I've resisted going to Beni for a while now. The parking at Mandarin Gallery is terrible (navigating the teeny tiny squeezy narrow carpark is like being back at the obstacle course at driving school arghh!), and if it was possible, contacting the restaurant was an even bigger pain. We rarely, if ever, plan our meals in advance, u see, so most of the time, we let fate decide the where-to for dinner...and usually end up at whichever restaurant has a last-minute availability. And Beni, in addition to its policy of requiring a deposit to secure a reservation, didn't take reservations over the phone, if you got through to them at all in the first place.
Hiccups in accessing the restaurant aside, dinner at Beni was transcendent. Like I was cautious and all, because French-Japanese cuisine tends to the clinical and stuffy. But consider me mind-blown; just about every dish was extraordinary. It's like the chef took the best parts of his French training and Japanese heritage and fashioned something wonderful and exceptional. The food was inventive and cohesively so, a seamless fusion of flavours and textures that made for an incredible dinner.
For sure, Beni's one of 2018's best eats. And while the $258 price-tag of the 9-course degustation-only menu is a little steep, I 'd highly recommend it as a year-end bonus treat.
We got counter seats, to watch the open kitchen in action, and it was mesmerizing. Quiet, steady, meticulous, the harmonious workings of the kitchen was most civilized. U know, in contrast to the mayhem of Hell's Kitchen.
Service was consummate as well. Our water glasses were kept brimming, and our wine glasses were topped up according to our drinking pace, bit by bit so the sake stayed chilled. Aside from the less-than-perfect English (I had so. much. trouble. deciphering the Japanese accent), the staff took the time to thoroughly explain each dish, and slowed down when they noticed I was taking notes.
Also noteworthy were the most gorgeous place settings ever, furnished by Japanese brand Sghr. Seriously tempted to overhaul my dining-ware now.
Kicking off the dinner was a quartet of miniature breads: beetroot, rosemary brioche, baguette, and croissant, kept warm with hot stones (so be careful not to touch them), and sided by a seaweed-yuzu butter and softened butter. They were exquisite, but I really took to the beetroot; it was outstanding...which is saying something because I don't even like beetroot!! (quick tip: if u ask nicely, u get seconds, or thirds of the bread)
Setting up our palates was a two-step tea ceremony-like ritual. Leaves of the King of Green Hiro Gyokura were first steeped in 70C water, whereby we were instructed to sip just the infused water, leaving the leaves behind. The remainder was to be eaten thereafter with a top-up of olive oil and sea salt. I'd expected the familiar grassiness of regular tea, but I was hit with the tea's distinctive savoury notes. Intensely umami, this really helped whet our appetites.
The starter course was a refreshingly chilled melange of Japanese Crab & Winter Melon Gelly, topped with caviar, shiso flower and gold leaves for a touch of decadence.
The next course was a trio of the sweetest, most succulent crustaceans ever, Lobster, Langoustine & Shrimp, served alongside Hokkaido uni set on steamed eggplant, Japanese mushroom caps, radish rings, egg cream, orange sauce, and lobster roe powder.
A play on the classic mushroom soup, a blended cream of four types of mushrooms layered a silky smooth Chawanmushi custard base: botan, shimeiji, maitake, and enoki. Finishing touches of arouton nubbins and a drizzle of spice oil (complex with curry, cardamon, cinnamon, coriander, star anise, cloves, orange peel, garlic, white pepper, and bay leaf) lent oomph. U know, when the chef was rattling off all of the spices in the spice oil, I was thinking "a bit of an overkill, no? who cares if all these spices were in there or not??" But one spoonful was enough to prove me stupid wrong, it was so.freaking delicious. The oil really pulled this altogether, and made something comforting unexpectedly exciting.
Strictly as a matter of preference, I wasn't crazy about this dish. I loved the fat juicy Iwati prefecture Pan-Seared Scallop, and the moreish squid ink chip really set off its sweetness. And while the celeriac puree was a nice balance against the black truffle dressing, I found the celeriac pieces a bit too sharp.
It's now white truffle season...so of course we supplemented with oodles of Alba truffle shavings (+ $20), which fragrance underscored the delicate flavours of the Kyushu Soft-Boiled Egg, red wine onions, Japanese rice pudding, sabayon cream, and bacon crisps.
The Hata Fish, I think, was the only weak link. It would have been perfect if taken off the fire like 2-3 seconds earlier. That said, I loved the surprise pairing of champignon mushroom chicken essence cream with fish. I love chicken essence (although it was hilarious that that brought back nightmares of exam season for the Hubs hahahaa), so I may be a little biased in this regard.
The Yonezawa A5 Wagyu and black truffle & Madeira wine sauce, we had the tenderloin (front) and ribeye (back) cuts, was rich and sumptuous. Sides of potato mousse, a tapioca chip, and seasonal vegetables: broccoli, shisito pepper, sugar snap peas, carrots, gingko, sweet potato, helped cut through the fatty heft of the meat.
There are two options for dessert: the Japanese Muscat & Kyoho Grapes with shiso flowers, campari granita, mascarpone and a berry wine sauce, was clear and refreshing. This was superb as a palate cleanser.
The other dessert option was a Cheese Platter ($10), French of course, and while there's usually a variety of 4 cheeses, we opted for our 2 favourites: a Comte, and an ash goat's cheese, paired with a fig and plum jam, fruit bread, raisins and walnuts.
We were bursting at the seams at this course, but the oh-so-pretty-it-hurts Japanese Peach, topped with a flurry of edible roses, lychee granita, vanilla ice-cream, and dusting of raspberry powder was excellent as a palate cleanser.
Most degustation coffees are pedestrian at best, but the Latte at Beni was surprisingly good. Robust and full-bodied, the barista even managed coffee art. Colour me impressed.
We always credit the French for their pastries, but often-times, the Japanese make the most amazing sweets too. The Petit Fours, of mixed berry almond tarts, financiers, and caneles, was more like petit trois, but who cares when they're this delicious. Holy crap were they little bites of heaven. Seriously, I would return just for the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth financiers and incredible caneles. They were just that good.
333A Orchard Road
#02-37 Mandarin Gallery
Tel: 9159 3177
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 7pm to 10pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays