June 12, 2015
I haven’t been into the Hilton Hotel at Orchard Road for a time now, even though they’ve got quite a few good restaurants and the Sky Bar which has been open quite a while. That was as good a reason as any to go check out their new restaurant, Opus Bar & Grill.
Taking over the space of what once was Checkers Brasserie in the lobby, Opus is bathed in earthy tones, plush decor and an intimate setting, all in front of their open kitchen which houses their grill and a one-of-a-kind bespoke Himalayan salt-tiled aging cabinet for their meats.
Their cuts come out nice, tender and full of flavour, due to their in-house dry aging methods of between 14 and 36 days, producing very well-flavoured steaks which are then cooked on a charcoal grill to ensure proper searing and give it that smoky goodness only great steaks have.
They also have a private dining area for those who require a quiet, reserved atmosphere for entertaining.
We started the night as most great nights do, with one of my favourite things in the whole world: Cocktails. A sampling portion for 4 of their signatures was served, and we had to guess what they were. My favourite game. All of them represented a different flavour profile ranging from the 5 basic ones (Sweet, Salty, Sour, Spicy and Bitter) to complex notes which I can’t even put a finger on. Straight off the bat you could tell Tom Yum and Kaya Toast, but I got stumped at figuring out Miso.
Very interesting profile done with Haig Club, Zacapa 23 and sake, it was something new and fresh with delightfully playful tastes which seemed just out of my grasp. Of course, there was also their rendition of an Old-Fashioned which came with a nice twist to the classic.
The salt accentuated the sweet flavours of the bourbon and hinted of some chocolate and caramel, as well as brought out the oak which were a welcome… uplifting, if you will, of a very familiar friend.
Following this and some very pleasant conversation, we were served breads and an Amuse-Bouche which wasn’t part of the program tonight.
We were told later that Chef Nick just decided that he’d wanted us to have a taste of his Black Cod Carpaccio ($20++) to emancipate the evening, and we are very grateful for it. The cucumber caviar, seaweed and lemon went very well with the cod, providing a tasty, light bite to welcome the rest of the offerings.
Next up was the Cured Salmon ($19++), served with some spiced crème fraiche, snake fruit and with a citrus dressing. Now, with cured salmon, one of my primary concerns is the saltiness inherent in the fish which tends to be overpowering.
Not so with this one. The salmon itself was velvety, and I enjoyed the texture of the snake fruit giving a crunchy contrast to the silky smooth salmon, rounding out the dish with very well-balanced flavours of citrus and crème fraiche subtly influencing the full bold salmon.
Seared Hokkaido Scallops ($23++) came after the salmon, and it was at this juncture that we were told about Hilton’s commitment to being environmentally conscious. Sustainable food practices, specifically their attainment of the MSC certification for the chain begs mention that they are dedicated to a more caring, conscientious world.
The Marine Stewardship Council’s Chain of Custody certification to the hotel means that seafood sourced are sustainable and traceable, going all the way back to the boat that caught it, so that quality and the species prepared are never compromised.
The scallops themselves were cooked beautifully, with just enough bounce before melting in your mouth. Served with edamame beans, blood sausage and a light dollop of miso espuma, it was a good blend of flavours again serving to highlight the main ingredient, providing a savoury backdrop complementing the scallops.
I was extremely surprised by the next dish, only because I’m not a salad person normally, shunning veges almost altogether in most meals. But Opus’ Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella Salad ($16++) had me singing a completely different tune. It was presented as a very colourful mosaic of reds, greens, black and white on the plate comprising heirloom tomatoes, charred fennel, grapefruit and drizzled with chocolate balsamic.
At first, I didn’t think much of it, individually the fruits and vegetables have very distinct characters which I thought would’ve killed the mozzarella. But when taken all at once, my mouth exploded with so many rich flavours that it was almost orgasmic. Yes, that’s right, orgasmic. In a salad. That’s how much I really, really like it. I’d go back there just to eat it.
There was sweetness, saltiness, spice and sourness from the balsamic with that exqusite hint of bitter as a backdrop, and it was done so well that it felt like music. It was also very fresh and juicy owing to the grapefruit and tomatoes serving to lengthen the experience on the palate and countering the sometimes dry mozzarella. Kudos to the chef for this simple, yet absolutely stunning winner.
The fish followed, and tonight we were having a Glacier 51 Toothfish Fillet ($47++). Fluffy, light, yet satisfying, it was served with grilled leek and a brown butter dashi sauce which was a wonderful accompaniment to the fish which was moist and tender and cooked to perfection, with a little crispiness from the skin. Just lovely.
Some Soursop Sorbet was served just after the fish, and was very welcome at this point due to all the richness I’d just experienced. I miss having sorbet at restaurants. It really does serve as a wonderful break in a feast and I wish more restaurants would revive this practice.
And now the main: Char-grilled Kobe Wagyu rib-eye with a marble score of 6 (220g, $92++). We were given a choice of knives to use, which was a fancy touch but unnecessary in this circumstance because to say that the meat was tender would be an understatement. I had mine medium, and they did it to a T.
Straight from the grill and still smoking, it was almost as juicy as the tomatoes, extraordinary given that it was charcoal-grilled, and I could’ve had it without any accompaniments. As it were, the red wine jus was adding a delicate finish to the steak, allowing a hint of sweetness to meld with the smoke and giving more body to this strong dish.
Opus also served up some risotto with the Wagyu which helped balance the dish and provided a foil to the texture of the meat, and some bone marrow which was sinful with the steak, providing a crunchy well-thought out accessory to a very satisfying meal. Another nod to the Chef for harmonising the dish so well. We were also given 3 different salts to go with it, namely Rosemary, Himalayan and Volcanic salts but after trying, I still preferred it on its own.
I stole some of the 36-hour Pork Belly ($36++) as well, just to taste, and I must say that it was almost as tender as the steak. Chef Nick definitely has a knack for fusing flavours together very well, the flavours of the lychee, coffee and char siew sauce blending splendidly and enriching the slow-cooked pork.
Finally, we had the Coconut Sago ($14++) for dessert served with mango gel, white chocolate and young coconut granite. A very sweet end for a very fine meal.
The inspiration for Opus comes from musical works, and tonight truly did feel like it was conducted expertly, the flavours and the experiences brought together showcased a harmony, much like a well played symphony, between East and West. I was very tempted to ask for an encore, but I find that I only have one word applicable to end the night.
Expected Damage: $70 – $100 per pax