Singapore - Modern-Nyonya cuisine at Candlenut, Dorsett Residences (Outram Park)
The wait is over: Candlenut opened on 1 July, ending a 1.5 year wait among the many fans of young chef, Malcolm Lee, after its previous incarnation, the popular Candlenut Kitchen closed.
The new premises, rather oddly L-shaped and dividing the dining area into 2, at Dorsett Residences is an improvement over its old Neil Road spot.
What we had:
- Kueh pie tee: the pastry shells were a bit thick here, but the filling was nice - the grated turnips were studded with bits of plump, very fresh shrimp-meat. The best rendition I'd had in Singapore.
- Ayam buah keluak: the version here was thick and dark with "buah keluak", though I found the spice content (galangal, chilli, belachan, lemongrass, tamarind) indiscernible, or perhaps intentionally toned down by the chef. After all, each Baba-Nyonya family has its own recipe for this dish.
- Ngoh hiang: rather bland tastewise, but the generously amount of waterchestnuts, shitake mushrooms and shrimps added to the minced pork gave the meat rolls here a good texture and crunch.
- Bakwan kepiting: the soup was bland, as were the pork-and-crabmeat balls. The julienned bamboo shoots were nice and crunchy. Needs more improvement for this dish.
- Babi Pongteh: very nice, full of flavours - definitely the *best* rendition of this dish I'd tasted in Singapore.
- Assam fish: Not as assertive (in terms of spicing) as the version I get in Guan Hoe Soon (my fave traditional Nyonya restaurant), but the pomfret fillets here are very fresh, and I liked the way the baby okra were just cooked, leaving a nice snap to each bite, and the aubergines were meltingly-soft. Very light, refreshing version.
- Buah keluak ice-cream with salted caramel, chocolate crumble and chilli specks, topped with warm milk chocolate espuma - very unusual use of "buah keluak" but very nicely done indeed.
- Steamed banana cake, caramelized banana, ginger crumble, with Gula Melaka ice-cream. Feathery-light light banana cake - loved this.
331 New Bridge Road #01-03
Tel: +65 8121 4107
I tried this yesterday. Very bland cooking! But I agree that they source their ingredients very carefully. The shrimps in the kueh pie-tie are big and visible. In other Nonya restaurants, you won't see any shrimps at all but only the turnips.
Their ayam buah keluak has thick black buah keluak paste but not enough chillies and other spices! No red colour which I'm used to. I also think they should cook chicken and pork-rib together for buah keluak, which is found in Malacca but not in any Nonya restaurant here.
Went about a month ago and had a pretty disappointing experience, so I'm surprised by the many positive comments for Candlenut. We had:
* Sous vide beef rendang - Nice tender texture but the beef appeared to have been cooked separately from the rempah so the meat had no real flavour to it.
* Bakwan kepiting - Bland
* Assam fish curry - Fish wasn't fresh, we skipped eating it entirely. The assam tasted pretty flat too, like it came out of one of the seasoning packets sold at NTUC and was just reheated. The lady who came back to clear the table for dessert noticed that we hadn't eaten any of the fish curry and rather quizzically asked us if we forgot about it, which I thought was a mildly puzzling query.
* Chap chye - First time I've had crunchy cabbage in chap chye. Normally chap chye is stewed but the vegetables didn't absorb any flavour from the seasoning and were unpleasantly crunchy, so I'm not sure how they cooked it.
The steamed banana cake dessert was pretty good though. We actually went expecting decent food (have eaten at Candlenut at its previous location around Duxton when the menu was different, it was ok) so it was quite disappointing that the food was that bad. But now I'm really puzzled why we had such a bad meal when everyone else seems to have had good experiences..
Chef's off-day when you were there?
But your experience with bakwan kepiting was the same as mine.
Our assam fish on my first visit was fresh - even better than Guan Hoe Soon's, which was erstwhile my favourite. You should have complained and asked for a replacement when you got your bad dish!
Our Chap Chye was certainly stewed the traditional way, not crunchy like the one you had - that would have been incorrect, too, and (again) you should have demanded a change!
I'd never tried the rendang there.
Back there again this evening ;-)
This time, we tried:
- Chicken satay, with peanut and pineapple sauce. The addition of pureed pineapple to the spiced peanut sauce was Hainanese-influenced. Pretty average rendition here.
- Beef Short-rib with Buah Keluak sauce: lovely beef-rib cooked sous vide till tender. The buah keluak sauce was delicious.
- Yeye's Kari - a 4th-generation recipe from the chef's great-grandfather: white coconut chicken curry with green chilli padi, green peppercorns and finely-julienned kaffir lime leaves. Way too much coconut creme used - resulting in a cloying, rich gravy which proved too much for us.
- Assam Sotong: sauteed squid in squid ink, chillies, tamarind and crispy shallots. Tasty, though I found the squid a bit hard, texture-wise.
- Chap Chye: cabbage with sweet beancurd sheets, black fungus, tunghoon (mungbean threads) in taucheo (fermented beansauce). Best version I'd tried in any restaurant in Singapore.
- Mushroom sambal goreng: fresh mushrooms stir-fried with a spicy chilli mix. Very good and was a hit with my 3 dining companions.
- Chenchalok omelette: the rendition here was too salty, and I didn't really taste much chenchalok.
Dessert: Chendol cream - consisting of coconut milk-accented panna cotta with Gula Melaka sauce and pandan-scented chendol noodles. Loved this!
They *love* the "Chap Chye" - tastiest rendition we'd ever had in Singapore, despite not having any pork or prawns in it.
The sous vide beef-rib smothered with buah keluak sauce was also a hit.
The only disappointment was the Yeye's white curry, which we thought was waaay too rich in coconut creme. But don't think Chef Malcolm Lee is willing to tweak his family heirloom recipe.
Personally, I like this place - it's the only Nyonya restaurant in town which takes great care in sourcing the best ingredients for its repertoire of dishes.
Going back there again tomorrow, FourSeasons - this time bringing my Baba-Nyonya friends from the Peranakan Association. They were a bit skeptical about the modern-take on traditional Nyonya flavours, especially in the desserts. But I'm Peranakan-Baba myself, and I liked those - so trying to convince my friends. Wish me luck - some Baba-Nyonyas are such traditionalists.
I posted that just below - we were there on 9 Sep. We all thought the ingredients used were great, but the cooking was blander than what we're used to having. I surmise Candlenut's cooking is more Nyonya-inspired than "authentic" renditions such as those we get in Guan Hoe Soon, Peramakan or Peranakan Inn, all of which I'd actually prefer over Candlenut's.
I read that the chef is a Baba and his Peranakan mum helps him conceptualise the dishes. But they've added their own touch to the dishes. We (Eurasians) are the same, no two families' Feng or Curry Debal are the same, and we sometimes have our own family's peculiarities. For example, in my family's Feng, we add pureed dates for a sweet taste, but we know of no other Eurasian families who would do the same.