November 19, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 2: new digs for new star

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Visiting Singapore usually means meeting up with Mr. and Mrs. Ho, as long as they're in town.  After a disastrous dinner on my last visit, Mrs. Ho took the initiative to suggest that we go back to Candlenut - the place where we have shared a number of happy meals together.  They've recently gotten themselves a shiny Michelin macaron, and have also managed to move into new digs - much to my dismay.

As usual I started the evening by visiting the kids, and Mr. Ho again generously opened up a bottle of his favorite white wine at home.  Unfortunately, this particular bottle of 2006 Beaucastel Blanc Rousanne Vielles Vignes was too advanced and oxidized.  Nose showed marzipan and acetone, and the palate was a little flat and short.  It wasn't corked, but it has aged far beyond the other bottles in the same case.  Oh well...

Candlenut's new digs in Dempsey were certainly spacious, and the high ceilings with soft and diffused lighting were certainly comforting.  The move would have cost a pretty penny, and it appears to have been reflected in the new pricing.

Thankfully they are no longer forcing everyone to take the "ahmakase menu" at dinner and we can cherry pick à la carte, but it would seem to have had a lasting effect... as the portion sizes are now significantly smaller than before.

We were surprised to see our favorite dish absent from the menu, so we checked with the staff.  We were told that the menus now change daily - and in fact from lunch to dinner - depending on the available ingredients that day.  If an ingredient isn't deemed good enough, then certain dishes are taken off the menu.  So... while we were a little disappointed that we weren't able to have the choking sotong, you gotta respect Chef Malcolm Lee for his principles.

Didn't ask what type of crackers these were, but we were all hungry and these disappeared in no time.

Crispy beancurd skin ngoh hiang, minced pork, prawns, water chestnut - always good to start with ngoh hiang, and these were sure tender and tasty thanks to the fat and the crunchy water chestnut.

Crispy pork belly, pickled mustard greens, chincalok - how can I say 'no' to pork belly?  These were very, very tasty.  While the pork belly itself wasn't exactly Peranakan, the chincalok certainly added that local flavor.

Quail satay - we were recommended to order this since this was "only available tonight".  Well, these were tasty for sure, and the flavors were pretty heavy - spicy and smoky.  The minced meat was very tender.  But something was missing here... and it was the gamey flavors of the quail itself.

Wing bean salad, baby radish, lemongrass, cashew nuts, prawns, calamansi lime dressing - a little bit of green veg for us, with shallots and ikan bilis.

King tiger prawn, gula melaka coconut sauce, lemongrass, Thai basil - I'm a gula melaka addict, so when you tell me that you're adding it to a savory dish, imma try it out for sho!  Well... this was a little disappointing to say the least.  We were warned that there were only two prawns per portion, but I only wanted to have a taste of the sauce.  Hello Kitty thought the prawns were overcooked, but the real shame was that there wasn't much more beside the sweetness in the thick, creamy coconut sauce.

Chap chye, braised cabbage, black mushroom, lily bulb, black fungus, vermicelli - Hello Kitty wanted veg, so we ordered this classic dish.  Tons of umami here from the mushroom.  Turns out the flavors were too heavy for her, and the Cantonese girl in her preferred dishes where she could taste the flavors of the veggies - which isn't the case here after extended braising.

Blue swimmer crab curry, turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime leaf - I haven't had this since my very first visit 3 years ago, because I felt it was a lot like David Thompson's crab curry.  This time, though, it was a little more interesting with plenty of acidity (perhaps from calamansi?), and the spicy kick was a lot more prominent.

Rangers Valley wagyu beef short rib rendang, serunding, turmeric leaf - by far the best savory dish of the evening.  Flavors remain very layered and complex, and we're glad we continued to order the rendang on every single visit.  The only issue is that the portion size has clearly shrunk - judging from my visit 6 months ago.

Rangers Valley wagyu beef short ribs, buah keluak stew - Mr. Ho's favorite dish, and it was still pretty good.  The heavy flavors were once again a little much for Hello Kitty, and she found it a little one-dimensional - which isn't an unfair criticism.  But anyone who loves tender beef and strong flavors would find this appealing.

With the savory portion of the meal over, it was now time for dessert.  They had taken one of my favorite items off the menu, which was just as well since I could only take two desserts...

Chendol cream - how is this not the perfect version of chendol?!  That soft and fluffy coconut panna cotta sitting at the bottom... that alone would have been satisfying enough for me.  Add in the savory pandan jelly, and the rich gula melaka, and I instantly turn into the Cookie Chendol Monster!  I was so so so so so happy!  This is something I could eat everyday.

Durian soup - can't come to Singapore without having some durian dessert, and certainly can't leave Candlenut without this!  As good as always, and adding the crêpe dentelle and feuilletine gave it a textural contrast.  Hello Kitty, of course, wasn't very happy about me having this...

Mr. Ho very generously brought along a couple of bottles of German Rieslings, whose sweetness would be perfect for spicy Peranakan food...

2014 Markus Molitor Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese -very floral nose with lychee notes.  Nice minerality here.

2011 Markus Molitor Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese*** - very sweet.  A little more mineral and plastic, with a little more flint, honey and pineapple.  Very round on the palate.

We had a pretty good time, and happy that Malcolm has been recognized for his efforts.  He certainly has a lot of heart and I wish him continued success.  But based on our experience tonight, I do wonder whether the recent changes will be good for him... or at least, for my future dining experiences at his restaurant.

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