In a city awash with Peranakan restaurants, the newly-opened Indigo Blue Kitchen is somewhat of an anomalous situation. Not only is the head chef, Chong Jun Xiang, himself not a baba (Peranakan man), the restaurant’s Peranakan owner, Desmond Lim, is not a cook but the co-founder and director of Singapore’s foremost French fine-dining restaurant Les Amis.
Unlike at Les Amis where the head chef has free rein to dictate the menu, Indigo Blue Kitchen is Lim’s passion project where he personally curates the menu and approves the dishes, leaving the chef to execute. Trained in European gastronomy and an alum of Gattopardo, Alma and 1880, Chong, 29, is the workhorse designate who is expected to bring to fruition the hearty flavours that Lim grew up with and scales it to a bigger audience at Indigo Blue Kitchen.
And how does Chong fare?
Ayam buah keluak ($24), the unofficial barometer for the greatness of Peranakan restaurants, arrives with three tender pieces of chicken alongside three pieces of plump Indonesian black nut, each brimming with dark and chocolaty kernel puree that has been dug out of its shell, wok-fried with rempah and then stuffed back in. The thick gravy that the chicken pieces wade in, itself rich with savouriness and aromatic spices – as well as traces of buah keluak – that the poultry and black nuts are braised in.
Another measure is “Nyonya chap chye” ($16), or mixed vegetable stew. Chong turns in a stellar performance once again with a stew teeming with perfectly tender, yet intact, cabbage, black fungus and strips of fried tau kee (bean curd skin) basking in a shallow pool of stew liquid flavoured with prawns. The prawns are chewy, yes, but still edible. But it’s the added depth of umami they lend to the dish that make their presence a welcomed one.
Bakwan kepiting ($22, pork and crab meatball soup) is the quintessential Peranakan comfort soup. Here, it comes with a hefty price tag that is almost double that of other soups on the menu but thankfully its flavours deliver in spades. The homemade meatballs are packed with fresh crabmeat, pork and – quite unusually – prawn meat and served in a light yet intensely savoury broth that is robust as it is prawny. Our only complaint is the miserly strips of juliened bamboo shoots that grace the bowl, an important ingredient to give the broth a balance of flavours and textures. Even if it’s quite unlike other versions you’ll get anywhere in Singapore, this is one bakwan kepiting you don’t want to miss.
For your seafood course, we suggest the prawns chilli garam ($24). The shellfish is deep-fried and served on a bed of chilli and salt garam that has been slow-cooked for two hours. While it looks fiery, the chilli garam has none of the tear-jerking spiciness (we were later told that we got lucky) that one associates with red chillies. Rather, it is sweet and moreish.
It’s worth knowing that Chong is also adept at making ngoh hiang (five spice pork roll). While you could try it -with otak otak and kueh pie tee -as part of Indigo platter for two ($20) – we rather you cut to the chase and savour just the pork roll ($13.50). It should arrive warm and crisp with juicy and savoury insides.
With so many hits already, it’s hard to imagine that Chong could possibly get the desserts right as well. But he does.
Apom (pancake with fermented rice batter, $6) is not a regular fixture on Peranakan menus in Singapore, which makes it all the more important that you try it. Here, Chong serves the discs of butterfly pea flower-streaked pancake warm with a subtly crisp facade – perfect on its own and even better when dipped in one of the trio of fruit dips – durian, jackfruit and banana.
For a young chef to step into a Peranakan kitchen with no relevant experience and background, yet produce quality Peranakan dishes that stand up to the competition, Chong’s debut on the Peranakan stage looks to be considerably mighty judging from this dinner alone.
We are super stoked about Indigo Blue Kitchen and you should be too!
1 Scotts Road, Shaw Centre, #03-09/10/11, Singapore 228208; +65 6235 3218; lesamisgroup.com.sg