After modern Australian restaurant Whitegrass opened at Chijmes in 2016, the fine-dining circle waxed lyrical about the stellar food produced by chef-owner Sam Aisbett who used to work with Sydney’s venerable Peter Gilmore (Quay) and Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya’s). The media gushed about his inventiveness and flair for fusing produce both local and farther afield (mostly Japan and Australia) in interesting ways.
So when we first visited the elegant restaurant, we had rather high expectations. We weren’t let down. Aisbett thinks outside of the box (and far beyond) for his creations. He cleverly uses ingredients in the most unexpected ways, and finds success. He focuses on clean yet distinct flavours, interplayed with different textures.
Take the dessert: shredded milk with honey. He first dries milk into thin layers, and shreds the sheets of milk by hand. The edible confetti is then showered over a plate of Hokkaido milk jelly, milk ice cream and honey from Thailand.
Much thought has been put into the presentation of the amuse-bouche of mini salted water crab from Japan coated in XO sauce and salted egg, alongside delicate “egg tarts” topped with glistening caviar and “egg white caviar”. This sets the tone for the rest of the meal. Aisbett’s starter of roasted
and pickled white vereduna beetroot with hamachi fish – thinly sliced, layered and shaped into a rose, and placed atop a bed of land caviar or tombori seeds – is exceptional in taste and texture. To flavour the fish, he laces it with organic soya mirin dressing that’s smoked, along with toasted nori oil.
Most would think a salad of young veggies (think peas or French beans) is unexciting. But Aisbett’s version is anything but banal. He weaves in smoked eel, pistachios, toasted oat crisp and soft white Chinese fungus for textural contrast.
The piece de resistance, however, is the roasted iberico pork jowl neatly wrapped in black Chinese moss and pan-fried till crisp. This rectangular parcel is teamed with ribbons of scallop “silk”, soft white turnip cream, and delicate silken tofu, as well as given an umami boost with a sublime pork and seaweed broth. There seems to be a lot of things happening on this plate, but everything is beautifully cohesive.
We also revelled in the Australian pasture-fed Black Angus beef partnering well-thought-out accompaniments like buah keluak puree, fried pumpernickel, fiddlehead fern and monk’s beard ( a type of green shoot).
(RELATED: We had our eye on Whitegrass since its opening.)
The personable Aisbett regularly comes out to serve diners and have a chat with them. His service staff too are unstuffy, affable and knowledgeable. All this adds to a truly memorable dining experience.
#01-26/27 Chijmes, S(187996)