The Mitchell Lin Guide: Nouri

A re-review of that new, high-concept eating place
by JUNK
Mitchell LinSeptember 14, 2018
Looking for a second opinion on that Michelin-starred restaurant people won’t stop talking about? Introducing the Mitchell Lin Guide, where JUNK re-reviews Singapore’s Michelin-rated dining establishments. 100% local. 100% honest.

Restaurant

Nouri

 Cuisine

Modern Fusion

What Mitchell Lin says...

“Nouri’s food is restrained and quite fine in its own way, but gets overshadowed by the contrived storytelling around it. Our suggestion: lose the corny narrative and focus on the food.”

 

Best for…

Taking it easy.

Worst for…

Trying too hard in all the wrong places.

The Food

Appetisers

The meal opened with Nouri’s Bread and Broth, a triptych of silken cheese and olive oil, vegetable broth, and sourdough bread. You mop up the lightly flavoured cheese curd with the bread and eat that with the ‘restorative’ vegetable broth, which was unexpectedly delicious and full-bodied. This seemed to be Nouri’s opening ritual for all guests and – caution – it comes with a sermon from the server that will send your eyebrows to the ceiling (see Service, below).

Mains

Things get properly underway with the Wild Rice Stem, a large, steamed stem of makmotake rice, served with a buttermilk gratin. Who knew that wild rice stem looked at tasted so much like asparagus? By and large, the sour-milkish, nutmeg-infused gratin dominates this dish, with some diced burdock adding a pungent kick of flavour. Annoyingly, it was only when we ate the last bit at the very end of the stem that we got the mild, grassy notes that bring it all together. That moment was nice, but surely it was just a bit too tight by half?

The Kanzuri and Carabinero that came next, however, lifted the meal up considerably, featuring exceptionally creamy pieces of carabinero prawn in a risotto made from the roasted prawn heads. We were expecting a prawny punch in the mouth, but it proved to be less heavy-handed than expected, more well-rounded and smooth. Given the richness of the main ingredient, it felt like the mature version of a dish that could have easily gone over the top.

After two more courses, we were getting the sense that the chef was testing the sophistication of our taste buds. The cooking was so dialled back that we wondered if he was playing a type of brinkmanship with our senses – “Let’s see how little we can allow them, how hard they can concentrate… on a Friday night.” Detractors might find the food boring; we would describe it as subtle and restrained. As mild as they are, there is a depth to way the chef arrives at his flavours. We also can appreciate a meal when it does not overwhelm; some of these tasting menu-style meals can do that to you.

And then, the main event arrived. Beef and Oils – sounds positively paleo, but what was placed before us ended up looking more like an edible psychedelic painting. Needless to say, we were quite curious to see how it delivered on the tongue. Would the exuberant presentation translate into taste? Had the mildness of the entire meal merely been building us up to this fireworks of flavour?

No. If we were to be generous, we would call it the most restrained dish of the evening – a little bit too much so. The beef was so blue that it just tasted raw. We mopped up the splotches of pepper paste and aromatic oils with the beef, hoping the sauces would add dimension to the dish, but… nothing really. While other dishes gave us restraint and subtlety, this one just gave us the uneasy feeling of not “getting” the cooking here. All we can say is that it was an extremely quiet dish, one that maybe even recalls the milky smell of uncooked beef fat. (You know what we’re talking about, we’re not weird).

Dessert

Things then picked up considerably when the dessert courses arrived. Chef Brehm seemed to have allowed himself to stretch his legs here to much success. The Banana and Passionfruit was inspired – the brightness of the passionfruit working suavely alongside mellow notes of honey and toasted oats. Simple, precise, delicious.

The Peanut Soup was more adventurous and succeeded in combining a dense version of the familiar Chinese dessert with a light sorbet of aged mandarin and bits of confit orange. It was the most overtly “fusion-y” thing on the menu, and steered clear from being trite or patronising by delighting with every spoonful. Call it “crossroads cooking” (which Nouri’s pretentious website does) or call it “fusion”, we didn’t really care when we put the bowl down. We could have eaten several rounds of this, with the first half of the meal gently fading into the background.

The Extras...

Ambience

It is unclear what the ambience of Nouri wants to be. It looks hushed from the front, but then you’re led to the back where a member of staff tells you that they want to evoke the feeling of eating at a friend’s house. Somehow, this translates to eating at a large stone counter where they also prepare the food. With the staff to provide some lively energy, this almost passes, but everything also feels a bit too much like a production to be believable. The interiors also say less of “friend’s house” and more of “money oddly spent”; point-in-case, the overtly “contemporary” Roll & Hill chandelier that clashes bizarrely with the Tay Bak Chiang on the wall. At least, a soundtrack of New Wave guilty pleasures placates our inner 80s child somewhat.

Overheard

Not much apart from an over-loud, screeching “Eh?!? Heeeelloooooooooo…”, spoken in the tones that only the arrivisté can muster when trying to be fabulous while greeting friends.

Service

Forgive us if we seem a bit harsh, but the patronising opening monologue that was delivered before the first course made our hair stand on end. People who pay upwards of $100 a head for food don’t need to be lectured on the history of the restaurant, the validity of nourishment (hence, “Nouri”), or the call to ‘break bread’ in a place where the paying customers and staff don’t know each other. Points for the enthusiasm, but to have the young chirpy crew deliver the sermon by rote just felt awful and embarrassing, no matter how earnest. There’s an old saying that might apply here: show, don’t tell. You aren’t going to reinvent the restaurant experience simply by saying so.

Price

$$$$$

One of the worst things about Mitchell Lin is how normal these prices are starting to seem. Par for the course for this type of dining.

 
 

Bread and broth and bad "poetry".

A thing that doesn't look like asparagus, but tastes like it.

Ah, this glassy prawn, that creamy risotto. An actual delight.

Tastes like it looks. Confusing.

The old "fruit as serving bowl" trick – pretty hackneyed, luckily it tasted good.

Mmm... visually appealing, delicious and the most fusion dish in this "crossroads" dinner. Should Nouri just do desserts?

Yet another affectation – the bill appears in the mouth of a croaking frog. What are we supposed to do, call for the waiter with it?

"Like you're dining at a friend's house..." Ehh... not quite?

Photos taken with the Huawei P20 Pro.


 
 

Read the rest of the Mitchell Lin Guide here.

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