Fort by Maison Ikkoku Singapore: Fort Canning’s Best Kept Secret For Omakase and Bespoke Cocktails

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I knew we were in good hands at FORT when I heard that it was the sister outlet of the popular cafe and bespoke bar Maison Ikkoku. Helmed by Senior Master Mixologist Ethan Leslie Leong, FORT carries on the famous ‘No Menu’ bespoke cocktail concept alongside a new, exciting cuisine.

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FORT is located at the Singapore Pinacotheque De Paris, in a less-explored corner of Fort Canning Park. I like that it’s somewhat hidden, shielded from the bustling crowds of Dhoby Ghaut and Bras Basah which would otherwise disrupt a quiet evening.

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The restaurant interior was designed by Chef-Mixologist Ethan himself. Touches of red velvet, railway sleepers and edison filament bulbs adorn the restaurant. These industrial, distressed elements somehow come together to create an overall chic look.

Not too many people are aware of this fact: Way before Ethan plunged into bartending and mixology, he actually started off as a chef, specialising in both Western and Chinese cuisine. Prior to the opening of FORT, Ethan travelled to Zurich to upgrade his culinary skills, from which he garnered inspiration to develop FORT’s Twelve Course Asian Fusion Omakase ($68 per pax) menu.

This visit to FORT, we tried their Omakase menu and were fortunate enough to have Ethan himself in action, preparing delicate dishes in the restaurant’s open-concept kitchen.

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We started the evening with some bespoke cocktails handcrafted by FORT’s Head Mixologist, Matteo. I’m glad we did, because the unique, tasty concoctions Matteo spun out based on brief taste profiles we gave him were the highlight of my night.

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FORT’s cocktail creations showcase a variety of techniques such as spherification, smoking, dehydration, distillation, and emulsion. There’s even a RotoVap sitting behind the bar looking more suited to a laboratory than restaurant that churns out delightful Vodka infusions.

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My colleague and I requested something sweet and fruity, and she received a drink incorporating the fresh flavours of Red Wine, Grapes, Lemon Grass and Raspberry, while I had a fuller-bodied one with Cherry, Blackberry and Pandan Vodka.

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The first course that arrived was the Soy Marinated Radish & Maguro, kicking off our dinner with lighter courses first. I quite liked the Soy Marinade that struck a good balance between savoury and sweet, tying together the clean, crisp flavours of the Radish and the meaty Maguro.

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Seaweed Salad with Yuzu Wasabi Soy Dressing came next, colourful and gorgeously plated. I enjoyed the crunch of the Seaweed, as well as the side of juicy tomatoes, but the star of the show was really the salad dressing. It had the subtle aroma of Yuzu, savouriness of Soy and a spicy-bite of Wasabi, albeit rather subdued.

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To prepare this Salmon Carpaccio with Kaffir Lime-Infused Olive Oil, Kaffir Limes were painstakingly hand-shaven into olive oil to infuse the oil with a beautiful citrus fragrance. This course was highly lauded by my colleague who swept her dish clean. I liked the idea behind it, but I personally found the Kaffir Lime oil a tad too bitter on my tongue.

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The Pan-Seared Scallops with Tobiko were decent. The scallops were flavourful and springy, and the Tobiko added a burst of umami and an interesting mouthfeel in contrast. Altogether, I found this good but perhaps the least exciting item of the twelve.

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FORT’s Omakase dishes feature fresh, quality ingredients, such as in the King Prawn, Avocado, Ikura Handroll. Admittedly, this course wasn’t particularly complex or inventive. Still, the tried and tested combination of sweet prawn, umami Ikura and smooth, earthy avocado was well-executed and arresting in its simplicity.

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Mid-way through the dinner, we tried FORT’s Antibiotic, a sultry, smoky whisky-based cocktail with hints of fresh ginger and lemongrass. A winning combination.

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At FORT, drink-crafting isn’t just a taste-bud pleasing affair, but a visual feast. We enjoyed witnessing mixologist crafting in action, especially with this cocktail. I requested something fizzy, citrus and fruity, and this Passionfruit and Prosecco mix came with a spectacular show involving a flambeed Passionfruit and powdered cinammon set aflame.

It became quite apparent to me why Maison Ikkoku was voted Best Cocktail Bar in the 2015 HungryGoWhere awards.

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Next up on the menu was the Free-Range Onsen Egg with Garlic Oil and Seaweed. Slow-cooked at 62 degrees, it was silky and rich, with a nice pungent kick of garlic. I felt, however, that the egg was more a demonstration of cooking technique than it was capable of holding its own as a dinner course. Sort of a blown-up version of a soft-boiled egg.

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The Smoked Goose Conchiglie with Parmigiano-Reggiano & Truffle Oil was my dream comfort food materialized. This course wasn’t particularly fancy-schmancy or gourmet in nature, but the best things often don’t have to be. Al dente Conchiglie, creamy melted cheese and smoky, salty flavour from the goose and truffle oil — thoroughly satisfying, I’ll say.

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The Lobster Tom Yam Bisque was out of this world, definitely my favourite course of the night. This photo hardly does justice to it. There were actually large hunks of King Prawn stowed beneath the golden, bubbly surface.

The bisque was fragrant, with the piquant taste of Tom Yam spices, and unbelievably sweet — in a ‘I-can’t-get-enough-of-this’ kind of way. I had to enquire as to whether any sugar was added, and to my disbelief, there was none. All the rich flavour was derived from boiling fresh King Prawn heads.

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I was really thrilled when they brought out the Signature Fort Roll. Don’t belittle this finely crafted maki roll. It really turned the heat up a notch with components like Spicy Maguro, Chef Ethan’s special Chilli Sauce and fresh Onion Sprouts that all have rather sharp flavours. We were spotted fanning ourselves after this course, but it certainly met our expectations of Fort’s Signature.

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Though I’m not a big burger fan, FORT’s secret recipe Homemade Lamb Slider was nicely portioned and well-received. The lamb patty was succulent and tender, complemented perfectly by the crusty buttered buns it was sandwiched between. 

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By this point I was so full that I thought I couldn’t go on, but the Salmon Aburi Don with Ikura came out and I mean, how could I have refused? Slightly charred exterior, sweet and soft in the middle, Aburi Salmon is my weakness. Top it off with pearls of briny Ikura and creamy mayonnaise and I’ll finish the whole thing even if it means having to grow myself a second stomach. 

For our final course, we had a dessert of Homemade Caramel Ice cream with Kaffir Green Apple Strips. I’m missing photos of this course because I devoured it promptly, savouring the acidity of the kaffir and green apple against the backdrop of sweet caramel.

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In all, I’d definitely recommend FORT’s Omakase menu for its value. The twelve courses we tried definitely justified their price tag in terms of flavour and quality — in fact, at $68, you’re technically paying only a little over $5 for each course which is very reasonable. I’ve definitely paid more for Omakase that I enjoyed much less.

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FORT is the perfect date location, in my opinion. The drinks and food are of good standard, service is attentive and ambiance is good. It can be quiet, if you need your space, or livelier if you choose to engage and interact with the friendly bartender and staff — did I mention my colleague and I got to try our hand at creating our own cocktails behind the bar? (Thanks Matteo!) The whole experience is a positive one, and you can even go for a romantic stroll through Fort Canning Park to end off your night.

Expected Damage: $68++ per person, though prices obviously go higher if cocktails are ordered.

FORT by Maison Ikkoku: 5 Cox Terrace, Singapore 179620 | Tel: 6336 0507 | Mondays to Sundays, 4:00pm till Late | Website