The very idea of a restaurant that serves the unexpected sounds altogether…absurd. How would diners know how to prepare themselves? What if they get served something they absolutely hate? And more importantly, that you won’t be sitting down for the whole two hours, but moving around from room to room with every course?
There’s only one company that’s off-kilter and ambitious enough to do it in Singapore: immersive dining experience experts Andsoforth.
While they’re better known for combining storytelling, dining and entertainment into one-of-a-kind experiences (Valhalla and the Chambers of Asgard, Around The World In Eighty Days Book Analysis Workshop), Andsoforth has ventured fully into the local F&B scene. But unlike other local establishments, Andsoforth isn’t just here to nibble at a slice of the pie; they’re ready to carve a whole new niche for themselves, with the aptly named Restaurant Absurdities.
Restaurant Absurdities comprises multiple rooms tucked away in a hidden venue, each holding a pocket world of its own, as you ‘travel’ through time and across various ‘countries’ over the span of a single dinner. Unlike their usual ventures though, Restaurant Absurdities acts as a more permanent venue for Andsoforth to showcase their out of this world menus.
Co-conceptualised by Andsoforth and Head Chef Jason Ang, the menu at Restaurant Absurdities seeks to defy any labels, and bring a gastronomic surprise in every room. In each room, we’re hosted by an enthusiastic maître d’, whose role is to regale us with a quick digest on what we’re about to eat, and provide light entertainment (in the form of quizzes and fun facts) while waiting for the food to arrive. When we enter the first room, an innocuous looking cafe space around Jalan Besar, it’s hard to tell exactly what we’re in for, as our cosy group of eight settles down, eager with anticipation for the experience to begin.
We start off with a welcome drink – the ‘Garden Sun Wine’, served in a quaint ceramic cup from Mud Rock Ceramics, that immediately brings to mind sunny afternoons lounging in an al fresco space. Throughout the rest of the experience, we’d be eating using specific utensils and crockery designed for each dish, going above and beyond simply using a standard set of forks, spoons and knives to ensure the best of each dish is brought out in even the way we consume it. The drink itself contains homemade sarsaparilla (the commercial, soft drink version is better known as ‘Sarsi’), and a little alcohol – it’s a little medicinal, but not unpleasant, combining herbs and spices such as szechuan pepper, star anise, and fruits like black mission figs and raisins, to create this refreshing, dark fruit tonic to add some cheer to these dour days.
The actual dish we start off with is the “Garden In A Bowl” – Andsoforth’s take on a classic salad. It doesn’t seem like much of a garden at first, with just a couple of pearl-like ‘berries’, a sorrel leaf, and some puffed buckwheat bits in a ceramic bowl (also handcrafted by Mud Rock Ceramics), along with a slice of toasted sourdough. The bread itself was crispy, while the combination of edamame spread and berry jam had a good balance of both sweet and earthy tastes rolled into each bite. But the real surprise came when our host offered to pour a ‘soup’ into our bowl. This dish then, actually combines both the salad and soup dish into one appetizer, instead of as separate dishes, making for a very unique, spicy meets sweet vegetable soup. And when you finish the dish – you might even find a face at the bottom of your bowl, looking right back at you!
To commemorate our visit to the first room, we’re given an illustrated trading card (styled after the Pokemon trading card game, complete with hit points and special abilities) that both pokes fun at the way the dish was presented, and tells us the ingredients that went into it. This unique alternative to having a menu would be a recurring gift at the end of every room, compelling one to ‘collect ’em all’, but first things first – to even get to the next room, we’d have to step through an interdimensional door to take us to a brand new world.
Wandering through a trippy, mirrored corridor, we find ourselves in the depths of a jungle, with a massive tree as the centrepiece with vines and tendrils hanging from above. Seated around the trunk of the tree, our ‘table’ is the tree’s protruding roots, as we’re introduced to our next dish – the “Burger and Ash”. There’s an underlying environmental message to this dish, with its literally black charcoal tapioca fries reminding us of how fires ravage forests around the world. Don’t be fooled by its looks though; you’ll be surprised by how pleasant it tastes, especially when eaten with the olive ‘ash’ sprinkled on top of it.
As for the burger, the common Portobello Mushroom patty has already proven that a good burger doesn’t need meat to be successful. But Andsoforth has not only included (shredded oyster) mushrooms in their burger, but shredded jackfruit to mimic the texture of pulled pork. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will delight in this burger, with the jackfruit, mushrooms and slaw slathered in a hearty sauce and sandwiched between brioche buns for yet another unique dish.
Collecting our trading card, we’re whisked off to the next room, where we find ourselves in Egypt. Few diners are likely to have experienced a dish quite like this one, served in a traditional ‘tajine’ earthenware pot. As our host explains, the tajine is traditionally heated with charcoal, and uses its in-built diffuser to smoke the dish evenly. Lifting up the conical cover reveals a surprise meat – a whole smoked quail stuffed with falafel, with a side of tabbouleh salad and pomegranate ketchup. The tabbouleh provides a refreshing contrast to the meaty quail, which, while wilder than chicken or duck, manages to keep the gamey taste at bay, perhaps thanks to the aromatic herbs it was smoked with, true to its origins in Egyptian cuisine.
With our next trading card in hand, we follow our way through another portal and land in a kitchen straight out of 1950s suburban America. Decked in pastel pink kitchenware and cupboards, our hostess (dressed in a similar pastel dress and giant bow) serves up…breakfast for dinner? We’re suspicious of our bowl of ‘cereal’, especially when it comes out of a box of ‘Absurdities Corn Flakes’ (complete with a moustachioed octopus as its mascot, parodying the Kellogg’s rooster).
We’re right not to trust our first impressions – it turns out that this is an absurd version of a chicken pot pie! When we pour in our glass of cauliflower ‘milk’, the dish is complete, and every spoon tastes like a chunk of chicken pie, with peas, carrots, thyme and char-grilled chicken, along with the cereal to add the crunchy texture of a pie crust. Finish your cereal, and you’ll be rewarded with your trading card, as well as an adorable cartoon at the bottom of your bowl! (one can only hope Andsoforth releases collectible merchandise of this soon)
Our penultimate room takes us to the world of sorcery, as we wind up in a magical library. Remember to look up – Andsoforth’s penchant for intelligent set design really shines here, as they manage to trick our perception and create the illusion of an endless number of ladders and levels spiralling up into infinity. This is also by far the most intricately designed room, where every detail has been catered to, ranging from the shelves of mystical herbs and spices, the posters promoting owl liberation, and countless books with titles that’ll make you laugh out loud.
This is also the room where we get a chance to perform some magic of our own when we’re served our food. While it initially looks like an innocuous looking mush at the bottom of a ceramic bowl, you’ll realise that this is the good stuff when you see the mound of uni atop the clump of squid ‘risotto’ – a seafood lover’s dream. Resting in a pool of purple carrot and celeriac sauce, we’re then instructed to mash some parmesan crumble and ‘glass’ into our dish! Made of isomalt, a sugar substitute, not only does this activity add a touch of fun to our food, the sweetness of the ‘glass’ complements the umami flavours of the seafood, while the occasional crunch also provides an interesting texture.
At this point, we were already full, but still not quite willing to leave just yet, making our final room one to cherish. Upon opening the door, there’s a sudden pang of emotion as we step into the inside of a private jet straight out of an Austin Powers movie, where our air stewardess hostess is waiting. Nestling ourselves into the cushy, plush leather seats, we can even gaze out the ‘window’ at the runway while sipping a flute of champagne, reminiscing the good old days before the pandemic when we could travel so much more freely.
Our last dish of the night, naturally, is dessert. But it wouldn’t be an absurd dessert if it wasn’t ridiculously extravagant and over the top, with a ‘First Class Gold Leaf Jelly Telephone’, which is exactly what it sounds like. Painstaking effort has been made to mould the golden elderflower and lychee jelly into a vintage telephone, complete with a white chocolate rotary dial. Evoking beach holiday vibes, the dish even comes with edible sand to change up the texture, and each bite feels like a mouthful of luxury as we ‘take off’ into the sky, and Absurdities Airlines takes us far far away from dreary reality.
Andsoforth has proven that they’re more than just entertainment – their endless creativity works just as well in the world of F&B as well, with Absurdities taking us on a wholly unexpected gastronomic journey that delivers on both taste and sheer delight. There has been so much effort and research that has gone into crafting each of these dishes, and so much consideration over every single aspect of the experience, from the moment we enter to when we exit through the final door. It is curation at its best, while still being customizable enough to cater to guests’ dietary needs and comfort level.
And most of all, Absurdities is so absurd because it’s about taking the idea of an immersive experience and applying it to a restaurant, simply letting yourself go on this journey, and enjoying the ride. Rarely do we come out of dinner feeling inspired, entertained and well-fed, but with Restaurant Absurdities, Andsoforth has done just that. Our minds are opened, our senses stimulated, and our experience as a whole etched into our memory, like coming out of a lucid dream. With the knowledge that the next time we arrive we’ll be in for a brand new journey of the same high standards of pure imagination turned reality, for sure, we’ll be waiting with bated breath till our next absurd adventure.
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