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Modern Singaporean Cuisine

Modern Singaporean Cuisine

Featuring Botanico at The Garage, The Marmalade Pantry (ION Orchard), Wild Rocket, Mustard Seed, 田 Magic Square, Labyrinth, Restaurant Ibid, Morsels, IZY FOOK, Relish by Wild Rocket (Frasers Tower)
Veronica Phua
Veronica Phua

I’ve never met a bowl of Buah Keluak noodles I didn’t like.
One of the earliest, if not the earliest, was the “Buah Keluak Mee Pok” by @chefshentan at the now-defunct Revolution Coffee cafe. I remember trying to chew while gaping in wonderment at its deliciousness, on top of being a bit flustered at finally meeting Chef herself properly (#fangurling).
Shown above is the most recent, which took place here where it appears as the seventh of nine courses in Chef Ming Kiat’s September menu. Naturally, each person has their own take and his featured an oxtail buah keluak ragout and egg noodles made fresh from scratch in-house. I loved how the meat and Indonesian black nut were cooked till they basically became one, a black melt-in-mouth beauty that after some tossing, clung tenaciously to the fine strands of springy noodles. So sublime a Peranakan-Chinese match they made. Chef Ming Kiat urged us to squeeze the lime and mix in the housemade sambal belachan to give the earthiness from the buah keluak a note of brightness and savoury heat. Doing that really did transform the dish in ways I didn’t expect, to heightened tastiness of course.

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Chef Ming Kiat is gifted in unshackling the DNA of traditional flavours and harnessing it, along with the “feeling”, to create shockingly sublime dishes that leave you staring at them in awe as you eat. The current menu (it changes monthly) has some of the most imaginative and delicious tasting Mod Sin (Modern Singaporean) creations that have ever landed on my palate. With each (details listed below), I was astounded, dazzled and ultimately, satisfied to no end. Here is the complete list:

1. Insanely good opener of seared local squid, in a laksa leaf pesto, enlivened with pickled green apple and a kerabu (Asian salad) of wing bean, mint and red onions.

2. Chockfull of Hokkaido scallop and fish maw, the chawanmushi was steamed in a stock of dried seafood and Jinghua ham, and topped with a very umami housemade X.O sauce. Extremely flavourful and a favourite of many.

3. Highly imaginative course of Ebi Katsu (crunchy prawn and fish patty) in a pool of Chef Ming’s tartare sauce which was concocted from fish chowder, turmeric leaf, laksa leaves, coriander and belimbing.

4. The herbal duck and Japanese mushrooms hot pot is a great example of minimal waste done to really tasty results. While the bones were brewed with Chinese medicinal herbs, the thighs were made into meatballs and the body meat, sliced and poached.

5. One of my favourites was the dish derived from Indonesian Soto soup featuring local grouper. Roast chicken stock was reduced to a “bumbu” (spice paste) and enriched with butter to become a velvety-smooth and terrifically aromatic gravy. Served with it, a smoked fish bergedil that was good on its own but better soaked in the gravy.

6. Chef Ming’s version of his mum’s Popiah Porridge is pure comfort food. The taste was sweet and savoury due to the simmering of turnip, carrots, cabbage, “hae bee” (dried shrimp) and Japanese rice in a potent prawn stock.

7. Peranakan meets Italian in the form of fresh egg noodles with buah keluak oxtail ragout. Adding sambal belachan and fresh lime juice brought the rich earthy flavours of the ragout to another level.

8. Nothing is straightforward with this team. For a palate cleanser, Chef Shin Yin made us a sorbet of cold-pressed star fruit juice and served it on Japanese muscat grapes and pomelo from Ipoh.

9. Baked a la minute, the piping hot orange sugee cake came with a scoop of spiced ice-cream that’s made in-house with cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. I doubt there could be a more perfect ending to this amazing meal.

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As our next booking at @mustardseed_sg approaches in the first week of September, my excitement to have Chef-owner Ming Kiat’s new menu is already building. At the same time though, I can’t help but think of this dessert I had on my last visit with wistfulness.
A tribute to the humble soya bean, the bowl holds its different incarnations in an ice-cream, as a silky yuba (Japanese beancurd skin), crunchy chips of #tempeh (fermented soya beans) and even a housemade kinako sauce, all orchestrated to harmonise beautifully when enjoyed together.
I feel it takes a great deal of sensitivity and creativity in a chef to fathom the potential of the humble bean in order to be able to execute to such sublime results. Obviously, Chef Ming Kiat has both qualities in spades.

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H O S T E D
Sharply sour from calamansi lime and fiercely spicy, the “kampung” dressing is what makes this local version of Amberjack Ceviche completely irresistible to me.
It is one of the many dishes at Izy Fook that exemplify the culinary team‘s understanding of what would appeal to many Singaporeans’ palate, and very possibly, their expat friends’ too.

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Transitions are tricky. Much more so when your Point A happened to be one of the most coveted private dining experiences in Singapore (snagging a seat required lightning fingers). Naturally, your Point B was bound to attract intense scrutiny.
Chef Ming Kiat (Instagram: @mkthehansum) of The Mustard Seed Pop-up, with the support of his girlfriend Chef Shin Yin (@xshinyinx) and a mutual friend from their Candlenut days, Chef Julian (@juliegohan), has pulled it off successfully, making his move from private dining to a full-fledged restaurant look like a walk in the park. I am sure it is an illusion because a tonne of work must have gone into getting the new space to echo the look and feel of what he had created at the venue of his previous dinners - his parents’ timelessly stylish home.
Located along a charming row of shophouses in the north-east of Singapore, the @mustardseed_sg can now seat more diners. And very comfortably too, around a U-shaped counter (fun fact: it’s built from the wood of a single tree).
I am very pleased to report the food produced by this tight team of three chefs in the new, bigger kitchen is instantly recognisable as Mustard Seed’s. Every course is as uniquely nuanced and eloquent in deliciousness as ever. Even if I was not told, I would have been able to guess straightaway whose food I was having. The presentation and flavours are exactly what we have come to know and love - an amalgamation of Chef Ming Kiat’s memories, taste, training, research, passion and innate talent.
The menu here is suppose to change monthly but I am sure whenever you visit, the meal you partake in will have you dreaming of, for a long while after.

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Shown above is the sublime second course from my recent dinner here. It is Chef-owner Ming Kiat’s take on a classic dish - the Vichyssoise, which also happens to be the first recipe of Anthony Bourdain’s he ever attempted. The reason for that is he wanted to cook for his mum on Mother’s Day more then a decade ago.
Naturally, the Vichyssoise he served last week to our group of thirteen diners, was of a much more evolved form. The elegant white-on-white creation featured fresh Hokkaido scallops, sweet lily bulbs and pickled local turnip. For me, it was one of the most outstanding courses of the night as I really enjoyed how the cool and warm, as well as the crunch and smooth, coexisted so deliciously in a bowl.

M E D I A T A S T I N G
We were served only one dessert from the new menu at Curious Palette that Chef Desmond Shen (previously of #magicsquaresg and #odetterestaurant) helped to develop, but it hit a home run with everyone around the table. What a revelation the seemingly ordinary “Kaya and Coffee Toast” was.
Sandwiched between the two pieces of bread was a fridge-cold, firm slab of coffee-flavoured butter and housemade kaya. The former was whipped so even though it’s meant to resemble the solid piece of butter you get in a properly done traditional kaya toast, there‘s an ice-cream-like quality. Its delightful coffee fragrance blended with the gula melaka-sweetened kaya in such a heavenly way too. Heightening the coffee element was a unique espresso shoyu sauce that was poured over the half-boiled egg when it was served. This was where we were to dip our kaya toast before chomping into it.
Playful, creative and absolutely scrumptious, I foresee this dessert becoming a hugely popular item here.

I loved this.
The very gently cooked prawn was stretched out and scored down the back. Into that linear space went pearls of ikura followed by a covering of thinly sliced carrots. The head, deepfried till crunchy, was smothered in a prawn brain and ebiko sauce. Both body and head were reassembled on a pool of liquid gold - a luscious concoction of prawn shells, glutinous rice wine, kefir cream and Shaoxing wine.

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I must say, I like the food at “Restaurant Ibid” more now. Overall, it is less sweet which suits my pro-savoury palate and there are quite a few gutsy, playful and delicious creations on the new Tasting Menu that I found really impressive.
One of which is the Stuffed Chicken Wing with Foie Gras, an item included only in the bigger 9-course menu.
Fantastically crunchy on the outside and sooooo juicy and richly-flavoured by the foie gras within, the engorged chicken wing is offset brilliantly by the acid and heat of the special sauce concocted from Chinese black vinegar and “Marzo Heat”, a brand of hot sauce by Owner-chef Woo Wai Leong’s friend Jim Marzo, amongst other ingredients.

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H O S T E D
One of new dishes on the menu at the brand new flagship outlet of The Marmalade Pantry is the “Curry Barramundi”. I see it as a creative take on the traditional curry fish head that is conveniently sized down for a single person’s serving.
There are two large, boneless pieces of the pan-fried fish so it’s easy to enjoy, and you get to choose how much of the curry you want on them as it comes in a little jug on the side. Speaking of the curry, I thought it was wonderfully fragrant, rich and thick. It tasted to me like a hybrid of Peranakan and Indian curries and was spicy but not overly so. As for the vegetables, the lady’s fingers and eggplant were cooked lightly while the baby tomatoes were left raw.

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A couple of months ago, my ears perked up when I heard Chef Shen Tan was launching a fruit-centric menu ($99 per pax) for her @ownselfmakechef private dining. I promptly made a reservation and that is how a group of us indulged in it last Saturday night.

The 8-course menu featured at least one fruit in each dish, but sometimes it wasn’t immediately obvious what fruit it was, which made it kind of fun because we got to play guessing games. The following were my favourites from the entire menu:

- Green banana (or plantain) layered mille-feuille style with slices of Wagyu beef which was then breaded, battered and deep fried. This painstaking creation tasted a lot like mashed potato and beef but with the benefit of a crunch factor. It was served with a sharp-ish kalamansi marmalade and kewpie mayo and the combination was terrific in my opinion.

- One of the top crowd-pleasers of the night had to be the huge and fleshy mussels from @ahhuakelong that were cooked in a piquant guava chilli sauce. It possessed the kind of appetite-whetting flavour that triggered a craving for more. In me anyway.

- Inspired by the tapas from her recent trip to Madrid, Chef Shen came up with croquettas of green jackfruit and mashed up cooked jackfruit seeds. Crunchy on the outside, and thick and creamy on the inside, they were served on fluffy Japanese rice topped with a curry sauce and onions. This also proved to be a hit with everyone around the table.

- Although Chef Shen and her assistant chef Joy proclaim to not enjoy desserts, the brown butter cake with lychee sorbet, coconut ice-cream and a dusting of red peppercorn seemed to suggest otherwise. I inhaled it despite how full I was feeling by this point.

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When a big group of us visited Morsels for lunch on Sunday, Chef-owner Petrina kindly brought out their newest creation at the end of our meal to let us have a taste.
Meet the “Duck Kut Teh”, which is available from yesterday until the 24th of February. The latest addition to Morsel’s rotating noodle of the week, it is an embodiment of her new direction in focusing on one meat each time.
What you get to enjoy here is soft, silky “mee sua” served in a delicate but flavourful broth made from red and green Sichuan peppercorns plus white pepper. Toppings include the starring meat of the week in two forms - as a whole duck thigh that’s been cooked in the same stock till very tender, and a crispy “cigar” stuffed with fragrant shredded duck meat. You can also find a few pieces of thick and bouncy beancurd skin prepared Sichuan-style in rose wine, vinegar and soya sauce in the bowl as well. As you can probably tell, there’s a wonderful mix of textures to excite the mouth with every bite. On the side is a very appetising dip of “kicap manis”, dark soya sauce, garlic and chilli padi. I loved splashing loads of it over the “mee sua”.
If you are a fan of duck, this would be a most ideal dish for you.

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Can't cook to save my life but boy, can I eat! 😄 (I pay for all my meals unless otherwise stated)

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