The Beni Singapore restaurant is quite an unusual restaurant. It is related to the Hashida Garo restaurant next door, on level 4 of Mandarin Gallery. It serves French cuisine with produce from Japan and is helmed by Japanese chefs. Chef Kenji Yamanaka is Chef de Cuisine in this small, minimalist restaurant that only has 15 seats along a U-shaped counter. The pictures of Beni Singapore above and below are misleading as there is a mirrored wall on the right, which doubles up the illusion of space. The restaurant is essentially a small black box with spot-lighting trained on the countertop. It is quite an experience to be led into a restaurant such as this.
The French – Japanese elements of the restaurant were immediately obvious. The crisp linen, sparking stemware, menu and wine selections were predominantly French. The chefs and sommelier as well as the sake selection and the wet towels provided the Japanese elements. The small counter-seating layout is reminiscent of those tiny sushi restaurants with limited sushi bar seating. There were a total of six staff present – three chefs, the sommelier and two service personnel. Even assuming a full capacity, the customer to staff ratio would be an extremely low 15:6. During the quiet weekday lunch, the ratio was 3:6! As you can imagine, the service level at Beni is very high. Sadly, this means that prices are not low, although there is a not too painful Beni Experience lunch menu at $58. Here is a copy of that menu as well as the more pricey Degustation ($128) and Precieux ($228) menus.
I tried the basic “Experience” three course lunch menu. The first thing that was served was the bread and butter. These basic items looked so good in the spot light. The butter was from Brittany, France. Why do bread and butter taste so good only in restaurants?
No meal at a good French restaurant would be complete without some wine. As one can expect, the wine list was comprehensive. But what made it even more impressive was the typical gracious Japanese service. In response to my enquires about the white wines by the glass, the wonderful sommelier produced all three options at the counter, with an offer to taste them before ordering.
One can tell that some thought had been put into selecting these wines. All three were from France, but that was where the similarities end. Each of them was from a different region and made with different grapes. A gewürztraminer from Alsace to the north, a chardonnay from Burgundy and a Muscat/ Grenache blanc from Côtes du Rousillon to the south. All things to all men with just three bottles! In the end the decisions to go with the Domaine Gauby ($26 per glass) from Rousillon. It had a serious, strong taste and was something I had not tried before. There was also a third, superficial reason. It also looked good, exuding a golden glow which punctuated the otherwise monochromatic scene.
One of the benefits of counter-seating is that one can watch all the food preparation action. Here we could see the concentration and care that went into putting the finishing touches to the dishes. The heavy-duty cooking was done in the inner kitchen.
The first course was a seafood starter with a wonderful sauce. We can assume that presentation of fine French food will be at a high level. When it is done with Japanese attention to detail, the result was a very beautiful dish. It was very good.
Next came the main course. It was smaller than the starter! I suppose when you combine the small portions of French dishes with the light appetites of the Japanese, this is what you get. The roasted sea bass was from Japan and garnished with chicory and tomato. All the ingredients were of top quality. The chicory had a tinge of bitterness that balanced the sweetness of the tomato. The fish was as fresh and pure tasting as can be. The only problem was that it was a really small portion. The red gaudy plate in which it was served was also a bit loud for my liking.
Dessert was next. This did not look French or Japanese. I cannot remember the exact description but it tasted like shaved milky ice with tofu and coffee jelly. The taste was (slightly) better than the looks.
Next came the final items of the day – coffee and mignardise – a selection of two cookies and a marshmallow. The coffee was decent.
It was an adventure to eat at the Beni Singapore restaurant. This is clearly not any regular restaurant. The main food items were of high quality but low quantity. The dessert was so so. All the folks working at the restaurant were super attentive and courteous. A whole entourage including the head chef Yamanaka took the trouble to bid farewell at the end of the meal. Clearly this will be on our shortlist as a place to go for a special occasion.
(Note: According to the Beni website, they are relocating to the 2nd floor of Mandarin Gallery, do check with them on opening, closing details).
Overall Rating: 4 TOPs
333A Orchard Road
#04-16 Mandarin Gallery
Tel : +65 6235 2285
Mondays – Saturdays
Lunch 12:00 – 15:00 (Last seating: Lunch 14:00)
Dinner 19:00 -23:00 (Last seating: Dinner 21:00)
Closed on every Sunday.