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An Earthy Adventure @ Fifty Three

A staff member of the restaurant greeted us just below the row of 2-storey shophouses at 53 Armenian Street. So, this is where they got the name Fi53ty Three from... How clever!

We were then led up a flight of timber stairs, just like I was visiting a spa outlet. I was expecting something gorgeous but have to admit I was a little disappointed the moment I stepped into the dining room. The fusion restaurant under the Les Amis Group, was unique in its own way. The layout was nothing I’d pictured in a fine-dining restaurant, nothing resembling a posh restaurant. In fact, the set-up is simple, almost bare & too open for my liking.

There’re only about 6 tables & the furniture is plain, nothing exorbitant. No one would’ve guessed the restaurant, which has only a set menu, charges an 8-course degustation @ S$205 +++/person, making it one of the most expensive restaurants in Singapore. So what makes this dining experience different?

Review Picked as Editor's Choice @ OpenRice S'pore

The evening started off with the Compliments from the Chef, which arrived in a charcoal-filled stand. The server introduced these chips as Chicken Skin, which was surprisingly delicious – sweet & salty, probably deriving from some sort of soya-based sauce. The other was Potato Chips with yogurt. These chips were wafer thin & extremely crispy. It went pretty well with my Rosé Champagne, with the aroma of well-ripened fruits, nectarine & wild strawberries, complemented by smoky, peaty accents. The waiter appeared at our table with another plate of quick bite – Spanish Ham sandwiched between crackers, inviting us to use our hands to pick it up. The salty ham lifted our appetite immediately, making us wanting for more.
Attention has been paid to give the guests an exceptional & earthy exploration. A sack was delivered to us this time, containing black & white muffin-like bread served with English butter, topped with roasted barley & buckwheat. I asked if colouring was added to make the “muffins” black, although I kinda have the answer back in my mind. The server confirmed my “suspicion” that charcoal was added to create the colour. Nevermind the charcoal, these "muffins" were delicious. I overheard a guest asking if she could bring the sack home but was politely turned off by explaining the bag was from France, containing pebbles that were heated just before the “muffins” were handed out, preserving the heat. These buns clearly stood out from other 5-star restaurants I’ve been to so far, both taste & presentation.

The Amuse Bouche finally arrived at our table. Fennel & Coconut in Aloe Vera & Douglas Fir. Oops, no pix! I was famished, & totally forgotten to snap a shot.... couldn’t resist the refreshing smell of the coconut. Besides, I love the skilful use of fennel, which is a highly aromatic & flavourful herb with culinary & medicinal uses.

Equally impressive was the Amela Rubins & Basil appetizer which was also served icy cold. The Burrata & Horseradish, adding an aromatic dimension to the dish, was spicy & served with the A.R. tomato. Main was the Lobster, which was semi-cooked & topped with textures of apples. Service here was a little disorganized. The 2nd main arrived before I even finished my dish. I was a bit upset but then again, I was starving so I kept my mouth shut. I must credit the Chef, for the food arrived at our table like little object d'art displays. Japanese Striped Shrimp….. Ah ha, another sashimi-styled cooking. This pair of fresh shrimps was swimming in this beautiful ocean-inspired sauce, topped with turnip, pumpkin seed & Swiss chard.
As we were enjoying our dinner, we were constantly distracted by this pair of annoying couple sitting next to us, each chatting non-stop on their mobile phones from the moment they arrived. We waited patiently for the staff to tell the guests but nothing happened. As the loud chatting was getting on our nerves, we approached the manager but were shocked at their reply. Their respond was, this couple are their regular customers & the restaurant has received complaints about them before. But their attitude hasn’t changed & there’s nothing they can do, PERIOD! Well, we certainly didn’t expect this type of answers from an upscale eatery.

As more guests arrived, it began to test the skills of the staff…….

Our next dish was served on a hotstone. The Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes tasted like any other ordinary potatoes but the Wild Yam is interesting, tiniest I’ve ever seen. These bite-size yams are Japanese & tasted a little sweet. Coupled with coffee powder & parmesan mix, it brought out the taste of the plain starch. It's unmistakable that 53 puts a lot of thought into the presentation…. Eating pork half-cooked seems difficult for some to digest but the Chef recommended the Charcoal Grilled Iberian Black Pig not to be cooked completely to retain its flavour & tenderness. The clever use of home-made sauce, combined with garden-fresh vegetables like Elderberries & stems of vegetables like Watercress suggested some uniqueness in its daring creation.
There were long waits in between each course. & the servers were slow in clearing the empty plates. So I decided to take a toilet break & what a surprise.... a pile of standing charcoals greeted me with a nice & warmth scent of aroma as I entered the restroom. A pair of Aesop resurrection aromatic hand wash & lotion, complete with hand towels were placed nicely on a wooden plank.
I was totally relaxed when I returned to my dining area & was immediately served my dessert. I love this flowery sweet, which was appealing both to the palate & eye. This bubbly-infused ice-cream, topped with slice Mara des Bois Strawberries & Green Peppercorn, was a killer. The other dessert was a mixture of Chocolate & Artichoke, served with Mango & Mangosteen. A very normal dessert, nothing to shout about.
The total experience, although frustrating due to the inconsiderate couple & the speed of service, it was on the whole acceptable. I like the fact that the Chef thought out of the box to give the guests a earthy, unique dining concept. They dare to be different. Like this last ”course” – Gin Tonic on the Rocks. I was pleasantly surprised when the server handed me a piece of rock, with what appeared to be jelly. He explained that I’ve to leave this "Gin Tonic" in my mouth & let it melt slowly. At any time I feel it’s too strong, chew on it. This piece of “liquor” was icy cold, another witty usage of stone to retain the temperature.

What I like about the food here is the clever use of ingredients, conjoined with the delicate beauty of tiny, edible shoots, stems & flowers; many which I never thought could be used in desserts or likewise. The distinctive skill of the Chef is evident in the total dining experience at 53. Nothing has been spared in the sensational details of food to ensure the absolute intimate culinary understanding.

My personal dislike: Seating @ 53 has no privacy, just like a coffee shop setting & lack the fine-dining ambience. Although the staff are friendly & knowledgeable in introducing their food, there’s no excuse for their unpolished manner in terms of organization. Speed of service is inconsistent, either too slow or too fast. Ratings for Food: 5/5, Service: 2½

Would you pay more than S$200+/person to dine at the restaurant? Do share with us any unpleasant dining experience you've encountered.

* Reservation is required as this is a small restaurant.

Fifty-Three
53 Armenian Street
Singapore 179940
Tel: (65) 6334 5535

6 comments:

  1. Great review, very honest! Despite the atmosphere, the food looks very intriguing and delicious overall!

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  2. I'm totally into it! Those food look amazing except the pork. But they all look so little! Did you take maggie mee after reached home? haha....

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  3. That all looks absolutely interesting. I think it's quite an adventure. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Very interesting ingredients used. wild yam? I will like to try that but I am not sure it is somewhere that I would go if I head back for a visit. I prefer the local food!

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  5. Very nice food and very detailed comment. I would pay $200 for the meal but not for that couple's comversation.

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  6. Thanks ladies, for all your comments! I love degustation menu as I get to try everything tho' portions are small. It's enough for me :) I think I may go back again for the food. Hopefully, they'll be more polished by then.

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