As the George Michael song reminds us, you gotta have faith. We’d invited a handful of KOLs (key opinion leaders) and fine folks about town for a dinner to the untested, untried but highly anticipated Écriture. Prior to its opening we’d attended an Art Basel cocktail party at the venue, but at that time it was stripped of furniture and decor. So when we sauntered in one warm, balmy evening for a sit-down seven-course dinner tasting menu, this new establishment was an as-yet-unknown entity.
The words fusion has been bandied about by well-meaning PRs but if you’ve ever had a “curry croissant” in a dodgy airport, you take the words East meets West with an eye roll. A happy marriage of Japanese and French cuisine at the altar of blind faith? Here’s hoping.
The literature on Écriture certainly suggests pure gold: the new restaurant is headed by executive chef Maxime Gilbert (formerly chef de cuisine at Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental).
A cursory glance over the multiple-course “Library of Flavours” menu and our eyes pause at the word “Kinki”. What place does that have on a menu? It turns out to be a deep-sea perch with a vividly red body and large eyes and mouth, that lives at depths of 150-1,200 metres. Also encouraging is the fact that Écriture belongs to Le Comptoir dining group, along with perennial favourite Bibo, which bodes well for our cosy gathering.
First to arrive at the appointed hour is Alan See and his glamorous missus Alexa Bui. See, co-founder of menswear emporium The Armoury, is one of the most impeccably well-dressed men in the city with a fantastic following of like-minded debonair gents and gentlewomen. Bui, a make-up artist we’ve loved working with, arrives with equal flourish and her shoes and matching ostrich bag don’t go unnoticed by stylist Veronica Li, who walks in soon after with her banker husband Lucas Cheung. Model Kenta Sakurai is the last to arrive. A fusion in himself, being of Japanese and Mexican heritage, he’s also social-media star with a loyal Instagram following.
As glasses of Ruinart are poured, we kick off our first round of conversation with a simple query: how did you all get so many followers? “Well,” says Sakura, skipping the champagne and sticking to sparkling water, “I’d done a lot of commercials and television spots in Thailand, and once you’re on TV a large number of fans will follow you. The engagement levels are very high there so when they see a post, they hit the ‘like’ button to let you know they saw you.”
Li follows a similar line of thought. “I’ve worked around Asia and each country has its own style of fan-following. I’ve been in the industry for so long – more than a decade – and posts about fashion and accessories are always popular, followed by food I think.
You know,” she says, turning to Bui, “I think I first met you while working with [fashion blogger] Cindidy years ago … ”
“Yes, long ago – before my babies,” nods Bui, who confesses she’s happy to have a quiet date night with hubby before the next day’s epic birthday party for her three-year-old daughter. “I’m all about kids’ parties this week. I’m thrilled this dinner started early so I can be home at a decent hour. I’m also glad there are no kids around here tonight!”
As we look around the venue, the guests are slowly trickling in and by sunset it’s pretty much a full house. It’s clear that this isn’t going to be an easy place at which to score a reservation, so we might as well luxuriate with golden bubbles in hand. The first thing that greets guests when the lift doors slide open is a wall of books and the italicised word écriture (it’s French for “writing”), which derives from Korean artist Park Seo-Bo’s abstract expressionist series – his work dominates the private dining room, including a large red piece made from Japanese rice paper that I clumsily touch. That brings the staff rushing in to tell us it cost at least six figures, so hands off! “Thank God I didn’t bring the kids. They’d be all over it,” says Bui.
That keeps us giggling through the amuse-bouches till the first course arrives, when the camera-phones are pulled out for snaps of the raw amaebi and prawn tail served with a delicate red-onion jelly and beetroot feuillantine. “I think I got the perfect light,” says Sakurai, who somehow got a lightbulb directly above him so his posts look studio-lit. “It’s so pretty, I don’t want to it eat it – but I will,” he says.
As See removes his tie – even the most dapper chap needs to unbutton now and again – he explains how his customers first follow his store on social media and then him – hence his large Instagram following. “I post a lot – well, that doesn’t sound right – I do regular posts. It’s always somehow related to The Armoury, it’s very specific, it’s our suits, our ties, our accessories, watches and shoes. It’s like an online portfolio and look-book to showcase what’s new. I don’t really think I have crazy numbers compared to your average celeb. We’re not
a multinational corporate. We have one store, so a public platform helps to showcase what we’re selling.”
White wines are brought out before our second course, but Sakurai begs off yet again, saying he’s sworn off alcohol. Jaws drop and eyebrows are raised in curiosity. “But only for a year,” he qualifies. “I’m trying to be healthy. There’ve been too many parties and clubbing events recently, so I’m trying to control myself.”
“I could never do that,” says Li as she ponders abstaining from wine. “My job makes me drink – the lifestyle posts and the invitations to hotels and restaurants, it’s part and parcel of the job.”
Then a waiter appears and presents sets of the most exquisitely carved cutlery. “Ladies and gentlemen, I brought some knives,” he says, opening a box. “They’re made in France, where it’s a tradition that people get knives from their fathers and grand-fathers, so you have your own monogrammed knife with you for the rest of your life. We want to continue this tradition – but we’re giving you your knife just for tonight. These knives are different: we have eight pieces here where the cutting edge is on the long side – not on the short side. So please, choose your knife and be careful.”
Everyone picks their favourite as the kuro awabi (spot prawn, with a mildly sweet taste), abalone with beef ham and eggplant purée arrive. Each of us carefully holding a lethally sharp weapon, we slice through the dish with the ease of a hot knife on butter. Delectable.
We continue where we left off regarding social media. “As your following gets larger, you get an equal amount of good and bad comments. You learn to smile at the compliments and to laugh off the trolls!” says Li. “It’s super creepy when you get DMs [direct messages] and people send you, um, pictures.”
“Oh, it’s happened to me, too,” says See. “You get some weird stuff man!”
Before he elucidates further and we lose our appetites, the next dish arrives: beautifully presented Hokkaido scallops, contisée with black truffle and cooked in a crispy beignet with celery-root purée (topped with shaved hazelnuts). It tastes even better than it looks, which can’t be said of all fine-dining establishments in Central. Bui mentions a popular cake shop in the neighbourhood: “I think between the fondant and the marzipan, in making the pastry look good, they sacrifice taste – twice I’ve ordered from them, and been disappointed each time.”
What doesn’t disappoint? The cauliflower and white-chocolate mousse, with Schrencki caviar, confit taiyouran egg yolk and lemon cloud, yet another dish that continues to whet the appetite. If you’re not sure what a “lemon cloud” is, it’s a tangy aftertaste that keeps you taking yet another bite so as to ascertain its origin.
The dishes keep on coming. Royal schrencki caviar is the pickled roe from a mature, eight-year-old sturgeon, sustainably farmed in China. But if any dish is going to get this establishment its own golden star, we’re placing our bets on the milk-fed lamb with miso topped with lamb floss, cabbage and morel.
“Oh my God, that’s incredible,” says Li. “I haven’t seen make-up with the perfect shade of pink this lamb has!” Although we each have our own carving knife, a fork is quite sufficient to ease out the tender meat from the bone.
While we ponder whether there’s still room for dessert, the most decadent chocolate desserts arrive on plates that resemble books. Ever conscious of his waistline, Sakurai surveys a slab of chocolate tart. “No, I don’t think I can eat any more,” he begins. “Well, maybe just a bite.”
As he’s so easily tempted, we place bets that his year of abstinence is destined for epic failure. What’s sure to succeed, on the other hand, is the absolutely exquisite Écriture, a masterpiece we couldn’t have written better ourselves.