Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: The Clan Restaurant

You may have noticed that it has been a very long time since I last posted on this blog, and I’m grateful that my sister has been updating in my absence. The reason for the radio silence is that I started a new job in February which has been keeping me extremely busy. These days, I’m lucky if I get to eat out once a week, so finding time to write reviews might be asking for too much.

Recently, though, my family celebrated some birthdays, and it fell to me to look for a suitable venue for dinner. I had originally intended to book Pollen, Jason Atherton’s newest restaurant at Gardens by the Bay, but surprisingly it was already fully booked for Wednesday when I called on Sunday. Given that it was a special occasion, I was reluctant to go for the run of the mill Italian or French, but at the same time I didn’t want to break the bank at Les Amis or Waku Ghin. Remarkably, though, it was not easy finding a pleasant, affordable modern European restaurant which would promise an enjoyable evening: we had not been impressed with 7Adam, Table66 was no longer open, and the menu at Private Affairs was rather too limited.

Eventually, however, I stumbled across the website of The Clan Restaurant, a restaurant so new that no “official” reviews could be found in the print media. All I had to go on were about five effusive reviews, and those are not always particularly reliable.

Still, I had high hopes when I called up to make the reservation, for Raymond and Chris, the two front of house I spoke to, radiated friendliness and accommodation down the phone line. “You would like to bring a birthday cake, sir? No problem at all, but just so you know, you might be too full for cake after our set dinner, which includes dessert!” “Party of six? I can give you your own private dining area in front of the kitchen, where you won’t be disturbed by any of the other diners”. This is the kind of personalised service our dining scene lacks, and it really set the scene for a lovely evening.

Located in the charming Bukit Pasoh district, just up the road from the Majestic and Absinthe, The Clan Restaurant is unmistakable, given the well-lit signage and the imposing black and white signboard of the Gan Clan Association, whose premises the restaurant occupies.

In person, Raymond and Chris turned out to be just as warm and helpful as they were over the phone. Special requests were taken care of without a second thought, recommendations were freely volunteered with candour, and when we expressed interest in one of the desserts, a complimentary helping was immediately served.

As it turns out, The Clan Restaurant is the successor to Dozo, and there is a fair amount of resemblance in the décor and the food. The focus on set menus, for instance, stands out instantly (although a la carte menus are also available on request). At $42 and $68 for a 5-course lunch and a 6-course dinner respectively, The Clan Restaurant offers excellent value for money.

Dinner began with a refreshing green apple palate-cleanser shooter, which was kept lightly aerated by being churned in a machine that looked like it used to dispense 7-Eleven slurpees. Cold, sweet and zesty, this was an excellent start to the meal.

The appetiser is the only part of the menu that is not open to choice. Instead, everyone gets a trio of salmon mousse (served in a miniature ice cream cone), pan-seared scallop with truffled asparagus and foie gras terrine with cranberry sauce. A sort of surf 'n' turf, I suppose. While the foie gras and salmon mousse were extremely competently prepared, the real standout was the scallop, which was beautifully seared, very well paired with the asparagus and topped with a heady truffle foam.
Given that there were so many of us, we could easily order almost every cold starter off the menu and sample the restaurant's offerings at our leisure.

My beef carpaccio with truffle mustard tossed mesclun salad in truffle teriyaki and horseradish sauce came highly recommended, and it was not difficult to taste why. The carpaccio slices were well-marbled, and the salad was both eye-catching and a great complement to the raw beef. I would have preferred a lighter hand with the teriyaki sauce, however, as I felt that its cloying sweetness overpowered the taste of the beef and the zing of the horseradish.

The Alaskan king crab with homemade karashi dressing was another favourite, and here, bereft of any artificial enhancements, the natural sweetness of the crabmeat really stood out.

I am not a fan of oysters, and so a cold starter of oysters done in three ways didn't really appeal to me, but my mother, who had the dish, certainly had no complaints. 

Warm appetisers followed, with a number of options to choose from.

The tempura espuma soft shell crab with homemade sauce boasted an amazingly light yet crispy batter, doing justice to the kitchen's Japanese training.

Escargot is not the most common of appetisers, and The Clan's herb crusted mushroom escargot was perhaps a little on the dry side.  

The kurobuta pork belly confit with pork cracker and passionfruit sauce seemed a little haphazrdly put together, and I was expecting the rind to have been roasted to crackling instead of being a soft, slightly disembodied piece meat. I suppose, however, that that was what the pork cracker was there to make up for, and at all events the sweet and tangy passionfruit sauce stood in for a more traditional applesauce.

The soup course was up next, and mushroom soups often tend to be a little bit underwhelming. The Clan's offering of ceps mushroom soup with truffle paste, however, was simply bursting with flavour. Thick, luscious, heady and intense, this was one of the tastiest mushroom soups I'd had in some time.

The double-boiled beef consomme, perhaps because of the addition of shallots/spring onions, had a slightly Oriental perspective, entirely in keeping with The Clan's Asian roots.

What is particularly intriguing about The Clan's approach towards its cuisine, however, is its willingness to take risks. The crab bisque cappucino, for instance, was pumped out of a siphon in order to create a superb, foamy head floating atop the bisque (and, perhaps, to justify not having to serve a large portion), but as a result the soup had to be served at room temperature rather than piping hot. That I think weakened the dish, notwithstanding that the flavours imbued in the bisque were spot on.

I remember when the restaurant industry was caught up in the craze that was "fusion cuisine", and I remember disliking the pretentiousness of it in the hands of chefs who were recklessly throwing ingredients on a plate. Happily, The Clan uses Eastern and Western ingredients with equal facility, and thought clearly goes into what goes into each dish. The crispy barramundi with herb salsa, squid ink garlic salsa and crustacean oil pasta was a great combination of fresh barramundi, toothsome shrimp pasta and briny squid ink sauce.

The Clan's signature main course probably has to be its 48 hour short ribs with madeira sauce, an elaborate dish of slow-cooked beef and Japanese mushrooms atop a superheated stone, with only a hoba (Japanese magnolia) leaf for insulation. That allows the diner to cook the beef to his or her preferred doneness, although there is a slight problem in the execution of this idea: the meat is actually quite tepid when first placed on the hot stone, with the result that, if you prefer your beef pink it will be slightly cold, whereas if you want your beef warm it will be somewhat overcooked. Drizzled over with madeira sauce, and infused with the smokiness of the hoba leaf, the beef was succulent and very tasty.

An enormous spiced braised lamb shank with potato panko and extra virgin olive powder will ensure that, if you weren't already feeling full by this course, you'll be absolutely stuffed by the time you're through with it. 

I believe my sister was not that enamoured of the green tea tiramisu, which is in any case a dessert I am always slightly suspicious of.

I am clearly out of practice, because I forgot to take a photo of my signature chocolate fudge, which was excellent. Less like a fudge and more like a dense mousse, it was sinfully rich and will definitely be a treat for all chocolate lovers.

As a result, the chocolate lava cake probably paled slightly in comparison, but nonetheless, The Clan's version of this stalwart is a credible one.

Clearly pandering to local tastes, however, are the profiteroles, as the choux pastry buns are filled not with chantilly, but with durian cream. Unsurprisingly, this is apparently a real crowd favourite.

With lots of new restaurants opening this year (I have Pollen in my sights), I was really pleasantly surprised by The Clan. Lovely food and exceptional service at unbeatable prices in a restaurant that is open for lunch and dinner every day is a truly winning combination. 

The Clan
18/20 Bukit Pasoh Road
Singapore 089832
Tel: +65 6222 2084

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