I've mentioned this before, the reason why I conduct a revisit, as part of my Standard Operating Procedure (or S.O.P.), of an invited tasting, is because an invited tasting will hardly be an accurate gauge of the regular fare served on regular days to regular folk.
A simple analogy is this: do you put in more effort in your daily homework, or during a test? Invited tastings are where the chef already knows he's being "tested", and so, maybe they bring out their head chef to helm the kitchen personally instead of letting his apprentices run the show, or maybe they extraneously pile on the ingredients (and premium ones at that), or maybe they take more care and put in more effort, or maybe they put more staff on the service. Many times, the kitchen isn't as rigorous when serving an ordinary walk-in customer. So, no matter how honest or objective a reviewer tries to be when writing about an invited tasting, the fact that it's an invited tasting already taints it a subjective experience that the daily walk-ins won't experience. Incognito and unannounced revisits are possibly the only way to mitigate that subjective experience.
My differing experiences at Ash & Elm, first as an invited taster, and subsequently as a general everyday diner, was a perfect example of why I conduct an incognito and unannounced revisit post-invited tasting.
The invited tasting was really quite fantastic, and I'd thought to myself "AHA! Bugis finally has a upscale option serving decent food, yay!". This may be the raison d'etre for the many glowing reviews of Ash & Elm currently floating around. BUT, the S.O.P. revisit was such a dud when I brought along the Hubs and a friend back to Ash & Elm. I thought it was disappointingly pedestrian and the Hubs was terribly regretful that he'd wasted his calories on a lackluster dinner.
The silver lining, was that service was surprisingly more attentive and personable at the revisit, as opposed to during the invited tasting, which was clunky and bumbling.
Still, I don't see myself returning to Ash & Elm anytime in the foreseeable future.
At the invited tasting, the Ash & Elm Platter ($24 menu price) was pretty impressive, in part due to their on-site charcuterie and cheese room. The cold meats comprised an array of house-cured beef pastrami, house-smoked pork loin, air-dried pork belly, cold-roasted beef, presse de foie gras with smoked duck, paired with accouterments like pickles, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. There was no capacity to fit this in at the revisit, and we figured cured meats weren't exactly an indication of a kitchen's skill anyway.
The Pumpkin & Bacon Flat Bread ($18 menu price) flavoured with nutmeg and sage, and dotted with sunflower seeds, mascarpone, and parmigiano reggiano was quite the surprise hit at the invited tasting. Beautiful golden crust, chewy bread, and generously loaded with ingredients, this was carbs at its finest.We didn't manage to order this at the revisit.
At the invited tasting, the Beef Tasting Platter, a massive offering of USDA striploin, Australian ribeye, and French Bavette d'Aloyau all done to perfection, paired with a trio of weak sauces: bearaise, peppercorn, and jus; and sided by middling baked roseval potato wedges with paprika and rosemary, grandma's mashed potatoes that had way too much cream and milk, and sauteed mixed mushrooms that were grossly laced with parsley.
At the revisit, the Beef Tasting Platter ($108) was cooked well, to the medium doneness as requested, but the meats were a little gamey. I much prefer Sugarhall's interpretation of a steak sampler, which may be smaller, but proportionally cheaper. The vine tomatoes and garlic, I also distinctly remember being more scrumptiously browned at the tasting; these were noticeably underdone at the revisit.
The Seafood Linguine with a medley of scallops, shrimps, squid and clams, and tossed in an olive, basil and crustacean sauce, was unforgettable at the tasting. This was like western-style ee-mee. A mellowed seafood stock that was less saccharine than expected of most seafood pastas was imbued into each linguine strand, making it totally delicious. This was our favourite main at the tasting, and the plate that was finished first.
I was looking forward to the Seafood Linguine ($31) at the revisit, but it was insipid and flat in taste; that wonderful stock base that was present at the tasting was hardly featured here. To compound matters, the squid and clams were overcooked and rubbery.
At the tasting, the French Free-Rangle Yellow Chicken Supreme ($29 menu price) of a 30-day corn-fed chicken from Savel, France marinated with thyme and rosemary, was set atop whipped polenta, sauteed sweet corn and bacon, and slathered in a mushroom sauce, was the weakest of the mains. It passed muster, but it was trite and unmemorable.
The Slow-Grilled Spanish Iberico Pork Chop was the second favourite main at the tasting, with juicy succulent meat that was robust with nary a hint of game.
At the revisit, the Slow-Grilled Spanish Iberico Pork Chop ($39) was lovely, and as yummy as I'd remembered.
I wasn't particularly impressed with the Tasmanian Salmon Fillet a Plancha ($46 menu price) either at the tasting, even if it was cooked faultlessly. It was decent, but just lacking that something-something, that spark, that jazzmatazz.
We got another fish instead at the revisit, a Line-Caught Yellowfin Tuna Steak ala Basquaise ($30) seared-lightly and served with a tomato-based sauce, Basque-style, with grilled root vegetables. I liked it, but the Hubs thought this was quite the humdrum dish.
At the tasting, the complimentary assortment of bread and breadsticks, and its accompanying house-made seaweed butter and whipped butter, was excellent.
Ditto for the revisit, and I suspect the flatbread might have done well at the revisit had we the capacity to fit it into the revisit.
Ash & Elm
Intercontinentel Hotel Level 1
80 Middle Road
Tel: 6825 1008
Open weekdays from 6am to 10.30am; 12noon to 2pm; 6pm to 10.30pm;
weekends from 6am to 11am; 6pm to 10.30pm