The notoriously uppity Freemasons would no doubt have baulked had they known what Bacchanalia co-founders Alex Chew and Raj Datwani had in store for the ground floor of their beloved Masonic Lodge: a festering ground for night time (and arguably daytime) debauchery – much in the same vein as their boozy Bacchanalia Brunch series, which they kicked off last year at various pop-up locations around town (and have expanded to editions in Taiwan and Hong Kong).
The duo couldn’t have unearthed a better place for their permanent upscale. Sandwiched between the Central Fire Station and Singapore Philatelic Museum, the drab colonial-era structure, with unusual symbols emblazoned on its white exterior, has long been a source of mystery. The restaurant itself remains hidden behind a set of heavy wooden doors even after you come in through the building’s main entrance – once you’re in, you’re transported to a huge catacomb-like sanctuary, filled with velvety red chairs, heavy drapes and a glittery ceiling adorned with 450 individual glass baubles (blown and flown in from an Oregon glassblower). The 120-seat establishment is designed to be a bar, restaurant and party venue all at the same time; Chew and Datwani also plan to continue the monthly brunch series at the venue, which will host special occasions aside from the regular dinner and weekend service.
It’s an impressive (and posh) setup for a new joint, and three weeks into the opening, the concept looked strong with only a few miscues, but Bacchanalia’s all-local staff (one of their points of pride) more than made up for it with their slick service and genuine knowledge of the restaurant’s dishes. Music is clearly a key component of the experience, with DJs spinning tunes on Wednesdays and Fridays; the music gets progressively louder as the night wears on, so make sure to get any dinner conversation out of the way early.
In the kitchen, you could say the founders scored a culinary coup by snagging their trio of chefs: Brazil native Ivan Brehm and sous chef Mark Ebbels, plus desserts whiz Kosta Papathansiou, all from Heston Blumenthal’s highly acclaimed (and experimental) The Fat Duck in England. And true to form, Brehm and co don’t stick to conventional means. Everything is meant for sharing (dishes come a bit larger than normal tapas portions; a basic formula of three dishes, plus a dessert, should be enough for two people) – the 16-item menu is divided into categories such as meat, vegetables and seafood, with the dishes’ common names masking some truly inspired twists.
Light as foam, Bacchanalia’s cauliflower gratin ($17) nonetheless conveyed the creamy and cheesy texture you’d expect from its traditional counterpart, while the cauliflower florets – deep fried to crunchy perfection – hidden within made for an intriguing marriage in textures.
Equally impressive was a gently oil-poached tiger prawn resting on our next dish, an exceptional risotto ($28) perked up with balsamic radicchio, creamy burrata and finely-diced strawberries for some added sweetness. And if you thought meats would be the tamest options on the menu, guess again – a classic steak & eggs ($38) is plated with tender medium-pink medallions of Brandt Beef Family Reserve rib eye cap and ‘eggs’, an egg yolk confit ringed with silkily smooth yam puree along with a bowl of addictive chips seasoned with konbu salt instead of the now-ubiquitous truffle oil.
Brehm has clearly been sampling local fare, as his foie gras satay ($30) would attest – the sous-vide goose liver melts beautifully on the tongue, but its richness lingers and is a solid accompaniment to the grated chestnuts and peanut sauce on top, underscored by the judicious use of tamarind gel for a zesty finish. A solid choice to end the savoury journey with.
But it’s with desserts that the food’s complexity really kicks up a notch – the hot/cold combo of a morello cherry sorbet and warm rice pudding ($14) came highly recommended; likewise, the simpler-sounding (but anything but) avocado and lime ($15) was a delightful party in our mouths, with half an avocado stuffed with goat’s cheese and coated in black sugar, plus a lime sorbet on the side.
Of course, there’s also plenty to imbibe while you eat – cocktails hover around the $20 mark, along with an impressive wine, champagne and sake list. But while the restaurant might pay homage to the wine god Bacchus, alcohol isn’t really the most pleasurable sin here (though you won’t be out of place coming just for drinks) – it’s the food. And we’ll gladly drink to that. Lee Min Kok
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