At Jaan by Kirk Westaway, the best seats in the house are the tables by the windows. From the 70th floor, they offer an IMAX experience of the Singapore economic machine purring away: speck of cars crawling in and out the imposing Marina Bay Sands, cargo ships bobbing off the country’s southern coast.
But when you eat at the two Michelin-starred restaurant, ask for the tables in the middle of the room. Without the view as a distraction, you’re compelled to focus on the quiet force that is Jaan’s dishes. The deceptively simple plating whispers for your attention, the ingredients take turns to unfurl all their capabilities. During a recent lunch of their autumn menu, I felt pity for the diners missing out on the view. In hindsight, I was wrong.
This mastery is expected from upscale French and Italian establishments in Singapore, but less informed diners might hesitate when you call yourself a fine-dining British restaurant, such as Jaan. “British cuisine has had a bit of a misconceived negative connotation for a long time as most assume it is very heavy on the palate, dense and not very tasty,” said Jaan’s executive chef Kirk Westaway.
It could be a matter of exposure. Search for British food here, and Google offers fish and chips, pubs, and something called the British Indian Curry Hut. But Westaway has been slowing sculpting his image of modern British cuisine ever since he took over the restaurant from Julien Royer (now of Odette and Claudine) in 2016.
One way he does this is by elevating comfort food. Juicy guinea fowl with chicken skin crust, for instance, is a joyful, luxurious riff on fried chicken. A delicate snack of tapioca chip with hummus, cumin and black olive feels like an authority of Mediterranean cuisine. Meaty cuts of Cornish sea bass, balanced on top of a sweet scallop, melt away instantly.
Nostalgia is another Westaway trick. Roast leek and potato soup, served with an airy buckwheat waffle for dunking, is a warm, comforting hug. Paper thin rolls of salt baked beetroot is earthy and sweet, like the woods after a rain. Scottish lobster with crunchy hispi cabbage is incredibly nutty and rich. It was also one of the more difficult dishes to get right, said Westaway.
“The Scottish lobster did take a few iterations and refinements to get to its perfectly cooked form,” he explained. “It entails various cooking methods to create a subtle sheen on the lobster, while ensuring that it doesn’t become rubbery in texture. This is achieved by blanching the lobster in its shell, and then braising it at a low temperature in a deep tub of caramelised butter.”
Then there are dishes that remind you of Jaan’s British leanings. A snack of cucumber meringue is ethereal and deeply herbaceous. The palate cleanser is a cheeky take on the gin and tonic with cucumber sorbet, lemon jelly and a splash of Hendrick’s Gin poured table side.
Dessert is a coffee and caramel cake spiked with chocolate shards. It’s an architectural marvel with toffee notes, much better to savour than the concrete spires outside Jaan’s windows.