SINGAPORE — Michelin-star restaurants perplex me. This reticence comes on the heels of a visit two years ago to a three-star establishment in Singapore, perched high up amongst the clouds, that left me thoroughly unimpressed. Conversation with food friends about what makes a restaurant Michelin-worthy almost always ends with a toss-up between food quality and impeccable service, as if those two factors aren’t already a given.
For me, a restaurant worth its weight in Michelin-star is one with a good story at its heart. By story, I don’t mean drama or theatrics—I don’t need glass domes or scented smoke to waft out of opaque chalices. I have little need, too, for herbs and leaves meticulously plucked from a walled garden at the back. All I want is a good story.
All this is not to say that a Michelin-star restaurant bereft of a story is by any measure lesser. Without a compelling tale of intention, a restaurant has little choice but to lean on a faultless menu that impresses from start to end. I take pains to say this because it’s not usually the case all the time. Everyone has room to grow, but if you’re a three Michelin-star joint, honey, that ship has long and truly sailed.
This brings me to Alma by Juan Amador, tucked at the corner of Goodwood Park Hotel, commandeered to five consecutive one Michelin-star fame by Singaporean Executive Chef Haikal Johari. I came here for lunch, which garnered a lot of ‘But dinner is so much, better, Zat” proclamations in my IG DMs, which goes to show that even with an award safe and firm in their pocket, restaurants like Alma still have a lot to prove.
At S$78++ for a 4-course lunch menu, Alma could be the easiest and most pocket-friendly Michelin-star restaurant where you can have an elegant meal without any foreboding joy.
Going with a friend means I get to try more options in their 4-course lunch menu. To start, there’s a delicate presentation of Hokkaido Scallops, bursting with both colours, flavours, and textures. A bed of scallops tartare carries the weight of cheese parfait, white meringue, and slices of Japanese strawberries. There are pine nuts somewhere in this which lends an incredible savouriness to a dish already overflowing with all things bright and carefully acidic. It is served with a quenelle of Yellow Gazpacho sorbet and sauce, flavours that add a poetic contradiction to the brininess of scallops.
Starters come by way of either a Crispy Tofu or a Boston Lobster Capellini, both champions in their own right. I’m more partial to the tofu, though, with its moreish wild mushroom undertones that pair amazingly with an earthy Foie Gras Emulsion. It’s impressive. Even more impressive is that lightly battered tofu, seasoned and flash-fried till delicately crispy outside while retaining a pillowy softness within.
The Boston Lobster Capellini shares the Tofu’s bold flavour profile—going forth bravely and never excessively restrained. Still, it’s Boston lobster, after all, like most lobster dishes in Singapore, so I’m a bit hesitant to heap praise though it is no lightweight. The Hijiki on top and lobster butter greatly help with the waves of umami flavours that burst in the mouth.
It helps that attention falls squarely on the food because, looking around, the decor here feels like it’s stuck in a time capsule of the 1990s. It desperately needs to be brighter and elegant if only to match the fabulousness of the cuisine. If not now, during a pandemic, then when?
No sooner had I entertained and discussed that thought, along came a plate of Barramundi—the softest, most flavourful fish I’ve ever eaten this year. Unlike the previous appetisers and starters, this is suitably restrained, which I greatly appreciate, giving space and room for Barramundi to shine. Not that it lacks culinary creativity. The mustard leaf, for instance, has a touch of spice that pairs beautifully with its inherent bitterness, while the oyster sauce adds a touch of brininess. What’s there not to love?
There’s also a plate of Pork Jowl served with Kale, Sweet Corn, Mustard and Pork Jus. It’s a simply seasoned cut of Pork Jowl, carefully cooked so that it still retains bite. On its own, it can be a tad predictable. But with all the other co-stars, duly elevated. It takes brightness from the onions, bitterness from the Kale, and crunch from the courgette cubes. There’s also a slight restraint of flavour here, not that I minded at all. It makes for a nice change of scenery.
Lunch ends with a bowl of Japanese Musk Melon dessert served with musk melon balls, white grapes, musk melon sorbet, and icy lychee granita. It’s a dessert I can stand behind, with each element contributing a different type of sweetness to the entire presentation without talking over each other. It’s essentially a fruit bowl with pizzazz.
I left understanding Alma’s appeal and its fame which is severely underrated. Everyone talks about the Jaan’s, Odette’s, Cloudstreet’s, and Sommer’s. Still, I rarely hear people heaping honorific on Alma, which is peculiar because, after today’s lunch, it’s clear that praise needs to be given where credit is due. Alma by Juan Amador far exceeds any measure of expectations I had for an establishment this unsung. I’ll recommend this without hesitation to anyone wishing to experience Michelin-star quality food any time. It’s excellence that deserves your attention.
22 Scotts Rd, S228221
Mon to Sat: 12nn – 2.30pm
Tue to Sun: 6pm – 10.30pm