Age is often a reliable indicator of ability in restaurant kitchens. The older the chef, the more experience and opportunities he has to refine his palate and skills. Twenty-four-year-old Johnston Teo at the recently opened Sorrel bucks the generalisation. In this young executive chef, quality and respect for ingredients come together with sound technique and knowledge of what works in the Singapore food scene.
A look at his credentials tells us why. The Malaysia-born Teo has been a kitchen regular since he was 18, sharpening his knives at some of Singapore’s best restaurants, from Pollen to Tippling Club and Jaan. That’s until the Unlisted Group, a cluster of F&B brands by entrepreneur Loh Lik Peng, roped him in to head its newest venture.
Shadows of his former workplaces can be seen at this 40-seater restaurant. The food is unmistakably fine dining, yet the ambience is hip. Here, the trendiness of Tippling Club, with its mix of counter seats and standard tables and chairs, coalesces with the tenderly prepared produce of Jaan.
While Teo may not match the finesse of Jaan’s Julien Royer – at least not yet – a few dishes demonstrate his culinary potential. The dessert of parsnip is a perfect harmony of creamy white chocolate, hazelnuts and earthy parsnip sorbet, offset by a tinge of umami from black olives.
Then, there’s the roasted baby chicken with maitake mushrooms, asparagus and a savoury chicken jus that pairs with a sweet onion puree. The breed Teo uses is the French Naked Neck, known for its pronounced flavour. His choice of baby chicken is clever as the meat is juicier and softer – we could eat it on its own without the jus or onion puree.
But not all dishes are as well-thought out. The scallop with carrots and almonds comes with an unnecessary slab of pan-seared foie gras underneath the mollusc. It distracts from the otherwise perfectly cooked scallop, which can stand on its own.
It’s a minor snag and Sorrel is still worth a trip. The executive chef may be young but, with youth, comes the promise of a career that’s just taking off. We expect greater things to come.
21 Boon Tat Street, www.sorrel.sg