Dinner @ Magic Square

June 20, 2018 in Asian, Peranakan by thywhaleliciousfay

It was through instagram that I got to know about Magic Square; A year-long pop-up restaurant initiated by restaurateur Tan Ken Loon (also the man behind The Naked Finn and Nekkid) for young, promising Singaporean chefs. The project with its good intention certainly piqued my interest. So when my newly-made instagram friend @abbey_thebolobao asked if I was interested in heading down to Magic Square together, I jumped at it.

There’re 2 seatings; 6pm to 8pm, and 8.15pm to 10.15pm. Since we were dining on a weekday, we went for the second seating. Employees mah. However, the restaurant was located inaccessibly in Portsdown. To reach Magic Square, I took bus 191 from One-North MRT station. And the thing about going for the second seating, bus service would have already ended when dinner was over. So the only way out of Portsdown was either by car, cab or foot.

Bus 191 stopped directly in front of Magic Square. With an open-concept kitchen and a 7 metre-long communal table, one could either think the space was designed as though one is entering a friend’s house or it was just designed minimally since it’s afterall only a year-long project. But it’s not wrong to think the latter because in the opening speech, it was mentioned that Magic Square was not to earn money. Ken Loon was also not shy from sharing that he got inspiration from Noma for the lights. Yes, I noticed the similarity.

Magic Square offered a 9-course menu which rotate every month. For June 2018, the kitchen was led by chef Marcus Leow. After an opening speech by Ken Loon (or general manager Gabriel Chan if Ken Loon is not in), Marcus stepped up to introduce his menu which was Peranakan-based. But instead of the cuisine, Marcus mentioned the meal focused on the ingredients. And with that, we started our 9-course menu ($78) with:-


1) Dish #1 (above) – Smoked tomato stuffed with belacan creme fraiche and coated with belacan crumb. Belacan was homemade where small shrimps were salted, cured, dried under the sun and toasted.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Slightly poached mozambique lobster paired with belimbing and starfruit (burnt, fermented, pickled) and served in starfruit juice and pomelo oil. This was really refreshingly good. The sweetness of the mozambique lobster was enhanced by the sourness of starfruit and belimbing.


  

3) Dish #3 (above) – Pickled egg yolk jam sandwiched between brik pastry and sprinkled with coffee powder, and tart with kaya jam and sugar snap pea. The latter was really good. I had a few renditions of pea tart (MUME and Cure), and I have to say Marcus’s rendition surprisingly came out top for me. When I first heard kaya was used, I was skeptical. But Marcus’s bold choice in using kaya turned out impressively well; The saltiness of kaya was balanced nicely by the clean taste of pea. The fragrance continued to linger in my mouth after I finished the tart.


4) Dish #4 (above) – Rice porridge served with broth made from yellow bean, cabbage and taucheo sauce. Cabbage was burnt in brown butter, while fried tempeh (cultured soy bean) was added into the rice porridge for contrast in textures. I really liked this. A very comforting dish that warmed not just the stomach, but also the heart soul.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Potato flour coated hairtail with candlenut-infused milk, calamansi zest and juice, curry leaf oil, and rempah sauce made with onion, shallot and lemongrass.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Brussels sprouts, buah keluak emulsion with olive vegetable and shaved cured egg yolk. I liked that the sprouts were fried and sauteed for its sweet and bitter tastes. This dish even had us, self-proclaimed meat lovers, falling in love with vegetables.


7) Dish #7 (above) – Pork belly paired with chinchalok (fermented small shrimp), prawn head oil emulsion and burnt pineapple puree. We were told the pork belly was brined before grilled over charcoal fire. Out of the 9 courses, this was unfortunately my least favourite. We unanimously agreed a better fattier cut of pork would make this dish perfect as the pork belly was a little dry.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Belimbing sorbet, celery granita and sweet pickled celery. A very refreshing dessert which served more like a palate cleanser.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Corn kueh salat and corn tea. The tea was not exactly a tea since no tea leaves were used. Instead, the drink was made from corn silk and corn husk. It was super impressive. A very aromatic drink with depth in its taste. As for the kueh salat, I just wished the custard layer was thicker; I still had rice left in my mouth after the custard layer (of reduced corn kennel) melted in my mouth. But this was definitely one of the highlights of my meal.

It was a fun and wonderful meal. Although the chefs had to work with a tight budget, that they did not deter them from delivering an impressive meal. After our dinner, it was through our interaction with Marcus that we learnt the tight budget also meant they had to think of all ways to not let any part of the produce go to waste.

And because Marcus introduced every dish before we tucked in, I felt I was in a classroom at that moment instead of eating in someone’s house because I was learning new things. Marcus would share interesting facts like ‘buah keluak is buried in soil for a week to neutralise its poison’ or ‘belimbing is acidic in nature, so it was fermented before used for the mozambique lobster dish’, etc. A unique dining experience.

But it was also after my meal that I realised while Magic Square was created as a platform for young, promising Singaporean chefs to showcase their creativity and talent in food and learn the ropes of business, not any chefs could come. The present 3 chefs at Magic Square (Desmond Shen, Marcus Leow and Abel Su) were handpicked by Ken Loon.

I definitely recommend Magic Square. I am not one who return to the same restaurant soon, but because of the solid meal by Marcus (for June 2018), I’m joining my newly-made instagram friends @abbey_thebolobao, @free.the.umami and @thetravellingcow to return to Magic Square in July. July’s menu will be led by Abel Su and his theme is Chinese kaiseki. Interesting…

MAGIC SQUARE 田
5B Portsdown Road, Singapore
8181 0102, Website, Facebook
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tue – Sat : 18:00 – 22:15 (Dinner)
Ambience: 7
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon, Sun

Dinner @ Candlenut [Revisit]

April 14, 2018 in Asian, Peranakan by thywhaleliciousfay

Yup!!! My string of re-visits continues. It was a very belated birthday celebration for me by my girlfriends, and I got to choose the venue. So yes, I requested for us to dine at Candlenut. Since my last visit in 2014, Candlenut has relocated to Dempsey and earned a Michelin star yearly since the first edition of Michelin Guide Singapore (2016).

Located in COMO Dempsey, the restaurant is fairly accessible. Just a 5 to 8 minutes walk from the bus stop (that’s right in front of Dempsey). My girlfriend who drove feedback it was fairly easy to find a parking lot too.

In a group of 5, we arrived at Candlenut on a Saturday evening. And from the menu (pages 1, 2), we ordered:-

1) Crackers, Complimentary (above) – Subsequent additional bowl is chargeable.


2) Kueh pie tee, $12 (4 cups) (above, left) – Homemade shell, braised local turnip, pork belly, prawns. And since there’s 5 of us, the staff assisted to add 1 kueh pie tee shell at $3.


3) Charcoal grilled snake river farm kurobuta pork neck satay, $16 (4 skewers) (above, right) – With kicap manis glaze. Similarly, we ordered an extra stick for $4.


4) Itek tim soup, $14 (above) – Local duck meatball, salted mustard cabbage, cherry tomato, taro stem. And the portion was meant as 1 bowl per person.

5) Blue swimmer crab curry, $30 (above) – Turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime leaf.

6) Buah keluak of braised local chicken, $22 (above) – With peranakan signature black nut sambal.

7) King tiger prawn, $28 (above) – Gula melaka cocount sauce, lemongrass, Thai basil.

8) Baked cod fish fillet, $28 (above) – With kicap manis glaze.

9) Sambal baby sweet potato leaves, $16 (above) – With dried shrimp.

10) Brown rice, $3 (above) – For a bowl of brown rice, I must say the amount given is appalling. The bowl containing the rice wasn’t big, yet it was not filled to the brim! The bowl was only half filled. Come on…

11) Steamed caramel banana cake, $14Banana compote, gula melaka ice cream.


12) Candlenut’s ice kachang, $15 (above) – Azuki red beans, bandung, rose and pandan shaved ice.

13) Candlenut’s classic chendol cream, $12 (above) – Homemade pandan jelly, gula melaka.

14) Buah keluak ice cream, $15 (above) – Salted caramel, valrhona warm chocolate espuma, chilli.

Since photographs can be deceiving, I’m going to be really honest by saying it upfront that the portion was ridiculously small. The portion works for small groups (and by that, I mean pair) since one could thus enjoy variety by getting to order many dishes (in order) to fill one’s stomach. Ie, the ‘small portion’ which only came in one size (ie, no small, medium or large) didn’t work for us since we were in a big group. I didn’t enjoy the meal as much since I was constantly worrying if I would deprive my friends of sampling the dish if I took more.

So yes, I didn’t think the meal was value-for-money since it was pretty pricey for the small serving. But price aside, the food was good as I last remembered. Would I recommend Candlenut? Well… It was an enjoyable meal though the ‘small portion’ certainly left a deep impression. Not in a good way, if you were still wondering. But I guess an option to go around it would be to opt for their ah-ma-kase menu that’s $88 per head!

CANDLENUT
17A Dempsey Road, COMO Dempsey, Singapore
1800 304 2288, Website, Facebook
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Mon – Sun : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Thur, Sun : 18:00 – 22:00 (Dinner)
Value: 6
Fri – Sat : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Service: 7

Dinner @ Restaurant Ards

December 27, 2017 in Asian by thywhaleliciousfay

“That place don’t allow smoking,” my friend replied when I texted to say we’ll be heading to a restaurant in Marina Bay. So in the end, for my friend’s (smoking break) need, I scrambled to find us another venue. And since we often ate Japanese and French cuisines, I thought it would be interesting to have Chinese Asian for a change. Just a few days ago, I chanced upon Restaurant Ards on instagram where Ards is an acronym for ‘Asia, roots, distinct, singular’.

And thus, with reservation made via Chope, my friend and I arrived at the restaurant on a weekday at 8.30pm. Restaurant Ards being a fairly new restaurant, it was only occupied on the ground level although the restaurant spanned across 2 storeys. And from the menu (pages 1, 2), we ordered:-

1) Piquant illustration, $188 comprised of:-

(A) Appetiser, Complimentary (above)

(B) Touch of asia (above) – First dish of our 15-courses meal was thinly sliced (almost) raw carrot. Served nachos-style with fillings within.


(C) Soy bean skewer (above) – Skewered housemade soy bean tofu served hot on a charcoal grill with crispy black moss.

(D) Origin pickle (above) – Pickled pumpkin garnished with mint and dill.

  

(E) Fragrance osmanthus (above) – And our next dish of oysters was served in a grand manner. To the extent that my friend, who normally don’t take picture of food, couldn’t resist but reach out for his phone too. Keke. After putting the steamer down on our table, chef-owner Ace Tan went on to pour osmanthus tea into the steamer to ‘trigger’ the dry ice. So yes, it was a very bubbly dish. It took almost 3 minutes before the oysters were visible. And placed on the oyster was cream cheese twigs, while beneath it was osmanthus jelly.


(F) 21″ egg tart (above) – Egg custard with mentaiko fish roe in homemade butter crust, topped with (raw) corn kernels, corn crackers and cured mullet roe.

(G) Mum’s chicken soup (above) – A very comforting dish made with chicken essence (extracted from herb-stuffed chicken after extended period of steaming), winter melon, fish maw and chicken-vegetable floss. My friend and I wished the portion was bigger cause it was really good.

(H) Tea mantou and ginseng honey butter (above)

(I) Ear of the sea (above) – 18-hours slow braised abalone served with noodles. I enjoyed this.

(J) 33 ingredients (above) – And we were told the rice ball was made with 20 types of grains. With the remaining 13 ingredients comprised of mushrooms and others. Haha. Chef Ace lost me halfway through his long introduction. I need to work on my memory. The rice’s round shape reminded me much of the days when my late uncle would shape the (Hainanese chicken) rice into balls during Lunar New Year eve’s dinner. But of course, the texture and taste of the ones served at Restaurants Ards leaned towards that of a rice dumpling instead.


(K) Fish on fish? (above) – My friend and I were shown the wine-steamed clams before it was taken back for plating. Our dinner took place on a day when the chefs decided to experiment a different way of cooking the fish. Ie, sous-vide. And unfortunately for us, the fish served on the fish-shaped plate was too raw. You know… It’s tough to slice through under-cooked fish. Unsure, my friend and I enquired with the staff, to which chef Ace came up and offered to further cook the fish. But we turned him down citing that we would enjoy the fish if it’s meant to be eaten that way. Coincidentally or not, my friend and I had really bad stomachaches after the dinner.

(L) Art of beef (above) – And since I don’t consume beef (due to religious reason), my dish was replaced with scallop. I was glad my scallop also had the charcoal-powder crust as what’s done with the beef. And yes, my friend ate his wagyu too soon for me to snap a picture. Sob. Though he did share that the beef wasn’t impressive. And interesting enough, as we were sharing our feedback towards the end of our meal, chef Ace mentioned they were still in the midst of determining which beef grade would be best suited for their preparation method.


(M) Coconut kafflr ice (above)

(N) Desserts’ heritage (above) – And this was Restaurant Ards’ take on local dessert cheng tng (清汤); Barley cooked in syrup with water chestnuts, bird’s nest and grated almonds. And I was surprised to find out that it was a warm dessert as I tucked into it.


(O) Tropical fruits basket (above)

(P) Our childhood memories (above) – Mango and passionfruit jelly with pomelo was chef-owner Ace’s while coffee jelly with cream cheese was chef-owner David Lee’s.

Our dining experience was an interesting one at a progressive Asian restaurant. Restaurant Ards was a good alternative to hotel’s Chinese restaurants for fine dining. Sorry, Asian and Chinese cuisines are almost the same to me. However, our dining experience at Restaurants Ards was only good as an one-time experience as the food was not ‘wow’ enough for us to return. But despite that, I won’t totally rule them out.

Noting that Restaurant Ards is still works in progress, I would give them more time to iron out the teething problems. And I really hope it works out well for chef-owners Ace and David. After interacting with chef Ace during our dinner, I could sense his passion and sincerity. I really applaud their courage in bravely pursing their dreams of wanting to showcase Asian cultures and to bring a unique dining experience though creative natural cooking techniques and Asian ingredients.

RESTAURANT ARDS
76 Duxton Road, Singapore
6913 7258, Website, Facebook
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Tue – Sat : 12:00 – 14:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Sun