Text by Kien Lee | Photos by Amanda Wong
At the end of 2016, Luke Armstrong stepped into The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, the restaurant which earned its first one-Michelin Star at the inaugural Michelin Guide Singapore held earlier in the year.
Will the high standards be maintained? How will the new chef do? *gasp* Could it lose its Michelin Star?
It would not be an easy first few months for the incoming chef. The Michelin Guide inspectors could come at any time unannounced, unidentified. Would the customers like a new style of cooking?
No one would say it out loud. But the pressure was real.
However, the 29-year old Australian-born chef was no newbie on the scene.
At 17, he had already left school and started an apprenticeship in a restaurant in Perth. At 21, he joined one-Michelin-starred Pied a Terre, then two-Michelin-starred The Ledbury, both in London, and then three-Michelin-starred Oud Sluis (now closed) in the Netherlands.
Prior to moving to Singapore, he was head chef of London's Maze restaurant opened by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, which incidentally lost its Michelin star that year.
We speak to Luke Armstrong following the news that The Kitchen at Bacchanalia retained its one-Michelin Star — never a given — and reflect on the progress he has made in the first half of 2017 and what to expect going forward as he finally (and quickly) found his feet here.
Chef Luke Armstrong stepped into The Kitchen at Bacchanalia
Congratulations on the one Michelin Star for The Kitchen at Bacchanalia! It may be the restaurant retaining its standing, but for you it’s a fresh one Michelin Star altogether. How did you feel when your restaurant was announced?
Thank you very much, Kien. It is a fantastic moment for me. I’m very humbled to be recognised by Michelin in such a short time span. However the journey has just begun.
Tell us how this whole process started from the beginning. How did you end up helming The Kitchen at Bacchanalia?
I have been cooking since 14 years ago. Starting as an apprentice in Australia then moving to Europe and spending the next 10 years working at more than five Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, from one to three Michelin star restaurants.
I was put forward by two chefs from 3-Michelin-starred restaurants to the owners of The Kitchen at Bacchanalia. In November last year, I flew to Singapore to check out on the local food before I accepted the offer. I find Singapore is a beautiful city with great dining standard. In December 2017, I started my career at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia.
Six months is a short term to not only get up to speed, but to win accolades as well. Tell us how you approach the work you do?
I put a lot of focus and drive in my work. As a chef, you must be extremely hardworking and passionate. Perseverance is the key to success.
At The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, we concentrate on lunch & dinner to make things right. In my first week at the restaurant, we changed the entire menu. Although one of the usual ways was to keep the old menu, however, that is not my style. I’m very passionate about my job. Hence, I decided to start everything from scratch. The revamped menu also helps to showcase my personality as a chef.
We have to work with what we got; we have to make things work. With the existing team, we build on levels. After each level was satisfied, we will increase and move on to achieve another level. I never set unachievable goals, but remain focused to ensure that the food continues to improve and bring it up to the next level. In the past six months, we were building level by level each time and things have improved gradually.
We also place a strong emphasis in sourcing and buying smart on our ingredients. We only go to farms which serve produces that we believe in. We use seasonal ingredients, thus allowing our diner to enjoy the robust flavours of the produces.
Are the taste palettes different from Europe compared to Asia? Did you feel you needed to make any adjustments?
Yes, definitely and the only way to make adjustments is by eating different local food. Local food that I have tried include Chicken rice to Peranakan dishes. I also talk to my guests at the restaurants to find out more about their preferred taste. In the first few months, I spent every lunch and dinner speaking to my customers, and listening to what they say.
To me, Asians prefer bold flavours, and the sauces must be flavoursome. Everything you try at the hawker is heavily seasoned. While in Europe, we have many produces growing near to us. Hence, we are able to get very fresh produce for our menu.
How would you describe your cooking?
My cooking style is contemporary French cuisine, based around seasonality and quality produce, emphasised through flavour.
What can we look forward to at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia? Are things busier since the Michelin Guide announcement?
Our lunch and dinner have been fully booked since the announcement, and we have been receiving many calls for reservations. We are very excited to serve our food to more people to enjoy. We will also be launching some brand-new dishes in the dinner menu on 20 July 2017 for our diners to indulge in. They will be able to enjoy a wider variety of The Kitchen at Bacchanalia’s signature and seasonal dishes.
Amongst our latest creations, we will be serving the Pineapple Tomato, a luscious seasonal yellow fruit with red marbling from Eyragues, Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’tzar. It is served with quinoa salad, diced tomato, elderflower cream and a cold broth of gazpacho consommé.
For the mains, we have included the Wild Turbot, a seasonal treat served with algae cream, barbecue fennel and Manzanilla velouté — a type of sherry sauce, as well as the Dry-aged Fillet of Beef - grass-fed beef and wild asparagus, all pulled together with a moreish bone marrow and thyme jus.
For dessert, one of my favourites is the Pistachio Parfait, which features Sicilian pistachio grounded into a paste and served with caramelised white chocolate cremeaux and marinated wild berries.
The Kitchen at Bacchanalia
39 Hongkong St
Tel: (65) 9179 4552