When the masterminds behind one of the world’s best bars (Jigger & Pony ranks nine on World’s 50 Best and second on Asia’s 50 Best), people pay attention. On the Wednesday that we popped in, just three weeks into its opening, Rosemead was already heaving with a buzzy crowd of industry folks, society ladies and creative high-flyers.
If Jigger & Pony Group were to set up its latest concept in a shophouse, a hotel or a prime dining enclave, it would not, perhaps, seem quite as remarkable: just another one of those casual fine-dining establishments with an open kitchen, unfinished walls, copper accents and a long wine list. But here, context matters. Rosemead has taken over The Black Swan, Lo & Behold Group’s sultry-glamorous restaurant-bar housed in a 1920s heritage building that once saw a life as a bank. Jigger & Pony Group has big shoes to fill, literally. Together with longstanding design partner Hui Designs, it turned the previously dark cavernous space into a warm, bright 80-seat dining hall replete with neutral colours, soft furnishings and natural light coming through the windows. There is also an open hearth built right in the middle of the restaurant, which, by some engineering feat, doesn’t raise the temperature of the room (but you can feel the heat if you stand right in front of the kitchen). The transformation is night and day, and the backstory really makes the experience.
Helming the hearth is Asian-American chef David Tang, who grew up in Rosemead, Los Angeles. The restaurant is an ode to his roots. Like many of the most interesting chefs in Singapore today, he cut his culinary teeth working in Michelin-starred establishments, including the two-star Mélisse in Santa Monica and the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group in the States. Before opening Rosemead with Jigger & Pony Group, he was making New-Italian food at Caffe Fernet. Here, he cooks primevally, with an open fire and a deep respect for the produce he uses, which are mostly local and sustainable.
It all sounds very tasteful and hip, but there is no doubting the shine and polish in chef Tang’s “modern Californian” offerings. We start with box-fresh starters: a grass-fed wagyu tartare seasoned with Cambodia’s prized Kampot pepper and a Thai powder mix, accompanied by raw lettuce leaves and flower petals to wrap the meat in, a la Korean BBQ. Next is a pared-down California Maki with mangrove crab tartine wrapped in slices of avocado. The amalgamation of fresh, ethnic flavours in these plates sets the stage for the rest of our dinner, which really is an education in Californian cuisine.
With an open hearth as the restaurant’s centrepiece, the “Cooked Over Orange & Lychee Wood Embers” section is, naturally, the highlight of Rosemead’s menu. We have the slow-cooked wagyu short ribs that disintegrate in your mouth after being braised for 48 hours. It comes covered with aromatic black truffle shavings and a rich bone marrow emulsion. This is truly decadence served. There’s also a seasonal grilled fish (Ora King Salmon was on the menu) with earthly chioggia beets and herbaceous, citrusy chermoula for a delightful riot of contrasting flavours and textures.
But what gets me verging on breathless are the vegetables and grains – specifically the Chitose Farm tomatoes and basil with cracklings, and the most exquisite dinner rolls I’ve ever had. The former features a bunch of juicy tomatoes that will reinvigorate you with its spicy dressing and sweet-sprightly insides, coupled with crunchy pork skin. That glorious, fluffy milk bread, slathered with a smoky mushroom-bacon glaze and served with shiitake-infused whipped butter, is courtesy of pastry chef Elena Pérez de Carrasco, who has worked with Joël Robuchon and Jason Atherton in Europe, as well as Singapore restaurants like Iggy’s, Artemis Grill & Sky Bar and Preludio.
Her culinary pedigree also comes through in the desserts, all of which are proper pieces of pastry work. Strawberries and cream gets an earthy edge in a dish of plump Japanese-style strawberries from Chitose Farm paired with heirloom beetroot sorbet and a pool of vanilla crème fraîche. S’mores come to mind in the crowd-pleasing Burnt Honey Meringue and Malted Milk Chocolate tart that bookended our meal. With goods this good, it’s hard not to have high hopes for Rosemead’s soon-to-open bakery and takeaway counter, which will of course be headed by chef Pérez de Carrasco.
To drink, get principal sommelier Marcus Tan (an Odette and Euphoria alumni) to recommend Californian wines, which he hopes to have more of, in time. Otherwise, be spoiled for choice with the 170 label-strong list that also includes European names. Or – psst – head upstairs to the revived Sugarhall when it reopens for your postprandial cocktails.
Rosemead, 19 Cecil Street, Singapore 049704