French-Japanese cuisine is how Japanese chefs interpret French cuisine, and it’s in a class of its own. And among the genre, béni is a class of its own.
Most restaurants increase their prices after receiving Michelin stars. But béni, the Japanese- French restaurant given a star every year since the inaugural (2016) Michelin Guide for Singapore, cut them instead.
Head chef Kenji Yamanaka, who has been running the kitchen since béni opened in 2015, applies French cooking techniques to Japanese ingredients – which you will find in many fine-dining contemporary Western restaurants – except that his dishes have a more Japanese slant than what you will find at places such as Odette or Restaurant Andre.
Most executive chefs no longer cook; they usually stand at the end of the line and check the food before it gets sent out to diners. However Chef Yamanaka still did the prep work and cooked the food in the open kitchen for us the customers when we were there one afternoon.
The space is extremely intimate – three tables, a long wooden Chef table setting which seats up to eight diners and 2 private rooms which can accommodate up to 8 and 10 persons.
The bread we had was fantastic. Slices of baguette, wholemeal bread and poppy seed bun paired with salted egg butter whipped in-house and unsalted butter from France. I usually go easy on bread to pace my appetite but I finished all the warm and fresh bread served because of the salted egg butter.
béni serves only fixe prix menu, no a la carte.
Coquillage | sesame | consomme
The first course of the degustation is a shellfish amuse bouche. The shellfish in play was the razor clam. Shellfish is always wonderful for its umami.
The clams were encased in a jelly consommé made from the clam juice. That’s overwhelming with umami but balanced with a slice of sesame tofu.
Nicoise | bluefin tuna | Japanese egg
Mushroom Quartet | truffle royale | argan oil
In Morocco, argan oil is used to dip bread in at breakfast or to drizzle on couscous or pasta. But here in Singapore, it is used more for cosmetic purposes. An authentic Moroccan culinary argan oil for eating should have a golden brown colour and delicious nutty taste. The toasting process makes it unsuitable for cosmetic use.
I’m usually not fond of cold soups, but the mushroom with cream and truffle is an exception. The mushroom here is a mix of three types of Japanese mushrooms including enoki and shimeji, and beneath the mushroom layer is a chawamushi-like texture.
Catch of the Day | French crepes | lobster
Sea bass is presented as a fillet done “matsukasayaki” style with the fish skin and scales intact. It is roasted Japanese-style on just the side where the skin is, allowing the heat to penetrate the meat slowly, while turning the scales to a cracker-like crisp. Served with abalone mushroom, crepes and a lobster bisque sauce, it shows how the best in Japanese and French cooking can come together in one beautiful dish.
Japanese Grape | heather lamb | lemon verbena
Coffee or Tea, Mignardises
Next came the final items of the day – coffee/tea and mignardises – petit fours of mango macaroons, financiers, raspberry chocolate wafers and kuzumochi with kuromitsu and kinako. The coffee was decent illy stuff.
Financier is a small French almond cake, flavoured with beurre noisette, usually baked in a small mold. Light and moist with a crisp, eggshell-like exterior, the traditional financier also contains egg whites, flour, and powdered sugar. The molds are usually small rectangular loaves similar in size to petits fours.
Kuzumochi (葛餅) are mochi cakes made of kuzuko (tapioca flour). It is traditionally served chilled, topped with a brown sugary syrup called kuromitsu and roasted soybeans powder called kinako.
Signature Scallop | celeriac | truffle dressing
The pan-seared Hokkaido scallop with celeriac confit, black truffle dressing and a squid-ink biscuit further solidified the Japanese-French connection. The sweet scallop, cooked just right, works well with the varying textures of the other ingredients on the plate. The squid-ink biscuit, which reminds me of a piece of black coral, also dresses up the dish very nicely.
Welsh lamb | lamb sauce | seasonal vegetables
Welsh lamb is incredibly hard to find here. Only 35-40% of available lamb is exported outside of Wales and the rest of the UK, and 92% of that goes to EU countries (of course, that might change after Brexit). It was the only lamb Queen Victoria would serve in her household because she deemed it the most tender.
The Welsh lamb, still pink in the centre, is so tender that the knife slices through it without effort. The flavour is mild and pleasant, without any of the strong smell that often turns people against the meat.
As you’d expect of a joint of this calibre, the food is faultless: refined French techniques are used to make the most of the stellar Japanese produce. Besides the Michelin star, it has been voted one of the best restaurants in Singapore as well as the best young chef for Chef Masahiko. The service was subpar that day, but the food compensated for it.
Before we left, the maitre’d reminded us to try the dinner degustation, which is a more elaborate and more varied version of the lunch degustation. And return I will.
333A Orchard Road, #02-37 Mandarin Gallery, Singapore 238897
Tel : +65 9159 3177
Date Visited : Nov 2019
Michelin Singapore 1 Star 2016-2019