S$66 with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve; S$66 (Friday) or S$76 (Saturday), as well as in the St Regis Sunday Brunch on Oct 14 (S$138 or S$198 with champagne). Call 6506 6888 for reservations.