It was a rather serendipitous turn of events over the past few months that led to the latest buzz surrounding one of Singapore’s top restaurants. From the surprise shutting of Joel Robuchon’s Singapore outposts just shy of seven months after the iconic chef’s young protege Vianney Massot took over at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, to an equally unexpected offer for Bacchanalia’s Luke Armstrong to work in Japan.
He says that it is also his passion to be close to the ingredients he works with and while that limited the options to countries like the United Kingdom, France and Japan, Armstrong confeses that he also wants to stay in Asia.
(Related: It's Goodbye To Joel Robuchon In Singapore)
Taking over as executive chef when he leaves his post at the end of the month is 26-year-old Massot who brings to the table notable experience working with the Robuchon group. And looking a little further into Bacchanalia's history, it’s also easy to appreciate the pedigree he complements and which the restaurant has flaunted over the years, starting with Ivan Brehm who spent four years at the restaurant, then dubbed The Kitchen At Bacchanalia, leading it to its first Michelin star two years ago. Brehm left rather abruptly at the end of 2016 but returned only months later to open Nouri, which earned its first Michelin-star in July.
Armstrong took advantage of the opportunity to establish and grow his style of cuisine while maintaining the restaurant's commitment to quality dining. “Through his guidance, the restaurant has managed to retain its status as a one-Michelin-starred restaurant for two consecutive years,” asserts Lim Kian Chun, co-founder of the Ebb & Flow Group, which took over ownership and management of Bacchanalia in January 2018.
Armstrong did share how he had wanted to challenge himself further and was contemplating his next move about six months ago. He could not, however, share details about the restaurant he would be heading except that it is in a hotel in Tokyo, Japan.
“For me, if Bacchanalia is successful, so am I… and so is Ivan,” Armstrong continues. “So we need to continue this legacy; from where we were two years ago, (the restaurant) is getting stronger and more consistent—we are now full for dinner and that was never a thing."
Lim affirmed their aspiration for the restaurant to earn a two-Michelin-star rating, something Armstrong remains confident will happen.
“There’s no reason why you can’t get two stars or three stars in Singapore, and we’ve got a chef (Massot) who can do it here; so, it’s not that ‘I couldn’t get it here, so I looked somewhere else’," he adds.
What the restaurant needs moving forward, he explains, is a “hungry” chef, which was why it was “a no-brainer” when Massot showed interest after dining at Bacchanalia in June.
"We are not a restaurant serving avant-garde food, we are a restaurant serving the best seasonal produce. I think the transition from Ivan to me to Vianney is completely different, so from a customer’s point of view, the star was awarded for good cooking, that’s all,” he clarifies.
Despite his young age, Massot's experience working with Chef Joel Robuchon, who passed on at the age of 73 on Monday (August 6), is not to be underestimated. “Mr Robuchon was the most respected figure in the culinary world … and my greatest teacher and mentor,” shares Massot, who had been honing his craft under Robuchon’s tutelage the last nine years.
He adds that while Michelin stars are important to the restaurant, the guests' experience and pleasure come first. This ensures return customers—even if they come back, for example, just to savour his gratin de macaroni with black truffes and celery again.
His cuisine style, as far as direction and technique are concerned, remains undeniably French, but he says there will be some Asian inflections with the aim of using the best and freshest produce. He hopes to have a garden to grow some vegetables locally but appreciates how close some of the finest ingredients are to Singapore.
“The daikon from Japan, for example, is amazing, and I love to use hamadai; I also like to use kinki fish because it is similar to the rouget-barbet,” he expounds.
Massot did consider staying and growing with the Robuchon group, but as a young chef hungry for more, he saw an opportunity to strike out on his own and establish his “own identity”. He admits that it he is a little young to be doing this but thinks it is good for his future.
“You don’t need to have a big restaurant,” he elaborates. “I want to make this a comfortable place, an intimate (space).”
The number of covers, he posits, could be reduced from 28 to 25 after the renovation. The restaurant will also boasts a better focus on wines complete with a master sommelier behind the larger list of wines, which will include premium pours as well as “comfortably priced” alternatives.
The restaurant is slated to re-open in mid-September after a short renovation starting September 1. The menu is still being planned and will be dependent on the produce available. Massot didn’t reveal more but added that it is his intention to keep the menu a surprise.
Speaking of which, as part of Armstrong’s grand farewell and to thank guests for their support, daily surprise menus, from three-course lunch offers to a four-course dinner spread, are availabe until August 26.
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