When you’re stuck in a rut, what you need is a change of view. A new name. A fresh perspective.
That’s exactly what’s providing the spark at VUE – which until early last year was known as Me@OUE. Opened in 2013, it wasn’t quite about me or you, but a split-personality restaurant that believed it was a Chinese, Japanese and French restaurant all at the same time. It had the logic of an ice cream shop owner who asks why you need to choose between red bean, matcha or Valhorna chocolate when you can get a triple scoop in a cone.
Maybe it made sense at the time, but that ice cream has long since melted, along with the appeal of a three-in-one kitchen that pushed out all cuisines but was a master of none.
But that’s in the past. Some self-reckoning later and we now have VUE, which, like its name suggests, banks on a drop-dead view of the Marina bayfront – and a menu with a stronger sense of identity.
Taking up the sprawling penthouse of OUE Bayfront, VUE is all drama from the moment you step out of the lift into the near-pitch darkness of a long hallway, barely illuminated by the soft lighting from within the walled wine cellar. Keep your iPhone flashlight – you’re in a fine dining restaurant, not tracking your car in a dark open-air parking lot. The aura is deliberate, and the objets d’art you pass by designed to impress, and anyway a reception desk bathed in a burnished orange glow isn’t far off.
The high arched ceiling invites cathedral-worthy awe in a decor that’s a softer take on a gentlemen’s club. If you work in the area, there’s an alfresco bar offering cocktails and charcuterie platters.
But for the real food, sample the skills of head chef Sam Chin, who has crafted a pared-down menu with an emphasis on grill-cooking. But he also flexes his cooking chops in the S$108 tasting menu, which is priced decently enough that you can add on supplements or ala carte items without too much wallet damage.
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Oysters will make a slight dent at S$48 for half a dozen of French La Friandise that are fairly meaty and minerally, firm with a pleasant finish. If you want to splurge, the Spéciale Geay from Aquitaine at S$10 a pop tastes like a Japanese oyster had a fling with a French mollusc, spawning a hybrid that has the fleshiness of the former and the pronounced flavour of the latter.
We are also served focaccia enriched with fat released from grilling the A5 Emperor “Kokuou” wagyu that only VUE gets to sell exclusively in Singapore. More on that later, but it gives the focaccia the edge over regular multigrain bread – smother both with homemade truffle butter while you’re at it.
The danger is stuffing yourself during the long wait for the appetisers, which finally come after we’ve scanned almost every inch of the sky-high view and started to count the petals of the phalaenopsis orchids decorating the wall opposite.
Thin curls of smoked Challans duck breast coil themselves around charred leeks and roasted red peppers, with a saltiness that’s easily balanced out by the sweetness of honey mustard dressing. Hamaguri – Japanese clam – puts on a cloak of squid ink batter and is deep-fried into a tempura sandwich for a satisfying crunch that ends with a tender bite of the sea. A blob of lightly whipped smoked eel mousse threatens to overstay its welcome, but perky shots of acidity from Amera tomatoes keep up the interest. Bafun uni completes the Japanese scenario.
A pale porcini risotto has little colour but plenty of substance, hitting the sweet spot between firm and chewy, not the almost chalky al dente rice texture that Italians prefer. Chef Chin leans towards the Asian palate and we approve. You can taste the mushrooms rather than imagine them, and the wobbly pan-fried miso-marinated foie gras is a good match if undercooked in the middle. If you want to add S$8, you get a grilled lobster tail – slim but fresh and sporting a nice char, enveloped in a passive-aggressive creamy bisque that’s too intense and salty, with a vague powdery aftertaste.
Fat lamb chops and binchotan coals are happy bedfellows, as the chef sends them out pretty in pink, juicy and sizeable, not like the indifferent skinny cutlets that we’re used to. A bed of lentils boosts your fibre intake. It’s good enough that you don’t actually need to splurge the extra S$38 for a serving of Kokuou wagyu, but it’s better than shelling out upwards of S$108 for it ala carte.
The USP here is that VUE buys the whole cow, so it can be traced to the actual farm it comes from. It’s grilled simply here, with just a jus reduction, and pink meat with the requisite fat that makes it buttery soft.
Between the prickly pear sorbet and chocolate torte, the latter earns its S$6 premium for its dense, sticky chewy chocolate ganache on crumbly feuilletine and vanilla ice cream. You can take it more seriously than the sorbet, a bimbo in pink with airy-fairy cake squares, gummies, meringue wafers and strawberry sauce – pleasant but transient.
This dessert may be lightweight but VUE itself isn’t. It’s grounded with common sense and a simple objective – to showcase beautiful surroundings and a safe but well-curated menu that sticks to the basics, with some flair. At this rate, it can go nowhere but up.
Level 19, OUE Bayfront, 50 Collyer Quay. Singapore 049321. Tel: 8879 0923
This article was originally published in The Business Times.