It’s surreal to finally meet Damien D’Silva after hearing so much about him. It feels even unreal to shake the hands of this well-built, tanned skin and upwards depilated chef and have him cook for us. All angst about this elusive chef, who was last seen at Immigrants – The Singapore Gastrobar and then a nasi lemak stall at Timbre+, dissipates into thin air when you hear him speak with fervour about his heritage cuisine at the recently-opened Folklore. While the press release will have you believe that it serves “Singapore Heritage Food” reflective of of the city’s five main ethnic groups of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan and Eurasian, Folklore, in essence, fields D’Silva’s home cuisine, which is a melting pot of his mixed heritage of Peranakan (maternal side) and Eurasian (paternal side). You will not find Chinese, Malay or Indian dishes per se, at least not now, but a melding of these influences with Peranakan and Eurasian food through the lens of D’Silva.
Before you get a taste of his soulful cooking, consider yourself warned that Folklore resides in the lobby of the tourist-class Destination Singapore Beach Road; in fact, the restaurant also serves as the defacto breakfast, lunch and dinner spot for the hotel. Depending on the time of your arrival, you may have to brave throngs of check-in or check-out crowd. But even if you actually do, it’s for a worthy cause.
D’Silva’s cooking at Folklore is accomplished indeed. An aviation engineer until the age of 40, when he decided to switch career to cooking, D’Silva is predominantly a self-taught cook who learnt by observing his maternal Nyonya grandma and paternal Eurasian grandfather in the kitchen from a young age. These years of observation and learning have been distilled into a menu teeming with homemade Peranakan and Eurasian dishes, some of which you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere in Singapore.
|Winged bean salad|
Winged bean salad (S$12) is not uncommon in a Peranakan kitchen but D’Silva’s stands out from the crowd because he adds cubed ripe pineapples to the usual assortment of ingredients including green mangoes, chillies and torched ginger flower and drowns them in a sambal belanchan-charged dressing perfumed with lime. I dare say this is tastiest winged bean salad I’ve had.
A quick google of the dish Singgang (S$20) yields several results but none comes close to the long lost Eurasian dish that D’Silva serves at Folklore. Wolf herring is slow-cooked in rempah (a spice paste of lemongrass, galangal, tumeric and chillies fried in oil and coconut milk) then removed and painstakingly deboned and returned to the paste for simmering until the flesh fully takes in the flavours of the spices. The fish shreds arrives with a rich lemak flavour reminiscent of otak sans the chilli and belachan. It’s a laboriously painful dish to make that deserves to be slowly savoured with steamed rice.
Another great dish with rice is oxtail stew (S$26). A Eurasian dish that his grandfather used to serve with belachan on weekends, D’Silva makes this elaborate dish by first creating a paste with shallots, onions, grated nutmeg, cloves, star anise and pepper that he fries with the meat until the aromatics completely coat the chunk. Tomatoes, dark soya sauce and beef stock are then added to stew the meat, which can take about 3.5 hours. If its thick, dark and caramelised sauce is anything to go by, you know the flavour of the gelatinous meat will be anything but weak.
|Buah keluak fried rice|
Its tempting to fill up on rice with all these rich sauces drenched with heady flavours but you must make room for D’Silva’s Peranakan-inspired sambal buah keluak fried rice (fried rice with Indonesian black nut, S$22). Each grain arrives at the table free-flowing rather than clumpy with unevenly coated clumps of the Indonesian black nut that has been wok-tossed with rempah titek, lemongrass, minced pork and coconut milk. Served with winged beans and a disc of sunny side up topped with a smidgen of sambal buah keluak, the richness of the fiery wok and the deftness of the of the cook is on full display with each grain you eat.
Every table ought to order a bowl of masak lemak (S$14) – a trio of vegetables (sweet potato leaves, bayam and kang kong) bathed in an intense prawn broth perfumed with rempah titek and a gentle whiff of coconut milk. The depth of flavour from the prawn and the kick of spice from the rempah is intoxicating.
By now you would have heard everyone wax lyrical about the Peranakan dessert of kueh kosui (S$6), a tender, almost wobbly, steamed cake made of gula Melaka, rice flour and tapioca flour and dusted with grated coconut. While it’s rarely my dessert of choice, it’s a reliable sweet to fall back on until my favourite kueh salat appears on the menu.
But it’s not all milk and honey.
|Hati babi bungkus|
I admire D’Silva’s effort in bringing back the lost heritage dish of hati babi bungkus (S$18 for 4 pieces), potato-like chunks of grilled caul fat-wrapped pork embedded with liver but the beauty of the liver, which overwhelms the parcel, is lost on me.
|Peranakan chap chye|
Neither do I adore the Peranakan chap chye (S$16), even if it is redolent with the umami of the pork and prawn stock that it’s cooked in. Much to my chagrin, the vegetable dish arrives bone dry (by D’Silva’s design) and entwined in more glass noodles than there were cabbages.
That said, there are many dishes I would return for. Folklore has a compelling Peranakan/Eurasian proposition that is, quite frankly, unrivalled. I mean, where else in Singapore can you get gourmet quality heritage fare made with love by D’Silva, no less, at canteen prices? You and I know how laborious and time-consuming it is to prepare the rempah alone for many dishes highlighted here.
700 Beach Road, Level 2 Destination Singapore Beach Road | +65-6679 2900.
© 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.