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Not into hype, big names or trends, Singapore's KF Seetoh is a food lover who's constantly in search of dishes that resonate.
"He has only two categories – good and bad – further divided into whether it is affordable or not, from a city with close to 7,000 restaurants and eateries." We asked the founder of popular food website Makanasutra where he finds his favorite meals -- dishes he says are worthy of being his last. Here they are, in his words.
After one bite of Ember's sakura ebi pasta, I fell over. They use baked, then flavored and braised lobster head oils, to lend it extreme umami.
You don't come here for the decor. It's a non-event. A new chef, Sofian Zain, is helming it, but regulars insist that a few specials remain.
Long-term menu stayers include the pasta and the slow-cooked Angus short ribs -- cooked sous vide for 60 hours and seared for pleasure.
Chef Bjorn Shen has an eclectic streak -- and a wild sense of humor. He'll hawk fried chicken skin ice cream at pop-up stalls.
He named his own homemade ice cream "Neh Neh Pop", local lingo that loosely translates to "milky boobs."
Instead of stuffing mee chiang kueh with the classic and modest crushed peanuts and sugar, he tosses roast pork and char siew in. He turned an iconic heritage dish, bak chor mee, into a burger.
At his restaurant Artichoke, located behind an arts center, he takes a non-halal route for his Mediterranean fare.
His BBQ spatchcock is so roasty it has a flavor on its own and his wood roasted pork ribs with coffee-date BBQ sauce, yuzu pickle and Thai basil is gorgeously appealing.
Authentic is "boring," according to twenty-something hotshot chef Malcolm Lee of Candlenut. "It dates everything and leaves no space for imagination," he says.
So, after a short whirlwind eating spree in Indonesia exploring the cuisines of his Peranakan and Nonya roots, he's changing the game. He now cooks whatever he likes -- within the realms of his heritage.
The usual ayam buah keluak (black nut chicken stew), rendang (caramelized beef curry), babi pongteh (stewed pork in fermented soy beans) remain for the die-hards at lunch, but come dinner, it's payback time. Lee offers 14 whatever-I-please-to-cook omakase renditions of his repertoire each evening.
It includes teasers like a smashed prawn with sambal hae bi (spicy dried shrimps) over starfruit with dill, and a rare Nonya style lamb curry.
It's almost sadistic watching Burnt Ends chef David Pynt insert meats, vegetables and seafood into a 600 C wood-fired oven. But the pleasing results are deceptively low key -- such as smoked and roasted quail eggs with caviar, and beef marmalade on toast.
Folks don't pack this little restaurant because of its multiple awards, but more for the primal pleasures David puts on his plates. He'll singe a slice of kingfish with an open piece of wood charcoal and let you have it in all its roast-y appeal with a drop of lemon.
This is also where to find one of the best pulled pork sandwiches this side of the equator. It's so popular you're lucky to get walk-in seats for dinner anytime after 6.30 p.m.
Singapore's Hainanese are the original Chinese migrants who worked for the British colonial families back in the day and learned more than a few tricks in their kitchens. In British Hainan, a quaint corner establishment looking neither like an old-retro collector hoarder's living room nor a restaurant, they whip up flavors of an almost forgotten past.
Their hearty oxtail stew is a classic; mopping up the brown, beefy HP-infused sauce with slices of baguette is biting into a slice of old Singapore. Their bacon and cheese Portobello melt is the starter of all starters.
The meal isn't complete if you don't order the Hainanese pork chops, served with the signature piquant sauce. The memorabilia is for sale, if you can persuade boss Freddie to part with it, that is.
Chef Tonny Chan, in my opinion, is too good for his own good.
His talent, range and flair for Chinese classics and modern interpretations, and how he kicks it all up a few notches with touches of Western accents, are highly regarded. One of his never-get-tired-of starters is a shredded crispy yam salad doused with an indecipherable truffle sauce.
He'll also whip up old school favorites like chilled collagenous stewed pork trotters. The jelly melts in the mouth as it frames you up for the cold and soft trotters. His lobster noodles are as good as it gets and you'll be amazed what he makes his wolfberry jelly dessert with -- fish scales.
You can almost hear the chorus of some communist anthem ringing out through the background the moment you step inside Red Star.
Each and every ceiling tile is a collector's token, while the founding chefs even have their page in Singapore's food history. They were accorded the Four Heavenly Kings by a century-old gastronomy association in China in the 1960s. No one else has that title.
This is the place where the famous Prosperity Raw Fish Salad was popularized. Come at 6:30 a.m. for their old school pushcart dim sum and you'll have to get in line.
All the classics -- smooth egg seafood hor fun, roast meat, crab tofu and even a rare and tedious-to-make double boiled snakehead fish soup -- are crowd pleasers. The founders are also behind the creation of Singapore's famed chili crab and the mashed yam ring pot.
The menu states things simply. Chicken rice. Dim sum. Satay.
This is where chef owner LG Han creates the conversation by taking diners through the restaurant's fascinating "labyrinth" of interpretations.
The chili crab comes in ice cream form, complete with a tempura soft-shelled crustacean all ready to be dipped in the cold, spicy, tangy blob.
Han is careful to stick to what's promised, a clever rendition and reinterpretations of local fare delivering just what is important -- a delicate composition of the basic flavors: sweet, sour, salty, umami and even bitter.
His wicked take on Hainanese curry rice is executed with curry quinoa, chicken mousseline with coriander sponge.
Nothing anyone would expect it to be.
Meii seats no more than 20 and looks uninviting. But that's just chef Ah Hong's way of luring in only the discerning.
Those wise enough to step through his doors get slapped with an uni, otoro and tobiko sushi that'll blow away any doubts. Tell him to "feed me" and risk him doling out a big blob of stewed tuna eye in a wine miso sauce.
His sashimi is cut "peasant" style -- as in chunky. Don't bother chatting up the chef. He's friendly but quiet -- unless you've managed to break past his great wall of silence during your numerous past visits.
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