When it comes to dining, Japanese and French cuisines are without a doubt two of the most popular choices. In fact, they’re such beloved cuisines that for most of us, whenever we’re looking for a spot to impress or pamper our dates, either one of the two will come to mind. But what happens when we bring both these powerhouses together?
For Chef-Owner Darwin Wong and JIDAI restaurant, the experience goes beyond presenting the beautifully premium side of either cuisine. The restaurant and menu display an upbeat and curious approach to their offerings, pushing new boundaries to show us Chef Darwin’s vision of a new dining frontier – one that is creative in approach, thoughtful in its balanced harmony of two cultures, fuss-free, and pleasantly affordable.
We speak to him to get his views on contemporary dining and learn more about what his newest endeavour means to him.
The first thing that people notice at JIDAI are traditional motifs like the Maneki-Neko, are you a superstitious person yourself?
I’m not particularly superstitious per se, but these symbols of joy and luck are something that I’d like to share with everyone who enters JIDAI. I want them to feel and feed off an uplifting environment.
More importantly, the name JIDAI also means time, as in a period in time and a generation. We hope to usher in not just good fortune and positive wishes, but only a new generation in culinary offerings. With JIDAI, I hope to present a novel experience to my guests and to showcase how different cuisines can come together comfortably – affordably and without additional “decorations”.
What is it about Japan or Japanese culture that you feel brings people together?
I feel that the general attitude in Japan pulls people in because of their commitment to everything they do, especially when it comes to service. Their meticulous attention to detail and to ensuring that every individual feels special, every single time, is what I really hope to be able to achieve. This is also seen in the lengths they go to when it comes to their food. The details that go into each dish warms our hearts, regardless of how simple or luxurious the dish may be.
They are also very open and accepting of new experiences, and are not afraid to support or try something new whenever they encounter one.
Why Japanese and French cuisines over the others?
I’m personally very interested in Japanese culture. I visit Japan a lot and have always been passionate about Japanese food, picking them up whenever I can. Additionally, my professional experience is in European dining, particularly French dining. For the most part, my familiarity and love with these two cuisines led to the development of the concept at JIDAI now.
Your concept boasts a marriage of different cuisines, what was it like bringing Japanese and French parts together?
I feel that both Japanese and French cuisines are rather similar, in the way they prepare their food, how they cook their proteins, respect their ingredients, and their strict attention to details like timing. Both these cuisines require a degree of being precise when it comes to timing, for if not, their dishes will not turn out or taste the way they were originally intended to. So bringing them together felt quite natural actually.
We often hear the term “fusion” these days. Could you share some of your thoughts with us – what do you look out for, what separates the good from the not-as-good?
Harmony. I feel that a good “fusion” is really all about how every individual element from each culture comes together in harmony, as a whole, to produce a result that’s unique in its own way – instead of just simply putting different things together just to build a bridge between two cultures. To me, the thought behind each cuisine’s character and how the different flavours complement in a perfect marriage is paramount.
Does JIDAI offer a fusion cuisine then?
At JIDAI, rather than being a “fusion” place, we prefer approaching our concept as a sort of French-forward dining that incorporates Japanese elements into our dishes. We want to let people taste a variety of different expressions between these 2 cuisines, in hopes that we can show how food – or good food – doesn’t always have to go along with conventions, or to submit themselves to some preconceived expectations.
Our Omakase menus, for example, have distinct French signatures in every course. What I aim to offer with the Omakase experience at JIDAI is to showcase all the different Japanese cooking techniques within one menu, to take diners on a journey through different textures and notes that can be experienced with centuries of Japanese heritage – from donburis to bincho-grilled yakitoris – but with a French interpretation.
Within an increasingly competitive ethos, what do you think lies in the future of the local F&B scene?
I think there’s still a lot of space for the local industry to grow and experiment. There’re still not quite enough people out there who’re actively pushing beyond the usual expectations, to come out and try to carve a new standard.
I feel that we need to push further in terms of creativity, to try and change how people approach food and the cuisines we’re all familiar with – that there’s space, but we’re not pushing our culinary boundaries enough.
To personally taste Chef Darwin’s innovative dishes or find out more about JIDAI restaurant, visit their website here.