At Jaan by Kirk Westaway, the best seats in the house are the tables by the windows. From the 70th floor, they offer an IMAX experience of Singapore’s economic machine purring: grains of cars crawling through towering Marina Bay Sands, freighters floating off the country’s southern coast.
But when you eat at the two Michelin star restaurant, ask for the tables in the middle of the room. Without the view as a distraction, you’re forced to focus on the quiet strength of Jaan’s dishes. The deceptively simple plating catches your eye, the ingredients take turns to unfold their full capabilities. At a recent lunch from their fall menu, I took pity on the blind diners. Looking back, I was wrong.
This mastery is expected of upscale French and Italian establishments in Singapore, but less savvy diners might hesitate when you call yourself a fine-dining British restaurant, like Jaan. “British cuisine has had a negative connotation for a long time, as most assume it is very heavy on the palate, dense and not very tasty,” said Jaan’s executive chef Kirk Westaway.
Maybe it’s a question of exposure. Search for British food here, and Google has fish and chips, pubs, and something called British Indian Curry Hut. But Westaway has been slow to carve his image of modern British cuisine since taking over the restaurant from Julien Royer (now Odette and Claudine) in 2016.
He does this in particular by raising comfort food. Juicy guinea fowl with a chicken skin crust, for example, is a happy and luxurious riff on fried chicken. A delicate snack of tapioca chips with hummus, cumin and black olive feels like an authority in Mediterranean cuisine. Meaty cuts of Cornish sea bass, balanced on a sweet scallop, melt instantly.
Nostalgia is another Westaway tip. Roasted leek and potato soup, served with an airy buckwheat waffle for dipping, is a warm and comforting hug. Thin, paper-thin salted beet rolls are earthy and sweet, like the woods after a rain. Scottish Lobster with Crunchy Hispi Cabbage is incredibly rich and nutty. It was also one of the most difficult dishes to prepare, Westaway said.
“The Scottish lobster has taken a few iterations and refinements to arrive at its perfectly cooked form,” he explained. “It involves a variety of cooking methods to create a subtle sheen on the lobster, while making sure it doesn’t get rubbery. This is achiby blanching the lobster in its shell, then braising it at low temperature in a deep vat of caramelized Butter.”
Then there are dishes that remind you of Jaan’s British leanings. A cucumber meringue snack is ethereal and deeply herbaceous. The palate cleanser is a cheeky take on the gin tonic with cucumber sorbet, lemon jelly, and a touch of Hendrick’s gin poured side-by-side.
The dessert is a coffee and caramel cake enhanced with chocolate chips. It’s an architectural wonder with hints of caramel, much better to savor than the concrete spiers in front of Jaan’s windows.