Promising new restaurant Avenue 87 shows that geographical borders do not stop the pursuit of good food, nor would it get in the way of a lifelong creative partnership of two true foodies
You may have walked right past the unassuming doors of Avenue 87, a brand new restaurant along Amoy Street, without thinking much about it. Yet, you would be sorely mistaken, for behind the nondescript doors is an incredibly worthy effort by two young Singaporean chefs, whose creative partnership has resulted in the most exciting new restaurant I’ve encountered in quite a while.
Inside this cosy restaurant, which seats just 24 (although a lounge-bar upstairs that seats 26 will open in 2021), the tag team of Chef Glen Tay and Chef Alex Phan has resulted in a delicious and unpretentious menu, made of familiar items we all know and love. What makes this special is that these two, who grew up just blocks away from each other — both stayed in Hougang, with Tay at Avenue 8 and Phan at Avenue 7 — have taken the familiar and given it just enough of a twist to keep it fresh and exciting.
The duo — both the same age — met at Shatec Culinary School, where they forged a lifelong friendship. After graduation, Tay had doubts about his career choice but Phan pulled Tay along to work at the Tippling Club. Although they went their separate ways after Tippling Club, they remained friends. Tay joined the three-Michelin-starred Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai, while Phan worked his way to executive chef at the Park Hotel Clarke Quay.
When the opportunity arose to start their own venture, they leapt at the chance and thus, Avenue 87 was born.
We were given the opportunity to sample their debut menus, which include a six-course tasting menu at $98++ per person, a four-course tasting menu at $76++ per person; with wine-pairing options available at $50++ and $80++. There are also a la carte options, and two- ($29++) or three-course ($38++) lunch options.
For the six-course dinner tasting menu, we began with some snacks of Chicken Chips and Kueh Pie Tee. Both are familiar favourites, but there is a good amount of refinement: the chicken chips are not merely deep-fried chicken skin, but actual chicken breast meat, blended with egg white and sea salt until smooth, before being spread out thinly, baked dry, then deep-fried. The Kueh Pie Tee was truly a burst of savoury, spicy flavour in a crispy shell: made with aerated assam pedas, eggplant, lady’s fingers, cherry tomato, and curry leaves.
For the first course, we had Norwegian salmon sashimi served with diced crystal pear, sour cream, ponzu-pickled wakame, soy wasabi granita, and Vietnamese rice paper crackers. Beautifully balanced, with plenty of pleasant textures and flavours, this dish was spectacular, and surprised me with how beautifully plated and refined it was.
Next, another fish course, but one which delights in an unexpectedly way. Tay and Phan have taken a classic fish soup and elevated it: taking sea bass from Ah Hua Kelong, and serving the fresh fish with compressed bitter gourd, semi-dried cherry tomato, deep-fried egg floss, and anchovy butter milk sauce — all in a bowl of soupy, hearty, comforting and tasty goodness.
This seafood-forward meal continues with grilled octopus leg, served with housemade sambal, stir-fried market greens, confit egg yolk and torched calamansi in a banana leaf parcel. As I was allergic to octopus, I had the same version but with Omni-Pork. It was delicious — the sambal had a real heat to it, but the egg yolk gave a hint of savouriness, and the calamansi added nicely to the balance of salty, sour and spicy.
Then came my personal favourite: New Zealand baby lamb rack marinated Vietnamese-style, served with grilled Thai eggplant and locally-sourced stingless bee honey sauce. The lamb is prepared with a spice rub of lemongrass, shallot, garlic, and ginger, blended then combined with finely chopped Chinese parsley and salt. The lamb is perfectly done medium-rare, and the honey sauce sets off the dish perfectly, adding delightful sweetness.
For the lamb, two choices of a side dish are available: A really tasty classic egg-fried rice, and a smooth, sweet yam and potato mash. I honestly could not choose between the two, but if you put a gun to my head, the egg-fried rice was a winner for me.
I feel that dessert is often an afterthought in a lot of restaurants, but there’s a lot of thought that went into Avenue 87’s not one, but two desserts: coconut ice cream served with pound cake crumble, papaya, and caramelised pineapple; and the Pisang No Goreng, a wonderful concoction of fried coconut custard with salted gula melaka and banana ice cream. The coconut ice cream is fantastically refreshing, thanks to the caramelised pineapple.
But it is the Pisang No Goreng which really pleased the kid in me: my tastebuds tell me it tastes exactly like pisang goreng (banana fritters) but there’s no fried banana anywhere, only a ripple of it in the ice cream. The fried custard is just so much fun to eat — the crispy outer shell gives way to a melty, soft, sweet custard inside. I don’t know what it is about this dessert, but it sure made me want to eat at least five helpings of it, because one was not enough.
All in all, Avenue 87 is a delightful and promising new find, offering fine dining quality at casual dining prices. The plating and food are refined, delicious, and a worthy effort by these two chefs. I highly recommend dropping in for a visit, and I look forward to what these two friends come up with next.