May 13, 2018

Singapore hop 2018: ModSin tasting

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For a long time now I have been enamored with cooking which tries to modernize traditional cuisines by bringing new twists to classic dishes while keeping the familiar flavors, and they are often among my favorite restaurants to discover.  Over the last few years in Singapore, more and more chefs have emerged who are planting the flag for modern Singaporean cuisine - or "Mod Sin" - and I'm slowly getting around to try them.

Labyrinth has been on my hit list for the last couple of years, as I found the pictures being shared on social media intriguing.  My interest level only went up after Chef LG Han's restaurant earned a coveted Michelin star.  So I made sure to allocate a slot for dinner on this trip, and asked my friend L to join us.

We were running a little late, and didn't have much of a choice except to walk brisky from Marina Bay Sands across the Helix Bridge to the Esplanade Mall.  We were the last table to seated, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the restaurant was full.

There's a map on the table showing the source of the ingredients for dinner.  This I like very much, as it demonstrates the chef's commitment to sourcing locally.

Also on the table is a deck of postcards, which tells the story of each dish on the menu.  At the end of the meal, the guests were presented with a deck to take home.

Our first bite would be a tea leaf smoked quail egg, injected with Oolong tea (烏龍茶).  This was certainly smoky, with a sweet and fragrant aftertaste which proved to be pretty long.

We were also given  a cup of kombucha.  I'm generally not a fan of these, so this was just OK for me.

"Nasi lemak" cheong fun, chicken skin, ikan bilis and egg yolk gel - this wasn't bad. The rice flour wrapper came stuffed with egg yolk and sambal, topped with deep-fried anchovies, crispy duck (I thought the menu said chicken?) skin, and cucumber.

Braised baby abalone, homemade oyster sauce and fatt choy tart - the tender baby abalone came with a very rich and sweet homemade oyster sauce, along with a touch of citrus.  The "bird's nest" was made with hair moss (髮菜), and was very crispy, ethereal, and crumbled under little pressure. 

Heartland waffle, local duck liver pate and goji berry jam - the flavors of foie gras were very much front-and-center inside the pandan-flavored waffle, accompanied by the sweetness of the jam. 

Ah Hua Kelong lala clams, XO sambal, deep fried wonton skin and Chinese spinach - these la la (啦啦) clams come from a local fish farm near Sembawang run by Ah Hua Kelong.

Now this reminds me of the famous clam tart I had at Noma Tokyo a few years ago... Arranged neatly together on the pastry and held together with some clam juice gel.  The clams themselves were nice and chewy.  I couldn't quite understand, though, why the chef put the sambal on the side and then proceeded to sprinkle a good amount of black pepper on top.  I suppose each contributed slightly different aromatics and sensations...

Labyrinth rojak, Edible Gardens herbs, natural stingless bee honey and campedak sorbet - underneath it all was a scoop of sorbet made with jackfruit - one of my favorites tropical fruits.  There were apparently 13 different types of "fruit" (herbs, flowers, and leaves, in reality) from Edible Garden City and mixed with hei ko (蝦膏) - a local fermented prawn paste.  Finally, some raw honey from stingless bees on Batam was drizzled on top.  Amazingly, the honey was light, not as thick and viscous, and had noticeable acidity.

"Ang moh" chicken rice, home-milled rice flour, grandma's chili sauce and braised chicken - of course any Mod Sin chef worth his sambal will want to tackle chicken rice...

Presented as a dumpling whose wrapper was made with rice flour, the contents included diced braised chicken, diced chicken fat, chicken stock, and ginger.  Served with a strained rice porridge of some sort on the side, with mushroom and chili paste.

In this case, unfortunately, it didn't work for me.   I no longer eat Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore, because there are no fresh chickens in this city, and the locals now prefer their chicken soft to the point of being mushy.  This was the same story inside the dumpling, as the chicken was powdery and mushy.  The wrapper was mushy, too.  But L loved this dish.

Grandma's fish maw soup, yellow tail snapper fish cake, textures of fish maw and tofu puree - the fish cake is cut into thin slices and arranged in the shape of a flower, garnished with pea shoots and tendrils.  Beneath the fish cake was a layer of tofu purée with fish maw.

Then the soup was poured on top, partially destroying the "flower" in the process.  This was indeed a comforting dish as Chef Han described, as the flavors were very familiar, as were the gelatinous texture of the fish maw and the viscosity of the soup.  The crackling on the side was made of barramundi fish maw, with some smoked paprika sprinkled on top.

Local wild caught crab, signature chili ice cream, egg whites and salted mackerel - I vaguely recall that the chili crab ice cream is one of Chef Han's signature dishes, and was pretty excited to try it.

The chili ice cream came topped with local flower crab meat, ice plant and curry leaves, and salted mackerel powder.  There were kway teow (粿條)-like ribbons which were not actually noodles, but made of egg white that normally shows up in the sauce for the crab.   The croûtons resembled the deep-fried mantou (饅頭) often ordered on the side to dip into the chili crab sauce.   Dressed with Shaoxing wine (紹興酒) which delivered a beautiful fragrance.

I love deconstruction, and I loved this dish. I'd have another one of these in a heartbeat.

Nippon Koi Farm silver perch, herbal pepper broth, ulam rajah and textures of black garlic - this is a twist on the traditional bak kut teh (肉骨茶), but instead of using pork ribs, we have silver perch from Nippon Koi Farm.  The black chicken broth was definitely more Malaysian in style, with the ulam rajah bringing prominent herbal and medicinal notes, and the black garlic purée was pretty nice.  Garnished with a youtiao (油條) puff, and a mango flower that reminded me of unripe green mangoes.

Uncle William's quail, satay espuma, muah chee and pearl onion - the first thing I noticed about this dish was the claws attached to the legs... and how they were presented.  The birds come from William Ho at Lian Wah Hang Quail Farm.

This was meant to be "quail satay"... where we pick up the quail by its legs then dip the thighs into the satay espuma made with peanuts.  We've got ribbons of cucumber, pearl onions, and deep-fried mochi (餅) to represent the traditional condiments which come with satay.  Pretty interesting.

The quail breast was supposed to be "medium rare" - which would please most of the Asian audience - but I would have preferred them rosé.  A little dry for my taste.

"Lost grain" fried rice, white bait, dried scallop and local "dashi" - the rice used is apparently a strain of Thai Hom Mali which was "lost" and not planted for 70 years.  The crispy white bait was very nice, although unfortunately I did not get any rice crispies in my bowl like Hello Kitty...  Good wok hei (鑊氣) for sure.

Bean to bar, artisanal dark chocolate and 8 year aged Shaoxing wine - this was pretty interesting.  The dark chocolate from Fossa Chocolate is mixed with dark soy sauce for the ice cream, which creates an interesting blend of umami, bitterness, sweetness, and acidity.  Adding aged Shaoxing wine to the mix was certainly an interesting twist.  A sprinkle of cocoa nibs came on the side.

Clam leaf snow, rosella meringue and textures of grapes - very refreshing right after a rich dessert.  There were thin slices of grapes, pomegranate seeds, and cubes of red dragon fruit underneath.

These were the clam leaves which give off a purple color when boiled.


Soy bean curd, bird's nest, yuba, burnt yogurt espuma by Hay Dairies goat milk and sago - somewhat interesting take on the traditional douhua (豆花).  Lots of different textures in the bowl, from the soft yogurt to fluffy bean curd to the powder on top, to slightly firmer bird's nest, to the sago cooked in gula melaka, and finally the slightly chewy yuba (湯葉).

Cristal de Chine caviar, kaya ice cream and Sing Hon Loong toast - a much more interesting and satisfying dessert compared to the last one.

The sandwich made with caramelized buttered toast from the old school Sing Hon Loong Bakery (新丰隆面包厂) came with kaya ice cream in the middle, along with a little bit of Kaviari Kristal caviar (from Lake Qiandao in China, hence "Cristal de Chine").  Served with goat milk powder and egg yolk cured in light soy sauce.  I haven't had my kaya toast yet on this trip, but this was a worthy substitute...

Finally the "festive petit fours"...

Durian macaron - so, sooooo happy!  Of course I got to take a second one, since Hello Kitty would rather die than eat this.  And no, I wasn't allowed to kiss her afterwards...

Banana pastry - filled with mashed banana and gula melaka.

Pandan sponge cake - a little plain and disappointing.

I gotta say... this was a pretty good dinner.  Naturally not every single dish was a hit, but there were quite a few of them.  And modern interpretations and deconstructions of traditional dishes is right up my alley - made better by my familiarity with many of these dishes.  Even L was impressed.

After such a long and filling dinner, it only made sense that Hello Kitty and I took a casual stroll back to our room at the Marina Bay Sands, admiring the view along the way.  The work part of my trip starts tomorrow morning...

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