Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Waku Ghin, Singapore, or Credit Karma Brings Chow Crashing Down

"Dear Detective Chow," writes Sally from Enmore. "I noticed that you haven't written in your weblog for a while. Is everything alright? Did you get food poisoning or something? Also, I was wondering, what is the most expensive meal you have ever eaten?" -- Sally, Enmore, aged 11.
Well, Sally, thanks for writing.

First things first. Yes, everything is alright. No, I didn't get food poisoning. Just a severe reprimand following something the bureaucrats call "an audit of expenses." As punishment I have been relegated to eating at the F.S.I. canteen and investigating the lack of hot taps and hand sanitiser in restaurant kitchens. Not, I assure you, something worth blogging about.

I know what you're thinking. The answer to your third question also answers the question I'm sure you're dying to ask next: what is "an audit of expenses" and why did I get into such trouble?

Well, Sally, the thing you hopefully haven't learned yet in your short, innocent life, is that sometimes we do something we're not proud of. And we get away with it. So we do it again. And again. Bigger and bolder. And before you know it you're in Singapore throwing around fifties and slapping down your corporate credit card at the end of the evening.

Singapore. It's hot. But that's not the worst of it. It's the humidity, Sally. Thick wet air that hangs off your body like one of those sleeping bag blankets with arms. I'm not making excuses, Sally, but people do stupid things in this heat. Like visit the world's 68th best restaurant (11th in Asia), where you sit in a private dining room with your own chef manning the grill, without paying attention to the cost. (There is always a cost, Sally. See the exercise at the end of this post.)

"We'd like to introduce you to your dishes."

F.S.I. Sydney presents
Detective Chow in
(without the appropriate requisition forms)

Oyster and spinach flan: Hot, smooth, savoury and rich, but still allowing the flavour of the (pre-sliced) oyster to come through.

Sea urchin with shrimp and caviar: Creamy, subtle and divine. Prawns are sweet and firm, though it's all a bit tough to scoop up delicately with the pearl spoon.
Serving note: "Tetsuya always recommends sake and caviar together." And it's an excellent match indeed.

Japanese sea eel, zucchini, wasabi, and fois gras: Incredibly tender, and melts in your (my) mouth. The eel steals the show from the fois gras, though. Amazing and comforting.

Tasmanian abalone with asparagus: I came all this way for Australian produce? Asparagus is crunchy, though the abalone is a little chewy. It has a full flavour -- there is nothing subtle about this --  presented with a Chinese-style glutinous sauce and black pepper. Good overall, not quite a knockout, though the matched Pierro Chardonnay (Australian again, WA) is divine.

Lobster with butter and tarragon: The short version is "Wow!". The long version is juicy, tender meat which somehow manages to be rich and subtle at the same time. The bread soaks up the garlicky butter sauce and is incredible. And the lobster is Canadian, so at least something travelled further than I did to be here...

Tasmanian grass-fed beef with wasabi mustard: This Tasmanian (again?) grass-fed (hooray) beef is simple, smoky and amazing. Honestly. It jumps straight into the top 5 steaks I've ever had, joining the steak tartare at Marque and Atelier. Served with a beautiful red (a 2010 Chateauneuf du pape).

Japanese wagyu roll with onion chips, fresh wasabi and soy: Different to the Tassie beef dish (and served as a deliberate contrast), but almost equally good. This one is more of an 'experience' with the bits and pieces and freshly grated wasabi which affects the tongue but not the nose.

Rice, chicken consomme, red snapper: a fulfilling and warming broth, with rice and snapper (which is added raw and allowed to cook in the soup). It's delicious and simple. Not special, but it's not trying to be.
Gyokuro: a very expensive (we are told) green tea, served to represent umami. Very different to any other tea I've tried, and one that split the crowd 50/50.

And then we retired to the dessert room.
Can I please have a dessert room?
(Not pictured is a pre-dessert of a cold date soup, tonka bean ice-cream and orange: light, delicate, subtle. It was fun to attempt to pick out the myriad flavours, which I'm sure included coffee. It was served in the dessert room before I had a chance to recalibrate my evidence recorder.)

Pistachio ice-cream with raspberry and chantilly: Introduced as our "main dessert". It tastes as good as it looks. So, so good.
Petit fours and tea: Surprisingly ordinary petit fours. Nice and all, but why not stop after the spectacular 'main' dessert?

So, there you have it, Sally. My most expensive dinner. (I didn't have a fancy wedding; otherwise I'm sure that would have been the most expensive dinner. Elope, Sally. That's my advice.) Was it worth it? Well, yes. It was an amazing experience, and I probably can't go to Tetsuya's in Sydney now (yay, a saving of $210pp + matched wines...) because I've had the premium experience, sitting at the (well, a) chef's table. 

Having said that, I got the feeling from all the Australian produce squeezed between our (pre-soaked) chopsticks that Australians are not the target market. And the cost is probably comparable to some of the Australian restaurants in the top 50. I'm not saying don't go. But once is enough for me.

Now, if you'll excuse me Sally, I just got wind of a cafe without colour-coded washcloths. There is always a cost, Sally. There is always a cost.

Exercise 1: There is always a cost
Let's put cost into context here, Sally, with an exercise. You may wish to have a pencil and scrap paper handy. Imagine you're in Singapore, where one Singapore dollar is equivalent to about 80 Australian cents. Now imagine you are interested in dining at a fine establishment (or "celebrity restaurant" if you believe the sign), and enquire as to the cost of something simple. Say, water. I didn't do this, Sally, so I'm with you on this hypothetical journey. Now, imagine the maitre d (that's the person in charge of the 'front of house' of a restaurant, Sally, in case you don't speak posh or French) tells you it will cost twenty Singapore dollars per person for water. I know, Sally, I know, but you can't just drink the water out of the tap in Singapore, so it comes from a bottle. No, it just tasted like regular poor-people water. Well, what can I say? If you have to ask the price you can't afford to hydrate. Now:
a) Calculate how much the whole meal is likely to cost in Singapore and Australian dollars.
b) Calculate how many hours days you would have to work, at your current rate of pay, to afford this meal.
c) Calculate the chances of the bureaucrats at your work missing this sum of money if you charge it to your corporate credit card.

Now you have to ask yourself one question, Sally. But you're probably too young to know what that question is. Well, aren't you, kid?


  1. Aside from the expensive ordinary water I'd happily spend my hard-earned money in a meal like that, in a venue like that.

  2. Great pics and write up of your meal at Waku Ghin! I have been myself, yes it is expensive but worth it - a once in a lifetime meal. I still remember the sea urchin and prawn signature dish, some of the best seafood I have ever eaten! I actually prefer Waku Ghin over Tetsuya's. Being able watch the chef cook the food in front of your eyes is an experience I will never forget. If you are interested in my review, here's the link: http://foodmab.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/waku-ghin-singapore-15-june-2011.html


"Anything you do say may be used as evidence in a court of food."