Through an extremely circuitous route, us Geeks ended up being invited to Liberty Private Works to trial the omakase menu prepared by chef Makoto Ono, who is one of our favourite chefs ever. We had had the privilege to try his food twice before, once at a private dinner held at Prive and another when he was guest-cheffing at Dakota Prime, and I distinctly remember thinking, the first time I tried his food, that his was the best meal I had had all year. Bear in mind, too, that besides being a dedicated glutton, I also cover the Dining section for a luxury lifestyle publication, so I do have a little bit of frame of comparison. I don't mean to show off, I mean to say (in a circuitous way) that this guy is really damn good.
Liberty Private Works lives up to its name by being as private as possible. Despite its having opened in July of last year, we were the first so-called media people to be invited to dine there (we are SO lucky, I know) and it's located on the third floor of a random building on Wellington Street, with no elevator, so it's for those "in the know" only. That said, when we arrived at slightly after 8pm, the long bar table was full.
The restaurant seats around 10 people along a long bar table facing the open kitchen, where Makoto and two other chefs busy themselves preparing your dinner. The menu changes on a nightly basis, but generally varies on a theme, with an amuse bouche, a raw fish appetizer, soup, meat, seafood and a dessert. There's a blackboard in the back which lists the courses and ingredients involved, sort of like in the Mandarin Oriental's Krug Room but without the crossword puzzle element.
Since we were late, (sale at JDC, $200 boots, you know the story...) the spicy chips and amuse bouche (an ostrich skewer thing) were served immediately, and promptly devoured. What I think Makoto is best at is getting the right textures -- the ostrich wasn't overcooked so it was still juicy, but not so raw that you spend forever and a day chewing, or can't pull the meat off the skewer.
Next up was a Kampachi appetizer, which looked kind of fishy but tasted really tangy and refreshing. You sometimes wonder what the point is of flavouring and garnishing raw fish, when it tastes so good on its own or just with soy sauce and wasabi, but I think Nobu proved that a little marinade never hurt anybody. And the Makoto took it to the next level with grapefruits and ponzu jelly, using a strong citrus to counter the fish.
The downside to dinner here is maybe that there's sometimes a lot of ingredients going on, it gets pretty filling halfway through. Sweet potato veloute with rabbit ravioli and 16 other ingredients I didn't quite catch, was a pretty heavy soup considering we hadn't even hit the main course. I did, however, love the soup (sweet potato soups are so sweet and creamy) and the contrast between the crunchy veggies, the sweet soup and the savoury ravioli.
FashionGeek and I were deeply engrossed in conversation when my eye caught 10 pieces of salmon pass me in a baking pan. "Groan..." I thought, roasted salmon. Roasted salmon is the most ridiculous proposition, in my mind, because it robs the fish of its moisture, and NOTHING is worse than dry salmon. That's why we pan-fry ours so we can watch it and remove it from heat as soon as it reaches the desired pink-itude. It wasn't promising when the plated fare arrived, browned on top in a small pool of brothy sauce. But OH. LORD. When I took the first bite I stopped mid conversation and squealed "Oh my god" to FashionGeek. I'm not in the habit of doing the in-public orgasm face but I swear, this salmon is better than sex, or maybe I just haven't had the privilege of having really good sex, because I'd give everything up -- sex, dog, child, shoe closet -- for more of this salmon.
By the time the beef arrived I was pretty darn full, having cleaned all my plates beforehand, but I do recall it being serviceably soft with good sauce and accompaniments. I do remember that at the Prive dinner we attended, Makoto served a saga beef with manga salsa that took my breath away, so maybe this time I was just busy relishing the afterthought of that salmon.
Before dessert, a palate cleanser of cranberry-sangria ice and jelly was served, which kind of took a bit of the fullness out of my stomach. The dessert was pistachio and caramel cake -- admittedly, not bad at all, but not of the same outstanding quality as the rest.
It must also be said that another perk of the dinner is to sit at the bar table and watch the chefs in action. Firstly, because it's always cool to pick up tips and watch food being prepared. Secondly, because Makoto is something of a hottie, especially if you like the tattooed bad boy type, the kind who drives a rice rocket and has squinty eyes. The Geeks both agreed that we would marry him instantly if asked, in particular if he cooked for us every night, so perhaps that's all the endorsement you need.
Liberty Private Works is at 3/F, 12 Wellington Street. The omakase menu is around $500-600 I believe, and worth every penny. Tel: 852 5186 3282.