Meals served in macabre setting

For most people, dining at death's door is not a palatable idea.

by: Wee Sui Lee | 05 Apr 2007

But Clement Lee, executive director of nightspot operator LifeBrandz, hopes Aurum, which serves "molecular gastronomy", will convince them otherwise.

Lee said he wanted a controversial theme for the restaurant that features an avant-garde cooking style which uses scientific methods to create new flavours.

Molecular gastronomy was made popular by world-renowned chefs such as Ferran Adria from Spain's El Bulli restaurant and Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck in the English town of Bray. Adria's apprentice, Paco Roncero, is Aurum's technical consultant.

Gastronomically Strange
And in case the unusual cuisine isn't enough to entice spoilt Singapore gourmands, Lee added a dash of the morbid – gold wheelchairs, a morgue and surgical steel tables.

In modern but superstitious Singapore, getting locals to dine at Aurum could be a tall order. The ethnic Chinese who make up 75 percent of the city-state's population tend to shun anything that connotes death or sickness.

"Personally, I think it's too macabre – that's coming from an Asian point of view," Daven Wu, a food critic for lifestyle magazine Time Out.

"Why are you courting disaster by sitting in a wheelchair for no reason? It's like asking people to go and sleep in a coffin for fun."

Aurum's reception is a fake morgue and operating theatre. On the second floor, where the restaurant is located, customers sit in gold-painted wheelchairs and eat from metal tables designed to resemble operating tables.

Piglet deconstructed
But it's not all gloom and doom. Aurum means 'gold' in Latin, and the restaurant's owners make sure you know it: gold polka-dotted wallpaper, gold-coloured floors and a glitzy disco ball.

The same drama and attention to detail is also given to the US$96 13-course menu.

Using liquid nitrogen, syringes, gas canisters and equipment typically found in scientific laboratories, chef Edward Voon and his colleagues whip up a bizarre blend of foods, such as "isotonic lichee caviar" and "piglet deconstructed mosaic of pear with coleslaw".

"Let's break the monotony of cooking, rules are meant to be broken," said Voon, a boyish-looking 33-year-old who started as a butcher but rose to head the Singapore national culinary team.

Voon flits around the restaurant, inviting diners to watch the food preparation and explaining the concepts behind dishes.

But the extravagance seemed wasted on the bemused customers. On a Friday night, only a third of the seats were filled.

Most of the diners, however, enjoyed the food.

"We don't need the hospital theme, the food can stand on its own," said Amy Matthews, an American living in Singapore.

Image: Executive Chef Edward Voon (L) and an assistant pose at the Aurum restaurant in Singapore March 15, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Chong

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