“Boring and bland” is the biggest misconception people often have about British food. Culinarily, its reputation pales in comparison next to its neighbours in the European continent. But this is changing. In the fine dining sphere, modern British gastronomy is taking the spotlight. This is characterised by a re-imagination of hearty classics, including Sunday roasts, fry ups, and yes, fish and chips.
In Singapore, one-Michelin-starred Jaan by Kirk Westaway is championing the fight. Shifting the focus away from French cuisine, he introduced the Reinventing British menu in a bid to reclaim his heritage through a contemporary culinary lens. This leap has certainly paid off — the restaurant escalated 12 places up on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list.
Like all of its seasonal menus, its latest winter edition is produce-driven. Many of these fresh ingredients are sourced from Westaway’s own home town in Devonshire, England, where his meals were cooked with freshly plucked herbs and vegetables from his garden. When one imagines Britain in the winter, one automatically thinks of the hearty comfort foods to tackle the bitter cold, and these warming flavours made it on the menu here in Singapore.
Right off the bat, the menu brings forth nibbles that are quintessentially British in name but virtually unrecognisable in appearance. A quadruplet of snacks are served on four-tiered concrete slabs. Pillowy morsels of beetroot meringue are followed by re-workings of British foods: Buckwheat pancakes stuffed with Devon cheddar cheese from Westaway’s town; a duck sausage roll delicately encased in thin spirals pretzel dough; and mini tartlets of fish and chips, made with potatoes and codfish bathed in milk.
A riff on a winter classic of potato and leek soup comes next. Served without a spoon, the umami-rich roast potato broth hits all the cosy spots particularly when cradled in your hands. It’s deliciously umami-rich with Scottish kombu seaweed base melded with roasted potato, mushroom stock, truffle trimmings and pure truffle juice.
For the main menu, the beautifully plated British Roots is a play of words and textures of the often under-appreciated root vegetables. Salt baked celeriac, aged roasted artichoke, and aged Joselito Ham tops chervil and parsley root. Artichoke soup is then poured over. Despite the assortment of textures and flavours, it is exceedingly light.
Next to arrive was the crowd favourite Scottish Langoustine. Gently cooked in a seaweed butter, it’s paired with a saffron spaghetti and finished with a char-grilled lettuce and a serving of brown butter. Chives offsets the dish’s rich flavours. A plump, poached kinmedai is served next with pumpkin served multi-ways: with its seeds and muscovado sugar in a crunchy granola, in a pickled pumpkin ribbon, and in a soup so laden with spices it brings to mind the creamy curries so loved by the British. As the finale for our mains, we sink our teeth into a juicy pigeon roasted in a crust. This is garnished with a baked onion stuffed with confit pigeon leg and foie gras and is finished with a rich roasted pigeon and foie gras sauce.
We pause for a palate cleanser that pays tribute to Ribena, the blackcurrant drink that isn’t just loved in Southeast Asia. The drink was created in 1933 in Bristol, just an hour away from Chef Kirk’s family home, and is turned into a light sorbet, coupled with lemon granita and fresh pomelo. To delight diners, a print of a vintage 1938 Ribena poster is served tableside.
Rounding off the meal is Westaway’s airy chestnut cake. Candied chestnuts deliver a delightful crunch, while orange marmalade, vanilla ice cream, English custard and a rich caramel sauce has us dreaming of a classic English Christmas. If you’ve still got room, don’t skimp on the final bite-sized sweets of banoffee pie, jaffa cakes, Devon cream tea biscuit sandwiches, and caramel almond. These are luscious, modern takes on traditional British sweets.
All photos are credited to Jaan