December 17, 2013

Makan 2013 Day 2: modern Peranakan

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Dinner time rolled around, and I met up with a some foodie friends from Singapore.  At the organizer's suggestion we went to Candlenut, which had reopened and attracted polarizing reactions among lovers of Peranakan cuisine.  The chef's more modern take on the venerable Peranakan cuisine meant a lighter touch with the sauces and spices, and naturally elicited strong reactions from the traditionalists.  As for me... I'm always up for checking out modern takes on traditional cuisine, and in fact prefer chefs with enough creativity to stir things up a little.  Besides trusting my friend's palate, this place also came recommended by Aun at Chubby Hubby - and I definitely trust HIS palate.

My friend had arranged something special with the chef, which included 13 savory dishes and 5 desserts.  I was kinda starving as I arrived at the restaurant, so this was music to my ears!

Kueh pie tee - we were given empty pastry shells in the shape of chef's toques...

...which we then stuffed with a mix of braised turnips, pork bely and dried shrimps.  Chilli sauce optional.

Very tasty.  One bite.

Ngo hiang - I've always loved this deep-fried tofu skin roll stuffed with all sorts of goodies like shrooms, pork and shrimp.  This did not disappoint.

Winged bean salad - one doesn't see winged beans often, and I do like this ingredient.  Served with cashews, mint, coriander, chilli, lemongrass and what I thought were deep-fried little fishies (ikan bilis?) even though the menu said prawns.  Very nice.

Assam sotong - walau! how can assam be so black one?!  Squid ink definitely doesn't feature in traditional Peranakan cuisine, but these little baby squids sure were tasty!

Babi pongteh - these pieces of pork belly were definitely very tender, and the sauce from preserved soy beans was ever-so-slightly on the salty side.

Chap chye - interesting stew of veggies like cabbage, mushrooms...etc.  Did not expect the glass vermicelli, but it was a nice touch.  Sauce was rich enough for me to serve over rice.

Sambal stir-fry kang kong - a little lighter than your typical kangkong belacan.

Sambal petai prawns - tiger prawns in sambal and "stinky petai beans", which weren't stinky to eat.  I hear, though, that the stinky effect comes later...  Anyway, I thought this was pretty good.

Assam fish - pomfret fillet served with lady fingers, tomatoes and eggplant.  Well... I was the last to try this so I got my okra, tomatoes, pineapple and eggplant... and NO FISH.  Boo hoo...

Buah keluak beef short rib - the 120-day grain-fed beef short ribs were very tender.  The buah keluak's signature flavors were there, but the sauce wasn't as thick as the traditionalists would have it.  Definitely felt the lighter touch with this dish, and the presentation with the chiffonade of (what I assumed to be) chilli peppers definitely adds a modern feel to the whole thing.

Beef shin rendang - very tender, unlike the cheap versions where they cook it till the beef dries out and becomes chewy.  Wonderfully aromatic and tasty, with the unmistakable flavors of roasted dessicated coconut.  The chiffonade of lemongrass adds even more fragrance to an already beautiful dish.  Given the lack of decent options in Hong Kong, this is definitely the best rendang I've had all year - maybe for the last couple of years.

Satay ayam - the chicken thigh was incredibly tender and succulent.

The sauce was made with pineapple in addition to the usual peanut base, and the result was very tasty.

Yellow coconut curry of blue swimmer crab, wild ginger, pineapple, baby ladies fingers kaffir lime - whatever this is, it ain't Peranakan... at least according to my friend who's a quarter Peranakan.  In fact, it tasted suspiciously like David Thompson's crab curry I had earlier this year.  It was very, very creamy, velvety and delicious.

We paused for a while after the onslaught of savory dishes.  One thing about Asian restaurants... everywhere you go, they tend to hit you with all the dishes at once.  We probably had 9 or 10 of them in the space of 15 minutes, leaving me with little time to savor them in between hurried snaps of photos.

Then came our 5 desserts - all at once.

And within seconds of tasting the first spoonful, Candlenut became my favorite Peranakan restaurant.  Period.

Chendol cream - OH-MY-GOD!!!  Chendol has been my favorite Southeast Asian dessert since childhood.  I also absolutely adore the incredibly creamy custard pudding (プリン) from Pastel (パステル) in Japan.  This is basically a combination of the two, where the usual coconut milk has been transformed into the creamiest coconut pudding.  Add gula melaka to anything and I'll love it.  Imagine all that put together in one little glass.  You wanna see me have a Meg Ryan moment from When Harry Met Sally?  Feed me some of this.

Durian soup - the second reason why Candlenut has won me over.  OK, it's been a while since I've had my durian fix, but this was exceptional.  My friends agreed.  Loved the added touch with the feuilletine.

Banana caramel pudding - I love anything caramel, so what's not to like here?!  And that gula melaka ice cream... See above.

Buah keluak ice cream - I love it when someone has the cojones to use an ingredient like buah keluak and make an ice cream out of it. Combining it with 80% Valrhona chocolate and salted caramel gives something totally in-your-face in terms of flavors.  Sprinkle chilli flakes and pour on some warm chocolate espouma.  Very rich. Very yum.

"Milo Bar" w Valrhona 41% chocolate, spiced nuts and puff rice, condensed milk creme chantilly - not bad, but probably the weakest dessert tonight.  The Milo Bar has been deconstructed, and you needed to have all the ingredients together in your mouth to be able to reconstruct the familiar taste.

Yes, we drank wine with Peranakan food.  And WHY YES!  I DID carry these wines all the way from Hong Kong to Singapore, just so I can drink them at dinner.  Some of us are particular about what we wanna drink with our dinner, but I don't expect people who aren't wine lovers would understand.

1988 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett - nose of lemon, white flowers, flint, slight hint of petrol.  Definitely some acidity on the back palate, a little ripe, almost a little bitter.

1988 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese - nose a little more closed at first, with some petrol, flint, some orange marmalade.  Perhaps slightly riper on the palate than the kabinett, but no significant level of sweetness.

To finish off, I brought a box of Pierre Hermé macarons to dinner.  Yes, I hand-carried them from Hong Kong.  Because I wanted to give my friends a treat.  I didn't have any for myself, though... I had had enough calories for the night.  Oh and while they were busy chomping on them macarons, I finished off the last of the chendol cream and durian soup... MUAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

1 comment:

Derek said...

Will definitely try this place next time I'm in Singapore


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