I know it's a bit gratuitous to post a review of Sage after the extensively-covered food bloggers' dinner, but I thought a more objective review might be better, and fairer, to both readers and restaurant.
Of course, how 'objective' the review is is questionable, given I've been here before and the staff know me, which is usually not the case in most of my other incognito reviews. Still, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The restaurant's unassuming exterior is nice and understated, almost like the frontage of a residential verandah, which mirrors their food and reputation - a subtlety that belies their true sophistication, rather like the herb which is their namesake.
Ambience here is fantastic, with large mirrors and french windows that create an impression of space, but ample mellow lighting and dark wood furniture still manages to convey cosiness. I'm greatly impressed by Chef Jusman's ability to work out of such a small kitchen, rivalled only by Oscar of Buko Nero. Unlike Oscar, though, Jusman clearly has no qualms of people watching him work, as there's a chef's table right in front of the kitchen that allows you a generous view.
Our complimentary amuse-bouche took the form of a sort of pork gravlax with a citrus dressing. The meat itself tasted like a coarse pate, chilled and flavourful, its richness balanced out by the sourness of the citrus. Certainly enough to pique the interest and appetite, setting the tone for the rest of the dinner.
Once again I had Chef Jusman's creative interpretation of escargots - a fricassee of Burgundy escargot with lentils du puy, field mushrooms, poached egg and Italian parsley foam. I used to think that some classic dishes are so hallowed that they should never be changed; but truly great cooking is not merely reproducing what's been done - it's dynamically reinterpreting what others never imagined possible. The fricassee of escargot is just such a dish, excellent in both conception and execution. The richness of the poached egg's yolk takes the place of the traditional butter, and the pairing of escargot, mushrooms and lentils works magnificently. The parsley foam, too, is a masterstroke of presentation.
Having cut his teeth (and burnt his hands - check them out) at the Hilton's Harbour Grill, Jusman has certainly learned well. A restaurant lives and dies by its foie gras, so we duly ordered a portion of pan-fried foie gras on caramelised Granny Smith apple slices, paired with golden raisin puree, and an emulsion of Muscat grape jus and beurre noisette ($8 supplement).
The first thing you notice is that the foie gras is huge. It's been a while since I've seen such a generous portion of foie. The second and last thing you notice before you lose yourself in this wonderful serving is that Chef Jusman definitely knows his foie gras. Rich and sinfully smooth, the natural fatness is rounded out by the sweet apple slices and raisin/grape emulsion. The addition of some walnuts provides a brilliant contrast of textures as well.
After hearing me extol the numerous virtues of the chestnut and oxtail soup, it was inevitable that my entire family decided to try it. Once again, it was amazing, almost as good as when I put the first spoonful in my unsuspecting mouth at the floggers' dinner, but only because allowances have to be made for diminishing utility. The soup is not available on the regular menu, but I strongly urge anyone going to Sage to call Kimberly and place an order for this amazing consomme. It's not something you should miss out on.
I decided to try something new for my main course, so I went with the gratineed medallion of grain-fed Angus beef cheek topped with marinated shallots, potato aligo and reduced braising jus.
Slow cooking seems to be a specialty of Jusman's, as virtually all the red meats on the menu are braised. Clearly playing to your strengths pays off, because the beef cheek was good. Not as exceptional as the braised short-ribs, but definitely a dish that you can't go wrong with.
A friend highly recommended the chocolate souffle with home-made vanilla ice cream and Grand Marnier custard ($6 supplement), so I thought I'd be adventurous with dessert as well. When the souffle arrived, I was somewhat disappointed, as the crust felt hard and overbaked. My disappointment turned to awed surprise, though, when I discovered that it was no ordinary chocolate souffle at all. As you spoon into the souffle, you find the centre oozing molten chocolate, exactly like a molten chocolate cake. This is such an extraordinary feat (I've never even heard of such a thing, let alone seen it done before), that I was quite willing to overlook the fact that the souffle is not quite as ephemeral or classic as, say, Au Petit Salut's. In fact, if the souffle needs to be overbaked in order to achieve that gloriously molten centre, then give me an overbaked souffle any day. Once again, hard (or in this case, meringue-soft) evidence of Chef Jusman So's wonderful ability to surprise the most jaded of diners with the most inventive takes on traditional favourites. The only thing I didn't like about this dish was the Grand Marnier custard, which while creative, just seemed somewhat out of place.
So far I've been waxing lyrical about the food, and not been paying much attention to service. I'd be doing Kimberly, the restaurant manager, a grave injustice, if I did not say she and her well-trained staff provide top-notch service and attention. Her pleasant disposition and impeccable manners are an equal to Jusman's inspired and talented cooking. If any couple can be called the 'dynamic duo' of the local restaurant scene, then I think that accolade must surely be accorded to Jusman and Kimberly.
The only minor point about service is that food can take a little while to arrive, which to me makes complete sense because it only gives you more time to enjoy the dinner company and work up an appetite to better enjoy Jusman's offerings.
Sage remains a little-known eatery, and tragically they've stopped offering set lunches except on Fridays (3 courses for $25 / 4 courses for $28), but their dinners remain one of the best valued (3 courses for $50 / 4 courses for $55, excluding price supplement items). I am often asked which is my favourite restaurant, and I think I can now confidently say that that honour goes to Sage, and I only wish I had discovered them sooner.
Sage, the Restaurant (Modern European)
11 Unity Street
#02 -12 Robertson Walk
Tel: 6333 8726
Overall: Top marks all around, Sage has no parallel for an incredibly enjoyable dinner at an unbelievably reasonable cost