Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Closing Down of Guy Savoy, Singapore - So Long, and Thanks For All The (Crispy-Scaled) Fish

This afternoon, I received an email from Guy Savoy MBS' Executive Chef and General Manager Eric Bost confirming the sad news: that Guy Savoy at Marina Bay Sands Singapore would serve its last dinner on Sunday, 2 February 2014.

Crispy-Scaled Sea Bass, Swiss Chard, Ginger and Vanilla Sauce

I do not know why it is closing; I am not privy to any insider information beyond what little (nothing!) has been in the public domain.  All I know is that I will miss Bost's cooking and his team's hospitality.  Tremendously.

What really frustrated me is that when I bumped from time-to-time into members of the Asia's / World's 50 Best Restaurants voting jury, none of these so-called gourmets really seemed to rate Guy Savoy Singapore.  I wanted to grab them by their collars and really shake some sense into them.  "So are you really trying to tell me that you think Guy Savoy is no better than Eat Me (Bangkok)?  Yardbird (Hong Kong)?  Gunther's and Imperial Treasure (both Singapore)?"  Bollocks!

I am a firm believer that while there is no accounting for personal taste, the objective quality of great food can and should transcend individual preferences.  I thought the food at Guy Savoy Singapore was of that level.  It certainly was not a fashionable restaurant, even though its interior was very stylish.  But its cuisine, light and pure modern French emphasising produce quality, wasn't "cool".  It certainly wasn't cool enough to appeal to the fickle local market.  They want the next big thing, the next exciting trend, the next techno-emotional whatever-you-call-it, the next indie-boho-hippie grungey thingamejig.  You know what I think?  F--k pectinex ultra (what is that crap anyway, seriously?).  Screw morphings and alginates.  And I really don't give a rat's about your next restaurant / café in a restored (but in reality gutted and now soulless) Peranakan house masquerading as a tattoo parlour / body-piercing shop.

Two of my most memorable recent gastronomic experiences in Singapore were at Guy Savoy, and I am sad to think that I will probably never experience their like again.  To sit back, enjoying the crumbly decadence of Bernard Antony's vieux comté, while sipping on a glass of vin jaune and admiring the sunshine on Marina Bay.  And at the end, to thank Bost and his ever-ready service staff for another wonderful afternoon, wonderfully well-spent.  I don't know Bost very well, but he wore his heart on his sleeve and more than once, I saw his sincerity, his eagerness to please as he plated his creations for us tableside.  He deserves far better than this, and I am sure he will move on to bigger, better things.

What do I think proved Guy Savoy's ultimate undoing?  It's hard to say.  It certainly didn't have anything to do with the food or the service; $290++ for the 8-course Menu Prestige strikes me as decent value in this town.  I suspect the casino-priced wine list didn't help matters, nor did MBS' draconian no-BYO policy.  The irony of this all is that of the people in Singapore who have the money to spend regularly on restaurants in this price range, most of them (likely the older, moneyed Singaporeans) have probably also painstakingly built up their cellars over the decades and like taking their own wines out even if they have to pay a corkage fee.  They are not prepared to pay exorbitant mark-ups on wines which they purchased for a lot cheaper many years ago before the mainland Chinese realised that this Lafite stuff don't taste half-bad.  The standard 150-200% mark-up on retail?  Maybe.  The 400-500+% casino mark-up?  Nope.  Now you need to understand that these people are neither cheap nor stingy.  Rather, they know what it was like to do it tough in their younger years.  I know a lot of people like that, and when you have had that life experience, you don't spend your hard-earned unnecessarily.  And poof, there goes your beverage revenue.

Guy Savoy's closure leaves MBS in an interesting position.  Having already lost Santi in 2011, it no longer boasts a European prestige restaurant with a Michelin-starred name.  Waku Ghin (where the very capable and charming ex-Guy Savoy head sommelier Julien Drevon now plies his trade) is now the only prestige restaurant left in MBS.  The Santi space, where I enjoyed an incredible afternoon with Etienne Hugel tasting his wines mere weeks before Santi's closure, has now been taken over by a Northern Chinese restaurant, Beijing No. 1.  Has the age of big-name European chefs passed in Singapore?  Is the name no longer enough to attract the clientele?  Even if it isn't, to put Guy Savoy in this category is unfair, because it delivered in spades both on and off the plate.

That's enough from me.  I am going back to my little hometown of Ipoh soon and will not be back before Guy Savoy shuts its doors for the last time.  I don't know if repeated large doses of Ipoh hor fun and white coffee can bring the smile back to my face after writing this anger-ridden rant, but I will try and see if it does.  To sum up, if you have never been to Guy Savoy, please do yourself a favour and go.  If you have, you know what I've been going on about for the last five minutes and why I have been doing it, so go back again while you can.

Eric and team - all the best.  Thank you for many happy memories.

Postscript: Karla Pengsagun has very kindly brought to my attention a Business Times article on the closure.  Apparently, David Thompson of Nahm fame will be opening a Thai street food eatery in the Guy Savoy space in June or July 2014.  I will not hear a bad word said against David Thompson, as I think he is a marvellous cook and a lovely man.  But it merely confirms what I said earlier in my piece: the demand for fine dining seems to be ebbing, and the casual revolution seems to be picking up pace.

RESTAURANT GUY SAVOY
Closing 2 February 2014
10 Bayfront Avenue
#02-01, Casino Level 2
Marina Bay Sands
Singapore
BYO Policy: BYO not allowed.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.
Tel: +65 6688 8513
Email: guy.savoy@marinabaysands.com


2 comments:

  1. what I feared finally became a reality ...
    Savoy's food is not that flavorful compared for Asian's palate who get used to more rich spices so not many people would like to dine here perhaps

    I thought this celebrity restaurant(s) is backed-up and protected by the casino - with tremendous profits year after year, why not? but then, it does not seem to be the case

    What's Bost plan? go back to US or return to France?
    Or opening his own place in the island?

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  2. You are starting to sound like Cassandra, BPS...

    I am not privy to the actual business model for the "Celebrity Chef Restaurants", but I understand that the restaurant was owned and controlled by the casino, and the staff became employees of the casino, even those seconded from Savoy's empire.

    Perhaps the casino saw the restaurants as a potential revenue source, and not a loss leader for the sake of having a Michelin-starred name on board. With a more casual outlet such as the proposed Thai street food eatery, profit margins would be higher, as would turnover of tables.

    I caught up with Bost after the news was announced. He's scouting for a place to open his own restaurant, in the Pacific Northwest of the USA (he's from North Carolina, if I recall, so not "going home" as such), or in Brittany where his wife's family is from. The only thing certain at this stage is that he's not staying in Singapore. Our loss.

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