The word “maverick” is usually met with apprehension in the world of cuisine. Yet Aussie chef John Paul Fiechtner, often described as such, is unabashed in his creative and often unusual use of ingredients. Now helming the kitchen at fine dining restaurant V-Dining, Fiechtner shows us what he’s made of — and we like what we see.
Walking into V-Dining in Scotts Square feels a little like leaving the city behind. You walk through a rather dark, rather narrow corridor, and then it opens up to a cosy, intimate space with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer up a view of Orchard Road. Everywhere, appliances by Swiss premium home appliances purveyor V-Zug gleam in the light.
There is a hush of quiet efficiency in the open-concept kitchen, where chef John Paul Fiechtner — tall, tattoo-ed and bearded — is putting the finishing touches on a beautifully plated, very tiny dish.
Fiechtner, a chef and restaurateur with over 20 years of modern European cuisine experience, has recently taken the helm at the kitchen for V-Dining. Known for his inventive dishes, unique use of locally-sourced ingredients, and sustainable practices, he first arrived in Singapore in 2016, where he led the team at Thirteen Duxton Hill and received accolades for his flair for epicurean surprises and unconventional approach to ingredients.
In just a few short years, Fiechtner quickly gained a reputation for being somewhat of a maverick — you are either alienated, or delighted by his approach. Upon tasting his debut menu recently, I now am firmly in the latter category.
Debuting a multi-course menu (the number of courses differs, depending on Fiechtner and the diner), we sampled the 10-course tasting menu ($128++, with alcohol pairing for an additional $88++) and can safely say we’re pretty excited by what Fiechtner will come up with next.
We start with a trio of amuse-bouche: Oyster Pearl with Nasturtium Kimchi, Egg and Leek tart and Nduja, White Anchovy and Puffed Pork Skin.
For the Oyster Pearl, Japanese oyster ice cream is dipped in cocoa butter and silver shimmer to mimic a pearl and served at fridge temperature, not frozen; Fiechtner (very cheekily) describes it as his interpretation of what a pearl from a necklace would taste like if he could eat it.
Meanwhile, the egg and leek tart is filled with herring roe from Spain and leek cream, and topped with chives and served on fried leek dusted in porcini powder. The crisp, savoury buckwheat and miso tart shell is lovely, no soggy bottoms in sight.
Completing the trio is a house made pork nduja, dipped in fermented red capsicum — a lovely crunchy treat. We arrive at the first course, which really set the tone for the night: A dish of braised taro, parmesan, onion and braising liquor that was so deeply umami-laden and texturally delightful that it set my expectations high for the rest of the meal.
The humble taro (a starchy root vegetable similar to yam) is braised in a stock of kombu water, soy, mirin, dashi, and sugar until soft, then deep fried till crisp. That same stock is then reduced with parmesan, stabilised and whipped up; the taro is shaved, layered with parmesan, folded and pan-fried in butter.
It is served with the braising stock, pickled onion buds, crisp dried onion skin and green powder made from kitchen trimmings. This results in a dish that tastes as hearty as a steak, but as light as a salad; savoury yet with hints of sweetness from the taro, and a beautiful balance of flavours.
Then we have a dish of mud crab, sour cream and pickled rhubarb (pickled inhouse), where the often overlooked mud crab is steamed and the meat combined with olive oil, salt, pickled rhubarb and chive. It is then served with cherry tomato, raspberry, fennel, crab oil. Here, you can really taste the flavour of crab, which is intensified in the crab oil, made with the crab shells soaked in pomace oil for two to three days.
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Next up is a dish of rouget (a type of red mullet fish), with seeds, rye and fermented pepper; a bouillabaisse that reminds Fiechtner of his memories as a 20-year-old in France. Here, the rouget from France (most are from South of France) is aged in the fridge for a week then lightly grilled — the aging adds depth of flavour and umami, while pumpkin and sunflower seeds are braised with saffron and Indonesian style spice mix of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and shallots.
A stock is also made from rouget heads and infused with toasted rye, while red capsicum is fermented then slowly cooked into a paste. This was perfectly executed, the fish tender and moist with a complex flavour. This is followed by a dish of pork loin, bone marrow, roselle and beetroot.
Pickled and fermented vegetables (a more Asian approach) are used to balance this rich, meaty tasting dish, which is made from Grilled Iberico pork from Japan, with a sauce from slow rendered bone marrow, salt baked beetroot, housemade preserved roselle, fermented squid and pork jus.
Finally, not one, not two, but three desserts: a sweet treat of rose, plum, milk and raw cocoa; beautifully plated in reference to Banksy’s most iconic images — Girl with Balloon. Here, rose and milk mousse covered in chocolate petals is served up with fermented plum paste and raw cacao made into a powder, which brings a balance of sweet and sour flavours.
There is also a brown rice and miso amazake (fermented by Fiechtner himself) ice cream with freeze-dried mandarins — a surprisingly well-balanced, if unusual dessert that really hit all the right spots with me. Finally, there is a roast Jerusalem artichoke, grapefruit and white chocolate dessert, which is once again, out of the ordinary and surprisingly tasty, lending a bit of unexpected sweetness, bitterness, and earthiness.
And, to finish it all off, a “cake of the day” — which is not cake so much as it is a display of theatricality. Usual cake ingredients like butter, egg, vanilla and cinnamon are substituted by caramel, custard, dried fruit and more, depending on the imagination of pastry chef Joe Leong. It is unusual, slightly gimmicky, but thoroughly enjoyable in its technical mastery.