I’m not sure what Karl Lagerfield would think of the finished Sofitel So Singapore (where he had provided some level of creative input during planning), but I’d be pretty pissed off if I were him. What greets you when you pass the revolving entrance is a lethal combination of a garish palette of clashing colours, an awkwardly-configured space designed to confuse rather than direct, and a ceiling so low your average Dutchman may be stuck crouching on his way to check-in.
At the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, Xperience, one can either go gaga or bonkers over its disparate, technicoloured furniture, from silver and red cushions, to striped couches and white chairs. If your head isn’t already spinning, you will be, by the time your eyes glaze over the multiple menus and their unintuitive flavour icons. The fluorescent lighting also trades an air of romance for a clear but unwelcome view of the menu’s prices, the kind that costs in the way a root canal surgery hurts.
The other trade is more recent – the foie gras siew mais and short rib baos of Chef Anne-Cécile has given way to the eclectic cuisine of Eurasian Chef Trevor Paulo, who was formerly Chef de Cuisine at Saint Pierre. It’s a way of cooking that defies categorisation, hence his 29 years of age leaves one sorely uncertain if he can deliver the Japanese accents, the European flair and the molecular touches that he gamely promises in his cooking.
The verdict is yours, but we’re inclined toward a nod. A dish of Cured Salmon ($25) feels like a work-in-progress signature – 30-day fermented apple juice cuts the fat of thick Norwegian salmon slices, with a ghost of wasabi and the brininess of tobiko providing further delight to the palate. Just be warned to remove the odd orbs of dill-coriander jelly at all costs.
Another Spanner Crab ($25) starter also stops short of a home run. Fresh shallot and dill-laced crab meat soaks in just the right amount of lime mayonnaise, such that the crustacean remains discernibly sweet and meaty. A pity then, that the poor accompanying slices of seaweed have a batter that is twice as thick as the seaweed and also twice as soggy as Cheerios in milk.
When you arrive at Chef Trevor’s Beef Short Rib ($38), it’s almost like he’s come full circle. An impeccable melding of bold, masculine flavours comes in the form of a 2-day sous-vide Australian Wagyu, draped in a textbook-perfect red wine shallot sauce. Onion, done three ways – pureed, caramelised and dehydrated – cannot be a better accompaniment. The vegetable of the day is crisp, hardy broccolini, with its time on the sauté pan calibrated to a tee. Another hearty main of Lamb Confit ($38) also fares splendidly, lovingly redolent of spices that conjure the royal palaces of India. The lamb neck is luscious in mouthfeel, almost bordering on greasy, but a fresh ginger carrot puree and juicy root vegetables provide sufficient respite.
The pastry department is somewhat cack-handed when it comes to the desserts department – a carrot cake that’s dry and spice-less, with a confusing array of accompaniments, register in the “bad food memories” section of the right brain. In fact, it’s gone almost as crazy as the décor, charging $24 for what is essentially a ceremony of hot vanilla being poured over a gold chocolate dome that just melts into a light green soup. A customised dessert centrepiece for your birthday celebration goes for – gasps – a whopping $100.
Granted, the kitchen displays a sincere desire in serving you a good meal, much more than in winning a place in some gastronomic wall of fame. The front of house is as effervescent – servers are brisk without appearing rushed, and pleasantly articulate. A few notches down on the well-intended showmanship and a couple of tweaks to the dishes’ execution could be all it takes to catapult Xperience as the next hot table for the discerning urbanite – we’ll be keeping Xperience on our radar before placing all our bets on this one.
Xperience is located at Sofitel So Singapore. 35 Robinson Road, Singapore 068876. Open Mon-Fri 6.30am-10.30am, 11.30am-2pm, 6pm-10.30pm, Sat-Sun 6.30am-11am, 12pm-2pm, 6pm-10.30pm.
Top Image: Beef Short Ribs