Candlenut (Singapore) by Malcolm Lee

Setting

Malcolm Lee, chef-founder of Candlenut
 

After taking a 1.5-year sabbatical, Malcolm Lee, chef-founder of the now-defunct Candlenut Kitchen at Neil Road, is back.

We recall how Lee took over Singapore Management University’s café six years ago as an undergraduate and transformed it into the campus’ hottest hangout spot for light meals. Shortly after, Lee landed a scholarship to pursue a diploma in at At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy. Upon graduation, he started his first Peranakan eatery, only to shutter in January 2012 due to escalating rental.

The interior of Candlenut
 

Lee’s reincarnated outpost – named Candlenut (without the “Kitchen”) – opened since 1 July 2013 in a bigger premise on the ground floor of Dorsett Residences, a new hotel-apartment at the junction of New Bridge Road and Outram Road. Roomy, albeit oddly shaped, the newly debuted eatery boasts lots of glass and a towering ceiling; not that these work to the eatery’s advantage as the lack of sound insulation means the indoor decibel can reach deafening levels on nights when it’s packed.

And slowly but surely, Candlenut is packing them in. Never mind that the rather austere dining room with broody dark brown walls gives little away in terms of the eatery’s Peranakan intention. Candlenut is, after all, a Peranakan eatery and not a museum.

What to expect

One can’t help but admire Lee’s guts at foraying into a turf long-presided by a coterie of ego-steeped baba and nonya cooks.

At 29 years old, Lee is probably one of the youngest chefs to head up a Peranakan eatery in Singapore. He has inadvertently courted media attention – both positive and negative – when he applied modern cooking techniques to classical Peranakan recipes.

120-day grain fed beef short rib buah keluak

Beef short rib with buah keluak (S$24), a Lee signature since the debut of Candlenut Kitchen, is a perfect example of the young chef’s vision. Lee takes a slab of 120-day grain fed beef short rib and slow cooks it via sous-vide until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender. Served smothered in deliriously delicious buah keluak puree, this dish may be atypically Peranakan but no one can deny its allure nor its Peranakan pedigree.

Sambal goreng mushrooms

Sambal goreng mushrooms (S$14) with crispy shrimp sambal toes the same line; it’s not formulaic Straits Chinese fare but the rempah (spice paste) at the core of nonya cooking flavours the wok toss of oyster mushrooms and shimeji to yield yet another flavoursome plate.

Prawns with sambal and buah keluak

If you’ve never had prawns with sambal and buah keluak (S$18), Lee serves up a heady rendition that he first savoured when his nonya grandmother served it once at Chinese New Year: tiger prawns wok-tossed with tongue-searing sambal and buah keluak puree. On the downside, some may find the clash of fiery sambal with earthy buah keluak a tad jarring.

Satay ayam

With his nonya mother watching over his shoulders, Lee knows better than to steer far from the classics. His satay ayam (2 sticks, S$12) stands out from the garden variety with succulent hunks of grilled chicken thigh meat served on skewers alongside an elegant dip of pineapple puree in peanut sauce.

Wing bean salad

Lee’s take on the rarely seen wing bean salad (S$12), a Penang-Peranakan salad, is also brilliant – blanched wing beans in a hearty toss chock-a-block with fried fish, onions, cashew nuts, prawns, lemongrass, chilli, mint and coriander in a sweet-and-tangy lime jus dressing.

There are several other items on the menu that we wanted to sample, not least chap chye in prawn stock gravy (S$12), babi pongteh (S$14) and sayur lodeh in curry shellfish broth (S$14), but we had to exercise restraint to save space for Lee’s toothsome desserts.

Don’t miss this: banana cake with caramelized banana and gula melaka ice cream on ginger crumble

Don’t miss his steamed banana cake with warm caramelized banana and gula Melaka ice cream on a bed of ginger crumble.

Candlenut | 331 New Bridge Road #01-03, Dorsett Residences | Tel: 65-8121 4107 | www.candlenut.com.sg

© Evelyn Chen 2013

Please note that the reviews published in this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.

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