SINGAPORE — I remember when Jewel Changi Airport first opened back in April 2019. Occupying the former open-air car park in front of Changi Airport Terminal 1, Jewel was lauded as a way to ‘enhance Changi’s attractiveness’ and, in the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was poised to be ‘something special’.
My love for Jewel is unlike other urban malls. I’ve always enjoyed traipsing through her spacious corridors—a mega-mall that promotes itself as such, but in a time of a pandemic, offers the closest respite for a wanderlust-weary writer who reminisces the glory days of casual travel. It's why I find myself, one Sunday evening, making a trip down to Jewel with no agenda, except to aimlessly window shop and end the day with a spot of dinner.
Currently, with Terminal 1 and 3 closed to public access, visitors coming by MRT will have to take the slightly winding route through Terminal 2 and across the sky bridge to reach Jewel. Though a tad inconvenient, this route was how I discovered NY Verden Bar & Grill—perched on the third floor of Jewel, taking over the space once occupied by Eggs & Things, much to mine and every food writer’s delight.
Founded by Kuan Yiou, scion of an unnamed but well-known Singapore Bak Kut Teh empire, NY Verden was all set to open on 14th June, that is until dining restrictions of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) kicked in, putting all launch plans on a 5-week back burner. I reckon it’s for the best, giving the young restaurant more time (albeit unplanned) to work and drive the menu to perfection—which in many ways, it is.
Here, Darrel Woon assumes the position as culinary commander-in-chief, drawing inspiration from his time at Gaggan and, more recently, as sous chef at Italian restaurant Braci. It’s a storied resume that reflects succinctly in the food here—modern European with flavours that makes me giddy with excitement.
It starts with a Smoked beet tartare & burrata (S$28++) that is the very definition of gastronomical joy. It comes served with layers of creaminess from the burrata and pistachio emulsion, each subtly different from the other yet carries with it a riot of flavours and textures. Though designed as a beef alternate it’s a plate of beauty that can proudly stand on its own as a formidable vegetarian substitute. I can’t remember feeling this enamoured about an appetiser, and I’ve had many.
This is followed swiftly by a plate of Squid (S$19++), a deliberate choice that tests a chef’s acumen with time and texture—cooked too long, and it gets rubbery, too fast, and it’s rendered inedible. This was a test that Chef Darrel passes with flying colours, owed in large part to the impressive breadth of seasoning here that lifts Squid up where it belongs. It comes stacked on a bed of smoked celeriac puree with chunks that lend some much-needed texture. Once breaded and fried, the squid is tossed in a toothsome blend of paprika and salt, served with delicate Tomato Acqua Pazza, poured tableside. It’s impeccable.
Mains come by way of a Guinea Fowl (S$32++) glazed with honey and a spice mix of lavender flowers, cumin, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorn. It makes for a delightfully flavoured exterior though I wished the poultry was brined so that the interior matches the flourish of flavours of the outside. The fowl comes served with beautifully seasoned peas tossed in sumac and a quenelle of cauliflower puree topped with a single garlic flower. It’s hard not to spy with my little eye, Chef Darrel’s Braci-esque influences in this plate that utilise negative space to good intentions.
I also had the hulking Red Snapper (S$60++) because whole fish is easily one of the most finicky seafood a restaurant can serve—think Zhi Char stalls that usually adorn a whole fried fish with a robust and flavour-forward sauce. Here, snapper is served as-is, sans adornment, its pleasantly plain flesh a perfect base for the delicate pollen broth, replete with nuances of kombu and yuzu zest. The umami in this made me clutch my pearls, gasping in utter surprise. I’ve had many fish, but none with a broth like this.
Dinner ends with a fun serving of Ispahan (S$20++)—or so I was led to believe. What I imagined to be a simple presentation of cake turned out to be a complex and layered work of art.
It starts with a base of Almond Sponge Cake on which a round of Raspberry Jelly stealthily hides within a fragrant Rose mousse in a light hue of pink. Draped on top is a blanket of honey veil dotted with lychee gel that holds flower petals because what’s a dessert without some edible flowers, am I right? It’s a cake that’s fun to eat, especially with the pop rocks at the side that lends a touch of childhood nostalgia to the experience. Ispahan tries to be a lot of things and, through sheer miracle, manages to be everything all at once. There’s culinary magic to be found in this part of Jewel—I’m just mighty fortunate to be one of the few to have had the honour to experience it first.
Jewel, 78 Airport Blvd., #03 - 227, S819666
Mon to Sun: 11am – 2.30pm, 5pm – 10.30pm
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