Food Review: Restaurant Born At Neil Road | Contemporary Cuisine By Chef Zor Tan In A Beautiful Heritage Space In Tanjong Pagar
The Place One of the most anticipated new restaurant openings in Singapore this year, Restaurant Born by Chef Zor Tan is another fine addition to the vibrant fine-dining scene in Singapore. A partnership between Chef Zor and 1855 F&B (behind Path, The Spot, Wakanui Grill Dining), the location of Born is an interesting one. It is located in the Jinrikisha Station, an iconic heritage building on the corner of Tanjong Pagar and Neil Road.
The interior of the restaurant is contemporary and elegant, with the main dining hall spotting a counter seating which overlooks the open kitchen directly.
For me, the paper sculpture in the main dining hall is the centrepiece of the restaurant and it draws the eye to the high ceiling of the space which glows from the skylight.
Other than the main dining hall, there are also private rooms and lounge rooms.
Chef Zor Tan has many years of fine-dining experience and was previously helming the likes of Restaurant Raw in Taipei, Sichuan Moon in Macau, and the now-defunct Restaurant Andre.
The Food With Chef Zor’s previous culinary experience, the cuisine at Born is a sophisticated cross-cultural Contemporary cuisine, with nine guiding principles that become the manifesto of his cooking – Birth, Roots, Memories, Craft, Relationship, Vicissitudes, Time, Progress, and Legacy. These themes will resonate throughout his menu.
My 9-course dinner menu (S$368++ per person) started with an opening ‘Pickles & Snacks’ course, a multi-plate series. It starts with a selection of pickles – Winter Melon with Purple Shiso Jus, Pickled Japanese Daikon Skin, and Jellyfish Pickled with Mountain Chilli.
The next series begins with Tomato / Smoked Plum / Basil; followed by Chicken Skin Mille Feuille / Eggplant / Caviar, a tribute to his mum’s fried egg plant with pork belly; and then I had the Abalone / Burnt Chilli Pesto / Garlic Crisps.
The third series opens with Fish Bacon / Sweet and Sour Sauce / Homemade Chilli Oil; then the Taro Puff / Salted Egg Custard / “Bottarga”, based on his mum’s taro gula melaka puff.
The first course proper is the Buri / Galangal / Daikon. This is a familiar combination of soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger. It is a refreshing start with the Japanese yellowtail tartare (buri) being aged in kombu. Mix it all up with the house-blend of sesame dressing and pickled mustard seeds, and the galangal snow with light spice and bitter notes is literally the icing on the cake. The dish is further elevated with some Oscietra caviar.
The second course is inspired by oyster ‘hao bing’, “Aged” Beef / Oyster / Fried Bao. The chopped aged Wagyu beef from Japan is marinated with Sichuan peppercorns, homemade Sichuan-style chilli oil, and salt enrobed in a light aerated batter and flash-fried till golden brown. The ‘bao’ sits atop an Irish oyster emulsion and is topped with bresaola. It is an explosion of flavours in a few mouthfuls – the crisp texture of the batter, flavourful bits of the beef and the tinge of oyster emulsion along with a tinge of Sichuan spiciness which kicks in thereafter.
The third course is the Jerusalem Artichoke / Lily Bulbs / Caviar, where Jerusalem Artichoke is one of Chef Zor’s favourite vegetables. I am quite surprised that I enjoyed this dish as am usually not a big fan of artichoke, but I guess the delicious sauce helps as the artichoke is cooked with burnt butter chicken stock and blended with cream. Some bits of white chocolate is shaved tableside and the caviar adds that bit of good saltiness to the dish.
There is also Jerusalem artichoke skin served on the side and coated in maltose, and topped with Jerusalem artichoke puree. Nice crispy texture of the skin here which tastes even better if you dip into the sauce!
Next up is the Chicken Liver / Smoked Oil / Forest Mushroom, a dish which Chef Zor pays tribute to his mentor, Chef Andre Chiang. It is a take on Foie Gras Parfait where Chicken liver is used instead. The taste is an intense mousse-like texture where the forest mushrooms and blanched cubed celeriac help balance the intense flavour of the chicken liver. This is one of my favourite courses on the dinner menu.
The fifth course takes inspiration from Chef Zor’s time in Macau, a classic Sichuan dish ‘duo jiao yu tou’ (剁椒鱼头) – Monkfish / Fermented Capsicum / Chicken Fat. I love the mild Sichuan flavours here where the fish is served with fermented imperial chilli topped with a textural ‘Yu Mu Er’ (玉木耳) – jade fungus from Yunnan. The best bit is that it is finished with an emulsion of chicken fat and stock with green Sichuan pepper oil, slices of Green Horn Chilli ‘Er Jing Tiao’ (二荆条), and charcoal oil.
On to the sixth course, Fish Maw / Chinese Cabbage / Smoked Eel. Chef Zor applied a classic French chou farci technique to wrap smoked eel and cabbage in fresh barramundi fish maw, then the parcel is further enrobed in cabbage and another layer of caul fat before pan-searing. It is then topped with julienned raw cabbage stems and fried fish maw, so you get a contrasting texture of flavours. A nourishing and comforting dish with a delicious broth!
The seventh course is the Alaskan King Crab / Glutinous Rice / Crab Bisque. The glutinous rice balls here is inspired by ‘tang yuan’ (汤圆), and the chargrilled Alaskan King crab leg meat here is tossed with fermented yellow soy bean paste.
The glutinous rice balls are filled with crab miso, where the beautiful colouring is from beetroot and spinach juice. The dish is then finished with a luscious crab roe sauce, crab bisque and butter. I love how beautiful the colours of the ‘tang yuan’ is, and that crab bisque sauce is amazing.
The eighth dish is the Pigeon / Grains / Corn, which showcases a confit and bincho-grilled pigeon breast and leg served alongside chicken stock. Served along with barley risotto cooked in chicken stock, that delicious sauce is pigeon jus with fermented black bean and fresh green Sichuan peppercorns.
For pre-dessert, I had the Bird’s Nest / Osmanthus / Chrysanthemum, a refreshing double-boiled bird’s nest with osmanthus syrup, osmanthus sorbet, Japanese chrysanthemum jelly and Japanese chrysanthemum petals.
For dessert, the Toasted Rice / Chestnut / Sable is a pleasant surprise for me. A dessert with milk ice- cream, toasted rice cream, puffed rice, caramel, black garlic, sable, French chestnut puree, and Chinese candied chestnuts.
The icing on the cake is a sable tuile in a lotus-like shaped flower. I love the toasted rice flavour in the form of a toasted rice cream and while it sounds heavy, it is actually quite a light dessert on the palate. This dessert is also Chef Zor’s take on the classic Mont Blanc dessert.
Last but not least, Petit Fours is a take on ‘suan tian ku la’ (酸甜苦辣) where each spots a different sour, sweet, bitter and spicy flavour – Sea Buckthorn Jelly (Sour) / “Ispahan” Lotus (Sweet) / Bittergourd Bonbon (Bitter) / Spicy Beef Fat Financier (Spicy).
In terms of beverage, there is Wine pairing (S$198++) and an interesting Non-alcohol pairing (S$138++) which include a curated list of Born’s in-house ferments, and interesting and less-common tea brands such as the ‘Liu An Gua Pian’ (六安瓜片). Be surprised by how diverse the non-alcohol pairing can be, which I managed to try for this meal.
Rants Perhaps a little more theatrical display in terms of the food presentation will enhance the dining experience further. The full dinner experience will take about three to four hours, which may or may not be too long for some diners.
Will I Return Again? The service at Born is impeccable. Clear explanation of each dish by the staff, and the pacing of the courses is quite consistent too. I love the elaborate story and inspiration behind each dish, as well as Chef Zor’s idea of marrying Chinese and Asian elements behind the French cooking techniques to give it that contemporary twist. The flavour of each dish is also better appreciated if you learn about the philosophy and guiding principle behind it as the staff presents it. Will Born be the next Michelin Star restaurant in Singapore in time to come? I bet so.
This was an invited tasting, though all opinions expressed are our own.
Make your reservations instantly at Restaurant Born here.
Taste bud: 4/5
Hole in the pocket: 4.5/5
Overall Experience: 4/5
1 Neil Road
Tel: +65 9270 8718
Tuesday to Saturday: 6pm to 11pm
Closed on Monday & Sunday
Ranted by The Ranter
Great review! The name Jerusalem artichoke is actually a misnomer – they’re not related to artichokes at all!