Tetsuya’s Trusty Teppan – Waku Ghin, Singapore
Restaurant: Waku Ghin
Location: Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Chef: Tetsuya Wakuda
Rank: #70 in the world (2015)
My first real experience with degustation and creative cuisine was at Tetsuyas Sydney almost a decade ago. The idea of spending hours experiencing a meal of many, many courses and bite sized “tastes” was foreign and exciting (and also expensive at over $250 per person) but in the hands of Tetsuya Wakuda, one of Australia’s most reputable chefs and somewhat of a pioneer in fusion cuisine, it was pretty spectacular (and also has one of my Top 10 dishes of all time – Confit of Ocean Trout with crusted seaweed).
It is no wonder that Singapore came knocking and he opened his first restaurant outside of Australia at the spectacular Marina Bay Sands. Nestled well inside this monstrous construction, past the designer label shops and high above the popular casino; sits Waku Ghin, the cocoon-like hive, straight from the mind of this celebrated chef.
This trip to Singapore & Thailand was a 5 day, 6 restaurant adventure with Waku Ghin the first stop. We entered darkened restaurant, after a long walk through the Marina Bay Sands and were immediately greeted and led to our booth/cocoon (let’s call it a booth for now) which had six seats facing an expansive Teppan plate. I really love to watch chef’s prepare meals, so of course I’m a little thrilled already. We had our own wait staff dedicated to the booth so our every need was catered.
There’s two things that occurred in parallel this evening, so let me take you through it with the meal as the feature and the other in italics.
My meal is with Foodie Pookie, so we are quietly sitting chatting with each other as two in a room of six seats, another two people arrive (a Father and his newly graduated Daughter, great celebration, we nod and say hello, chat for a while and all is nice in the world). After what seemed like a long wait, the final two diners arrived (a couple from Australia) which was a little unfortunate as the meal was not able to start until everyone was seated with drinks, but sometimes these things can’t be helped.
The newly-arrived, flustered Australian couple are now talking loudly about how long it took to get to the restaurant, how they know “Tets” (I’m assuming they are abbreviating Tetsuya) and how they’ve dined at the restaurant many times. They seem complete unaware of the very patient chef who is waiting with respect at the Teppan plate. They ask a series of questions to the Father/Daughter who are between us and we wave say hello, which delays the start of the meal further.
We are shown a huge box of fresh seafood which was flown in today from all part of the world. This of course is to showcase the upcoming meal and also demonstrate the freshness of the ingredients (since some of it comes from Canada, Tasmania and Japan). The box is impressive and we are smiling thinking what awaits us over the next few hours.
Our rather loud dining companions are now grilling the Father/Daughter about their backgrounds, work, education and pretty much anything else that is none of their business. We are quietly keeping to ourselves and talking all things food (no surprises). Oddly this couple seem to want everyone to know how they know Tets personally, how they have travelled the world and dined at so many top restaurants. At this point, I smile with some fatigue at the patient chef and proceed to ask him about the meal that awaits us in order to achieve some redirection.
We start with some smaller, light seafood dishes including a beautiful poached Hamo (daggertooth pike conger) with Sudachi (Japanese citrus fruit) and Momo which was followed by a spectacular presentation of marinated Botan Shrimp with Sea Urchin and Oscietra Caviar (see the gallery) in a massive bowl and on top of crushed ice. I have struggled with sea urchin when eating in Japanese restaurants, I find the texture and flavour inconsistent and often too strong however this was fresh, cool and delicate with obvious treatment by top class kitchen staff. It was a strong start.
Oh hello again Australian couple, you now seem to want us all to know that you are rich and intelligent. Now you also want us to know how amazing your brilliant children are too … ok proceed. Now, I am known to wax lyrical about my talented offspring, but it is usually reserved for those who know me, not to random strangers who have paid almost $400 per person to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants. I’m confused and out of sorts now as my immersion in the Waku Ghin experience is being rapidly dissipated. But do, carry on.
The impressive Botan Shrimp dish is still in our minds when we are handed a simply plated dish of Ayu with daikon and fennel. It is almost like a palette cleanser with a small strip of pan-fried fish and fresh shredded daikon radish and vinegary fennel. The next small dish is Roasted Scampi with Ceylon Tea and is exquisite in presentation and once again delicately seasoned to be light yet delicious. The seafood is noticeably fresh and the accompaniments are not so overwhelming that is camouflages the flavours. The Teppan plate is now heated and our personal chef is back at the plate. Giddy up!!
I’m definitely a supporter of sustainable cuisine and love it when the chef sources or grows their food locally. Tonight however I am having my opinion tested with Waku Ghin especially since I’ve just realised that we have flown over 6,000 kilometres to dine on Tasmanian abalone. Seriously, I could have paid for my meal by transporting it for “Tets” in my carry on. Our lovely chef has scored it, is searing it to perfection on the Teppan plate and presents it on a base of fregola (Sardinian pasta) and cherry tomatoes. I’m nibbling at the silky abalone and it feels like I’m eating my sustainable words in the process. It’s good, really good.
Oh did we interrupt your dining discussion (that’s all about you) with our eating? Our dining companions are back bigger, louder and bolder that ever. This time it is about their property portfolio and how many arduous decisions have been made about where to buy and how big to buy. They casually throw in that Tets has been to dinner at one of their (inaudible) houses. I think something about private school was also mentioned but I am now engaging with the chef and listening to his learnings from working with Tetsuya. Far more interesting.
The chef is working the Teppan plate with Ninja skills, searing, slicing and wielding his spatulas like a pro. It is a fun and entertaining sight and no throwing of eggs or food at patrons of any kind which I deeply appreciate. The braised Canadian Lobster with Tarragon is not a particularly pretty dish however it has a great flavour with an ingredient I can’t quite put my finger on … maybe curry? The chef is now onto the next dish, so I don’t have time to ask and then completely forget because you know who is chattering a few seats away to my left.
Speaking of which, they’ve taken out photos of their uber-talented children, who are like the most amazing people on the planet and could rule the world if then chose to. No, I mean this is now beyond silly. The Father/Daughter pair are so polite and lovely and taking it all in by nodding, alot. I am actually starting to feel sorry for them since they have been on the receiving end of this one-sided chatter on a night, which we knew was immensely special as the daughter had just graduated with a degree in Medicine (congrats). Sigh, will it ever end?
After a succession of seafood dishes we are shocked with Japanese Ohmi Wagyu from Shiga Prefecture with Wasabi and Citrus Soy. If I was going to pick a dish I was not fond of, this would be it. I think I had enjoyed the meat from the sea so much that I wasn’t prepared to go back on land, especially for the last main dish. The chef did cook it with such precision and elegance, ensuring that the hot plate was kept pristine throughout the preparation, pretty impressive.
The format of the evening changed leading into the dessert courses (yes courses). Our wait staff informed us that we were to move to the soft lit main lounge/dining area to complete our meal. I tried to contain my relieved look.
Praise to the Tets! We have separation, repeat we have separation. Oh wait, you say you want to be seated with your new friends? We politely explain that we are having a couples night (no explanation needed really). Despite some quiet “oh no, that’s ok” our lovely Father/Daughter are whisked away to finish their desserts with the Australian Couple. All is hushed in the dining booth as we take a moment to soak in the serenity.
We politely thank our lovely chef and wait staff and move into the secondary dining room which has a lovely outlook over the pretty Singaporean city lights. Since this is also a special night for us, we are enjoying the dim lights, hushed chatter and lovely desserts of Granita of Kyoho Grapes (Cold and sweet) and Cremet D’anjou.
They’re back and ignoring the sanctity of the quiet dining room. Nope, nope, nope. A grin in forming on my face at the silliness of it all. I mean this is a couple who obviously gain enjoyment out of meeting new people. I must learn to play nice with other diners. Naughty Mookie.
We are surprised with a special dessert just for us compliments of the kitchen staff. A decadently, delicious chocolate mouse with vanilla and macadamia with a swirl of text written in chocolate saying happy anniversary. Awww, warm feelings are bubbling up and all the disruption in the past two hours is washed away.
I am smiling to myself and it catches the eye of the Daughter who quickly smiles back, closely followed by her Father. I nod again and mouth the words “congratulations” and she thanks me. It is a brief moment in time where the world seems to stop and strangers connect. It feels precious.
It has been an interesting night and on our travels back in the taxi we talk non-stop. I’m definitely not sold on Tetsuya’s choice of intimate yet shared dining, booth-style. However, the restaurant is a sumptuous experience from the outrageousness of flying food from thousands of kms away, the impressive and expansive Teppan to the elaborate preparation and plating. It is a performance-like dance which upon reflection fits perfectly with the multi-billion dollar Marina Bay Sands construction.