After a three-month closure, Jaan by Kirk Westaway returns looking different, much like people who take a long vacation and come back with a new nose.
But it’s more than a little nip and tuck that the two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the very top of Swissotel The Stamford has had done. The entire space was gutted right down to its bones in anticipation of a new life. What has emerged is a fresh, relevant dining experience, and a whole new kitchen that’s gone from “more of a Mini Cooper” to “a Ferrari”, in chef Kirk Westaway’s words.
No one is more chuffed about it than the 37-year-old, because, as he reminded us, this refresh has been 20 years in the making. It’s the first facelift the restaurant has had since it opened in 2001 – and something he had been pushing for since he stepped into the position of executive chef in 2015.
In his first few years at Jaan’s helm, he famously worked so hard to establish his cuisine that he “didn’t really go home” – he slept on the dining room floor a few nights a week.
Each time he walks into the restaurant now, it must be quite revelatory for him.
That same floor is now covered by a carpet in gradients of blue, designed to mimic the feeling of standing at the edge of the ocean on the wild cliffs of Devon. New banquette seats upholstered in a matching blue surround the grand new centrepiece: A tree-like sculpture with leaves fashioned from pieces of the hand-blown Murano glass chandelier that originally hung from the ceiling.
Devon in southwest England is Westaway’s home country and the inspiration behind his “Reinventing British” cuisine, which he officially debuted in 2017. It focuses on presenting the best of British produce alongside top ingredients from around the world – including herbs and vegetables grown in Singapore – and allowing their quality and seasonality to shine.
It’s something no one else is doing in Asia at this level, which is what makes Jaan by Kirk Westaway unique – but also why he had to fight to realise it.
“In a hotel of this size, you’ve got to convince everyone in town that this is going to be a good idea,” he recalled. “When I said I want to change this very famous, classic, French, European restaurant into ‘modern British’, it wasn’t really received with a warm welcome, because of the world’s perception of what British food has been for the last 100 years.”
But, “People’s negativity was my fuel for the engine. Everybody was against me – not viciously, but, you know, umm-ing and ahh-ing. ‘Is it a good idea? Not really, but we might as well just let Kirk do it.’ So, I wanted to prove everyone wrong. And happily, I did prove everybody wrong.” In 2021, Jaan received its second Michelin star.
With the updating of the restaurant’s decor, Westaway thinks he can now gun for a third star and a spot on the World’s 50 Best list.
“The restaurant was very dated. Renovation had been knocking on the door for a long time,” he said. “It had been my request since I took over. It kind of got pushed behind and pushed behind. We are very popular,” he said, explaining that the dining room was always fully booked for lunch and dinner.
“And then we won this award for best restaurant design in Singapore, about three years ago. It was great. Thanks very much. But, it didn’t help my bargaining chip to say, ‘We need to renovate’.” What’s more, because Jaan is part of a hotel, it took time to convince all the decision-makers to support the move.
And then, just when they had gotten the go-ahead, COVID-19 hit, and the project was put on hold.
The refreshed space is finally debuting on Dec 6, and now, Westaway said, “It’s a real reflection of me, my life and my childhood in Devon, and who I am and what I want to do in this restaurant, and the point I’m trying to get across – putting myself on the line and trying to represent British cuisine in this part of the world.”
Along with the new interiors comes a new winter menu. “We’ve recalibrated the style of cooking in a style to be a bit cleaner, a bit more modern, a bit more refined… letting the flavours on the plates speak for themselves,” said Westaway, who is himself largely vegetarian.
During the pandemic, he finally had a bit of time and space to step back and take a big-picture view of the cuisine. Now, there’s “a stronger focus on very unique vegetables, very well cooked, very clean, very beautiful technique; and seafood running through. On the menu now, there are langoustines, turbot from Ireland, French mussels, Irish razor clams, Scottish scallops – and that’s what I find very clean, very delicious.”
For the holiday season, there’s also a guinea fowl dish, with a cranberry sauce made from fresh berries, blanched in orange juice and boiled down, with a touch of soy sauce. It’s “my interpretation of the British roast dinner on a Sunday”.
Although he won’t be home in Devon for Christmas this year – relaunching a restaurant doesn’t really give you much time to sleep, let alone take off on holiday – there’s much to celebrate, and much to hope for.
“Now, we have a new kitchen; a very young, dynamic, solid team; and a very beautiful restaurant – one of the most beautiful restaurants in Asia, I’d say, if not the world,” Westaway opined.
And, when it comes to accolades, “We’re definitely aiming for that next place. Whether it comes or doesn’t is not an issue, as long as you have that target in front of your face. If we’re not aiming for it, what are we doing? Just relaxing? I’m 37, so I’m a good age to be a chef in this position. I guess I’ve still got a bit of fuel in the engine.”
Jaan by Kirk Westaway reopens on Dec 6 at Level 70, Swissotel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Road. Lunch menu options at S$198++ and $208++; tasting menu for lunch and dinner at S$388++.