October 30, 2023

A day with KOLs: Neighborhood x JL Studio

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So... a few hours after we finished stuffing our faces, a bunch of us are back at it again. As this was an invitation-only event, and on account of me being a nobody and all - at least compared to the others who were invited - I didn't actually know that they had a seat for me until the wee hours this morning. I had resigned myself to the prospect of dining at home and convinced myself that one big meal would be enough for the day, but happy to find out an invitation did materialize at the last minute. This was especially precious because Neighborhood seats far fewer people than the Chairman.

Everyone knows I'm a long-time fan of the Kitchen Nazi Man in White T-shirt, and I really enjoyed taking mom to JL Studio last year. Therefore I was particularly looking forward to this collaboration. Gastronaut was also looking forward to seeing how these two put a menu together, as he noted that he could not imagine two chefs whose cooking styles are more different.

Due to the size of the kitchen, every table waits its turn to receive each dish, and the two chefs would then come and do the introductions. I was seated at Table 3, and when it was our turn to find out what we were being served, the boss simply came and said "bon appetit"... W-T-F?! OK, so I guess we could kinda figure out what the first dish was...

Persimmon / culatello / burrata / Alba truffle - this was a good combo. The creamy burrata balanced out the salt in the culatello nicely, and the really ripe and soft persimmon brought a delicious amount of sugary sweetness to also soften the savory ham. The greens, the balsamico, and the white truffle shavings all played their part to complete the dish.

The second dish was served, and Jimmy stepped up to do the explanations...

Local prawn / cuttlefish / laksa - prawn tartare shows up on the menu often, and this apparently takes inspiration from gado gado, with local tiger prawns (車海老) and squid served raw along with white sesame sauce in lieu of the usual peanut sauce. The prawn heads have been deep-fried, and the whole thing came with a sauce made with laksa leaves - something I really love for their amazing fragrance.

Lifting up the thin layer of squid reveals a mango and jackfruit salsa on top of the prawn, with a good amount of heat which built up and lingered.

I was so happy when we were offered extra laksa foam, so I made sure to scoop some of it on a little piece of sourdough bread.

Once again the boss walked past us while muttering nothing but "bon appetit", but after we protested, he did finally turn around to tell us about the dish.

Smoked Hokkaido sanma / sambal stuffing / liver aioli - ordering the daily smoked fish at this restaurant is de rigueur, and tonight the chefs made sure to add a Southeast Asian twist.

There was a layer of sambal in between the two halves of the Pacific saury (秋刀魚), made with sun-dried tomatoes in place of tamarind. This was really good, as was the usual liver aïoli.

Of course, I always have to take the smoked fish - especially saury - on the sourdough bread. So, soooo good.

Local rockfish bouillabaisse / otak rouille - I've been loving the boss' bouillabaisse since my early days of going to On Lot 10, so I was only too happy to see this come to our table.

The twist tonight was the rouille made with otak, which the kitchen had plenty of so I once again spread it on bread. Slurp!

This was such a pretty presentation with the whole 東星斑 cut into chunks, and in place of the spine, we now have thin slices of Taiwanese bamboo shoots and jicama.

Coral trout "chicken rice" - next Jimmy came to pour the "chicken rice" to complete the dish. Now THIS was a dish that totally blew our minds, and apparently is on the menu at JL Studio. The liquid was jasmine rice split with chicken fat and sesame oil, along with ginger to give the familiar aromatics before straining out the solids.

Served with a green sauce made with a type of chili commonly known as 糯米椒. The "liquid chicken rice" really makes one think that one is having Hainanese chicken rice, and this is literally the manifestation of "eating chicken without seeing chicken (吃雞不見雞)". What a stunning dish!

Mee goreng - one of my perennial favorites on the menu here is the handmade garganelli with wild boar ragù, which also went through a new twist tonight. Lifting up the sunnyside up fried egg showed a very different sauce with more spice than the usual piment d'espelette. Meant to be taken with some calamansi juice.

The pickled radish was part of the condiments for the noodles.

Neighborhood is probably more famous for its salt-baked chicken than anything else, so of course that would be on our menu, too.

Salt baked chicken / Taiwanese vegetables "rojak" - no rice and no mushrooms with the chicken tonight, since we already had our "chicken rice" earlier. Instead we have it done as rojak with Taiwanese wax apple (蓮霧), pineapple, radish, zucchini... as well as some Taiwanese bird's nest fern (山蘇) at the bottom of the plate. I love that.

We already had serious trouble finishing the chicken, and we thought we were done with the savory portion of the meal and had told the kitchen "cannot tahan". But when Gastronaut heard that the final dish was to be the dish Jimmy made to honor his father, he couldn't resist and said "Yes" on behalf of our table. It wasn't long before a couple of servings emerged from the kitchen...

Curry fish head / Formosa greens - against my better judgement, I decided to have a spoonful of rice - actually made of 4 different types of rice including millet and jasmine rice to reflect both Jimmy's Singaporean heritage and JL Studio's home in Taiwan - along with enough sauce for the rice. The sauce was a little sweet, and came with petai beans as well as bean sprouts.

Kayamisu - there were TWO of these for dessert, and I can't remember whether this was the bigger or the smaller of the two, but I loved the sight of them.

I loved the pandan flavors, and the matcha powder sprinkled on top made things slightly bitter just like cocoa powder would on a "regular" tiramisu. There were chunks of grass jelly (仙草) inside, although they were more on the firm rather than the soft side, and we also had mini chocolate-covered malt balls. How I wish I had the stomach space for more!

"Musang King" durian cannoli / Perigord truffle - I was so, soooo happy when I caught a glimpse of the description on the menu. Cannoli has become the go-to dessert here, and it was absolutely perfect that the filling tonight was made with Musang King (貓山王) durian.

Pandan cannele - these canelés looked a little sad but the flavors were still fine.

I don't think there was even one of us who was not bursting at the seams, and just as we were thinking about calling it a night, some guy barged into the restaurant with this big bag trying to make a delivery...

Jimmy put on a thick Singlish accent and an outfit including a fake tummy and fake moustache and goatee, trying to find out who ordered JFC delivery.

JFC - I can't believe I ate a piece! It was delish! There were two dipping sauces and I think this was the salted eggyolk.

Anyone who knows me knows I am the Arrogant Prick / 377% Asshole, so naturally I decided to BYO for dinner. I had asked the Man in White T-shirt about BYO and he had said that I should bring enough to share with 30 people. Well... that's not gonna happen, but I was happy to share with friends at my table - and the boss, of course!

2004 Pax Aphrodite - yeah... as expected this was very, very oxidized and over the hill. Much too ripe and caramelized without the acidity to match. Only had a small glass.

2015 Jean-François Ganevat Cuvée Florine - more ripe and buttery than expected, but a very enjoyable wine with very fragrant nose.

2011 Trévallon Rouge - served about 2 hours after opening without decanting. Nose was very barnyard, animal, and definitely on the stinky and bretty side.

What a fun and memorable dinner! I'm so happy to have been invited for this, and although I was half in pain from the amount of food that was coming to our table, there were few instances when there wasn't a smile on my face throughout the evening. It's clear that the chefs were having a lot of fun - at least one of them was, anyway - and that's what's most important.

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