In a food-obsessed city where the world’s cuisines are at our doorstep, it’s only a matter of time we’ll find travelling abroad for food more and more pointless. This month, Scotland has come knocking at our shores, in the form of UsQuBa, occupying a colossal space at One Fullerton where the Butter Factory used to be.
Gaelic for “whisky” or “water of life”, UsQuBa is not a visitor you’ll welcome at once with open arms. First, it’s a convoluting trek to the second-floor restaurant, if you manage to find a sign directing you, that is. From the apricot sofas to the tangerine lamps, it tiptoes precariously between kitsch Genting casino lounge and classy Hèrmes-branded bistro.
It‘s only after glimpses of the extensive whiskey selection on display and careful reading of the compact menu (which comes with a map detailing the provenance of various indigenous Scottish ingredients) that we figure what’s in store. Plus, Executive Chef Guven Uyanki has earned his culinary stripes working with the likes of Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsey, so the promise of an unfamiliar cuisine served by a talented kitchen brigade was enough to set our appetites going.
First, the standouts. The cows in Scotland clearly enjoy their highland life, judging from the silky, melt-in-your-mouth Burrata ($18), thoughtfully paired with truffled honey, assorted seeds, beetroot curls and orange segments. It’s fresh, inspired and interspersed with arugula that throws in a tongue-curling bitterness that burrata was always meant to duet with.
Scottish lobsters aren’t having a tough life either. At UsQuBa, they brim with flavour in a bisque so rich it’s like a lobster towel wrung till every drop is extracted. The Lobster Ravioli (part of the prix fixe lunch menu) which are nestled in the bisque boast truly al dente pasta sheets – if only the lobster filling is less beaten up. Aberdeen Angus Beef ($56) done two ways sees grilled tenderloin and braised short ribs bound by a delectable plum jus. Both beef renditions are 99 points, the last point dropped only because perfection is impossible – the tenderloin is salty and unctuous despite its leanness and the ribs are sticky-sweet, holding together seemingly just for the sake of decorum.
And then there are the dishes that Chef Uyanki tries to think out of the box, but just stops short of hitting jackpot. Seared foie gras from France ($21) has the standard flavour bells and whistles, with caramelised persimmon, pickled apple and balsamic glaze in tow. But a lobe of torn waffle draped over the side of the plate is as bizarre as it is bland. Orkney Islands Scallops ($25) pair well with creamy Japanese sea urchin, with extra pops of texture and sweetness from both compressed cucumber and apple. But a modernist flourish of horseradish snow is conceptually laudable, but just doesn’t deliver enough of a minty uplift to register as a sensible foil to the scallops.
For sweets, Pastry Chef Uyanki doles out a successful Chocolate Delice ($15) – bitter, chocolaty elixir condensed into a thick, masculine fudge-ganache-brownie conception, a quenelle of heady Bailey’s ice cream, a cascade of tart berries – all engineered to make a bad day right. But the subsequent Tastings of Strawberry ($15) leaves us scratching our heads – a tower of dry, bread-like pistachio biscuits alternates with presumably pistachio cream that’s as nutty as water, sitting in a pink pool of superfluous sweet gazpacho.
The encyclopaedia of beverages may come across as a counting game of words such as “highland”, “Islay” and “cask”, but it got us way at the start with a refreshing Rock Oyster Whiskey Sour ($26) and an assertive NB Gin Negroni ($28), prices notwithstanding. For the adventurous, keep flipping and you’ll find bespoke whiskey tasting flights and even three “hauf & hauf” pairings of whiskey and bottled craft beer, a potent mix that could even leave the steel-hearted seeing stars.
We love UsQuBa for many reasons – the stellar Marina Bay view, the earnest staff, the promising chow and the immaculate booze rack. With a couple of tweaks, while staying true to its Scottish essence that is its differentiator, we think it could be here to stay.
A trip to Scotland? Maybe there isn’t a need.
UsQuBa is located at #02-03B One Fullerton, 1 Fullerton Road, Singapore 049213, p. 8723 6378. Open Mon-Thu 11.30am-12am, Fri-Sat 11.30am-1am.
Top Image: Lobster Daikon Salad