Alma by Juan Amador at Goodwood Park Hotel received one Michelin star in the inaugural edition of the Singapore Michelin Guide. It is hardly surprising because Chef Amador has 3 stars under his belt for his eponymous restaurant in Germany. Surprise! He’s a German chef, though Spanish by descent. He is known for applying molecular gastronomy to Spanish cuisine. At Alma, he serves modern Asian-inspired Spanish food, which makes sense since the Asian ingredients would be fresher when they have a shorter distance to travel.
Many of the restaurants he opens have received stars. His success may be attributed to the food being excellent or/and the Michelin Guide doesn’t want to slap itself in its face. Handing out 3 stars is the highest accolade a restaurant can receive, and few have that honor. If Michelin gives him 3 stars, but thinks his other restaurants suck, then it may appear the Guide lacks good judgment and isn’t reliable.
But don’t worry the food is excellent. Alma means “soul” in Spanish and the restaurant wants to serve comforting soul food. Chef Haikal Johari, who helms the kitchen and has experience at Ember, Les Amis, and Joel Robuchon, dishes out plates of tapas for sharing. You may also order a set menu starting from $88++. The 3-course lunch menu is at $39++.
When I was there in the afternoon, and everything was bright, I thought the restaurant looked so old and tired. There was a musky smell, not quite as sharp as turpentine but still uncomfortable. The tables weren’t padded, there was no table cloth. I was disappointed at the setting.
The food, however, is first class. The gratis brioche comes in a gunny sack of hot stones to keep the bread warm—a thoughtful touch. The onion soup is originally a French dish, but they transformed it somehow. Instead of the sweetness of the French version where they sweat out the pungency to induce the sweetness, this version has the exciting tangy sourness of a… gazpacho. The sourness is offset by the sweetness of the langoustine. In the French version, it is sometimes chock-full of onion, but here the onion is replaced with a crisp of foie gras to give the soup texture.
The main. Ah! The pork belly. This is what Chef Johari was famed for at Ember Restaurant and it is still as good as I remember. The fat to meat ratio is perfect, it is not oily, the skin is super crispy but not hard, and the pork is salted just enough to bring out the umami of the fats.
What is new is the fancy plating and the accompanying sauces. There are globs of mustard and olive, some shyly hidden under spinach leaves; two mini potatoes masquerade as mustard; and superfood kale assuages your guilt for eating pork belly. This plating is artful and smart, blurring what is real and false, hiding and revealing veracity and deception. I like it.
The deconstructed pina colada is fun as it is tasty. Pineapple gazpacho, coconut ice cream, rum espuma, 3 tiny cubes of crispy white chocolate cake, and granita to mimic ice. It’s good.
What can be improved for the lunch menu:
(1) although all three courses are complex, there is already an underlying sourness to all three dishes, which makes it seem like it’s sour throughout the meal;
(2) I was still hungry and wanted to order a la carte. I heard their pigeon ($32) is their signature item, and intended to order it even before I stepped into the restaurant, but the kitchen only serves the limited lunch menu, not a la carte. I suppose that’s because there are only 3 tables of customers here and it’s not profitable to prepare the food during lunch.
Alma is about a year old yet it looks gloomy and jaded and tired. Although Alma will not make it to my 10 Best Restaurants of the Year list, I do think the food at Alma is smart and delicious, and I can see why it received a star.
Including Alma, I’ve eaten at 23 out of 29 Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore. 6 more to go!
I paid $45 for lunch. A reasonable price.
Alma by Juan Amador
22 Scotts Road, Goodwood Park Hotel, Singapore 228221
W-F 12pm-2.30pm, M-Sat 6pm-10.30pm
T: +65 6735 9937
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.