For a snapshot of how Singapore’s cuisine has evolved, look no further than Restaurant Labyrinth. A modern Singapore contender since 2013, chef-owner Han Li Guang is taking his cuisine into an unchartered contemporary Chinese territory where only produce from the region is used. Not just that, Han now makes all the sauces – including oyster sauce and hoisin sauce – from scratch and he endeavours to use all parts of an animal – and likewise for vegetables – to ensure minimum wastage.
Gone are the fancy schmancy snacks like the “nasi lemak” kueh and in their place, a trio of umami-heightened Chinese delicacies with heady flavours are making an appearance – dried oyster crackling with dry aged beef tartare, diced apple, shiso leaf and caviar; Cambodian dried pepper flecked dried abalone with homemade oyster sauce topped with a veil of superior stock jelly; and deconstructed XO sauce that arrives as dried scallop chip crowned with house made XO sauce.
The main showcase in Labyrinth’s revamped menu is the parade of “plates” and there are highlights aplenty.
Han’s take on local prawn mee arrives as sashimi of ama ebi on a mound of Hainan prawn roe-flecked cold soba with bafun uni and globs of mushroom-infused prawn stock jelly for a jab of umami. It’s a solid rendition although the flavours are not redolent of the “hei mee” that we know.
|Stingray 3 ways|
Local market-bought stingray is served three ways: a stingray ball prepped with stingray meat and gelatine, with a layer of steamed stingray meat draped over it and a crispy cartilage chip balancing precariously on top. The parcel is served in an intensely profound broth of tomato pulp broth spiked with salted mackerel, and on it are bitter bits of chrysanthemn flowers to keep the umami in check. As polarizing as it may be, this dish embodies the evolution of Han’s cuisine; it’s a gem in my book.
Han’s all-time-signature of “chilli crab” has undergone multiple iterations and in its latest incarnation, it arrives as Japanese softshell crab, its shell made into chips and its flesh pan seared in butter and served with oatmeal crumble. The same old chill crab ice cream remains but this time, it is accompanied by yellow spashes of crab fat and a finale course of deep fried soft shell crab leg. Han’s “chilli crab” may have had several nips and tucks but there is no doubt that it is still stellar.
|2-cut char siew|
The “char siew” dish has also undergone a tranformation. Now featuring dual cuts of pork (cheek and collar) to guarantee that each bite contains the ideal ratio of fat to meat, the meat “roulade” is chargrilled over cherry wood and served with Cambodian red pepper-flecked Filipino adlai grains cooked in bacon “dashi”, bak kwa (Chinese BBQ sweet dried meat) bits, shards of pineapple “glass” and pickled bak choy. While we miss the fancy char siew “sushi” we had last year, this iteration is grounded on the chef’s understanding of char siew-making techniques and no one can argue with the result, it speaks for itself. The adlai grains are sublime too.
|Kaya ice cream|
With these sweeping changes, Han has also introduced a suite of Singapore-inspired cocktails (including a kaya cocktail and Milo Dinosaur) to pair with his new dishes. To be brutally honest, these cocktails are not revolutionary nor particularly inspiring compared the magic that Han has performed on the plates. But the concluding dessert does demand a double take – kaya ice cream on a slice of sugar-flecked buttered toast with caviar and a drizzle of soya sauce-cured egg yolk; it’s redolent of our favourite Singapore breakfast of kaya butter toast dipped in soft boiled eggs. Brilliant.
8 Raffles Ave, 02-23, Singapore 039802 | +65 6223 4098 | labyrinth.com.sg
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on 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.