Chef Leandros Stagogiannis may be a bear of a man with a balloon of frizzy hair to match (think Hagrid from Harry Potter!), but he has nimble fingers when it comes to food plating, and the sharpest of taste buds to match.
The Chef is not a newcomer to our shores, but he’s kept a pretty low profile during his three years at Restaurant 53. Now, with his debut as the new Chef de Cuisine at Saint Pierre, he seems ready for the spotlight.
I had the opportunity recently to sample the Spring Menu he developed. Its first entrée, Salmon Roll with Scallop Mousse, was a tad predictable but nevertheless a refreshing teaser for the taste buds. Happily, there was a lot more to come.
Foie gras had always been Saint Pierre’s calling card -- the must-try ingredient that showcases the restaurant’s technique and creativity. In the foie gras dish of the Spring Menu, Chef Stagogiannis used caramelized green apples and old port sauce to develop a tri-layered note for the nose as well as the tongue. The first bite delivered two sensations at once: the sweetness, mellowness, and richness of the old port sauce, and the tartness of the green apple. The rich and creamy taste of foie gras rounded off the symphony; three layers of flavor melding into a titillating orgy on the tongue. Sexy, mature, and exciting!
Next, the colorful heirloom vegetables of the dish, Heritage, delighted the eye and palate as each vegetable entered the mouth. The red and ‘limp’ watermelon was the biggest surprise: frozen, then pressed steamed, each stage of preparation had changed the taste and texture of the watermelon; the end result was a fruit with the texture of liver, yet with intense sweetness. While I reckon you can call it a dessert, to me the watermelon better served as complement to the rest of the vegetables, such as the yam and parsnip fries in hazelnut butter.
I ordered the dish, Le Jardin, on a whim. It was an interesting play of bamboo shoot, lotus root, sweet potato, burdock root, shishito, kabocha, momotaro tomato and banana flower, arranged with an ikebana Zen-ness that reflected its Japanese ingredients. I was surprised to learn that this dish was on the menu since way before Chef Stagogiannis came onboard-- maybe I was too busy looking at other dishes to notice!
I have never liked my salmon cooked, but when Chef added wakame as the “fifth taste” to the vanilla oil-poached meat of the fish, it worked for me. Eating the smooth-textured salmon felt almost like eating sashimi, and the chanteclaire apple reminded me of early spring in Tokyo.
It is really hard to find well-cooked sweet bread in Singapore, but Chef did justice to the dish. Resembling pig brain in texture, the sweet bread was delicious with the garlic dressing and white asparagus. The plating brought me back to Restaurant 53 with its signature hay nest.
The last time I remembered having vegetable as part of a dessert was at Pierre in Hong Kong. Chef Pierre Gagnaire had engineered the lettuce brilliantly and made it the main ingredient of the dessert. It was unforgettable. Here, Chef Stagogiannis used celery as the surprise choice. The tanginess of celery worked surprising well with the strawberries with chocolate crumble and sorbet. It took confidence to pull this one off, and Chef Stagogiannis, who was once the pastry chef at The Fat Duck, as well as pastry consultant with Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and Maze Grill, did it with aplomb.
We rounded up the night with chocolate ganache with a hint of soy sauce and parsnip -- a fitting finale I thought. Although my dinner companion wasn’t bowled over, I thought this dessert represented the Chef’s artistic approach nicely. To me, it seems that Chef Stagogiannis -- as a chef as well as a trendy artisan -- captures the “in” style of cooking as well as food presentation unfailingly, every time. Now, perhaps, the interior of the restaurant has some catching up to do, in order to live up to this revitalized menu.
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