With the team from Michelin recently gracing Singapore with inclusion into its yearly list of crème de la crème establishments, the city has become engulfed with an unprecedented focus on food and conversations on what ticks the several boxes to make it into the club.
The guide focuses on two categories: the Bib Gourmand (for dishes that offer value under $45) and the traditional one, two and three star restaurants, all rated anonymously by a team of (enviable) professionals. When it comes to the latter, people tend to sit in two camps, those who see haute cuisine as worth every penny (they often call themselves foodies) and those who think it’s an extravagance not worth the coin.
One of the biggest misconceptions about fine dining in general is that it’s all about the value of food, whatever value means to one, be it in the form of generous portion sizes, a free salad buffet add-on or phenomenal taste. This is not the case. Fine dining is more about an experience in itself, from the time the host (they go by several names) ushers you to your table to the time you walk out of the restaurant.
Harps strum gracefully in the background (more realistically, music that suits the vibe of the restaurant). Bread that comes out of the oven at exactly the correct temperature to melt that butter but not disintegrate when dipped in soup. Coffee that compliments your dessert with exactly the right amount of golden syrupy crema served in a fine bone china cup. An attentive (attractive?) waiter that pays attention to your need for privacy. A sommelier that knows you don’t want to spend a fortune but still want to impress your date. It’s worth repeating: it’s all about the experience. Any small hiccup throughout the evening (or afternoon) can totally alter the experience.
For better or worse, fine dining enthusiasts the world over are unanimous on a few things:
The portions are miniscule
There is a standing joke amongst many that one has to fill-up either before or after a meal at such establishments due to the serving sizes. This, however, is not only due to chefs wanting you to think you are consuming an item of rarity but also because the final product tends to be made up of richer ingredients, thus affecting your satiety. That small duck leg confit (cured in salt and cooked in its own fat) might fill you up for longer than you think.
They take ages to prepare their meals
Bar the express luncheons at fine establishments, it’s probably not the best to opt for a gastronomic adventure if you’re on the go. Fine dining takes time. Your food is laboriously prepared in what can sometimes take up to 2 days, so you can hardly expect them to serve and present it in minutes. Usually served in courses (known as a degustation), all dishes are presented to tantalise and please the palette with much method and planning going behind the process.
They are heavily priced
This one is a given. One’s budget has to be pretty generous to eat (regularly) at restaurants that don the haute tag. That being said, there are many foodies that reserve such dining for special occasions.
They take their alcohol seriously
Many restaurants hire sommeliers (wine experts) to manage and educate their customers on pairing their food with the right blends. Speaking to one can be both a harrowing as well as a welcome experience. A good sommelier knows when to approach a table and knows when a customer is just not interested.
Needless to say, they also need to possess a certain amount of product knowledge to recommend wine based on the customer’s budget, likes and dislikes.
And there we have it, a small glimpse into the world of fine dining. Although it’s up to the individual to decide yay or nay on whether to indulge in the experience, one has to always remember that it’s all about that. The experience.