Folklore’s loss is Kin’s gain.
This much I can say after paying a visit to the three-month-old heritage restaurant, Kin, at Straits Clan by chef Damian D’Silva, the former founding chef of Folklore and arguably the city’s most respected authority on heritage cuisine, particularly Peranakan and Eurasian.
A walking encyclopedia on heritage Singapore food, D’Silva was brought up on a staple of Peranakan and Eurasian cuisines, a result of the influences of his Nyonya maternal grandmother and Eurasian paternal grandfather. But the self-taught chef learnt cooking by observing his grandparents cook and was never schooled in the culinary arts. Instead, he pursued a career in engineering and only started cooking as a profession, in eateries like Im Migrants and a nasi lemak stall at Timbre, when he was in his forties.
At Kin, D’Silva serves local heritage cuisine which, in Singapore, refers to a melting pot of Chinese, Malay and Indian, plus a heavy focus on the sub ethnic Peranakan and Eurasian fare that he grew up with.
The menu is straight forward – small, large, vegetables & rice, sambal & pickles, desserts – but the selection is not. In fact, the menu offers a smattering of creations that either highlights a forgotten or rarely-seen ingredient like Asian pennywort; uses produce sourced from local artisans like the preserved black bean sauce; or shines the spotlight on a dish like the Babi Masak Assam that one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
From “small”, Daun Pegaga ($15) is a sweet and tangy kerabu, tropical Malay tropical salad made with vegetables and herbs, of Asian pennywort and winged bean slivers tossed with toasted dessicated coconut in sambal and lime. Some Peranakan restaurants in Singapore are beginning to serve this vanishing tropical salad sans the Asian pennywort but D’Silva’s remains amongst the tastiest.
Another rapidly disappearing dish in Singapore is Cantonese-style paper wrapped fried chicken or Chi Pow Kai ($15) – chicken usually marinated in oyster sauce and other seasonings, wrapped and carefully folded (or stapled) before being deep-fried, D’Silva rises to the occasion with a more unique and less oily version devoid of oyster sauce. Deboned chicken thigh meat is marinated overnight in a special marinade infused with black bean paste and carefully wrapped in parchment paper, secured without stapler and deep-fried. Thanks to his unique preparation method, the chicken and its marinade are properly sealed, and “steamed” rather than deep-fried in oil, lending the meat a juicy and moist texture that is far from oily.
Moving on to the Large plates, Babi Masak Assam ($38) is recommended for the simple reason that you’d rarely find it served outside Peranakan households, much less in restaurants. Here, D’Silva cooks both pork belly and pork ribs (for added texture) in rempah titek (a soecial spice paste with chillies, belacan, shallots and candlenut) and tamarind before being braised with fresh and salted Chinese mustard. The complex flavours of this home-spun dish may take some getting used to but it is as close as it gets to dining in the residence of a Peranakan.
Another must-try dish unique to D’Silva is his gulai beef cheek ($38). Typically a rich and spicy curry-like sauce unique to Sumatra, Indonesia, D’Silva gives it a unique spin by adding a dry masala spice mix to a wet rempah (comprising ginger, tumeric and galangal) before flavouring it with coconut milk and braising it for a minimum of six hours. The result is fork-tender beef cheek rich with a complexity of spices that is sweet and not-too-spicy. It’s an interesting alternative to the ubiquitous beef rendang if you ask me.
In my opinion, D’Silva serves the tastiest buah keluak fried rice ($32) in Singapore but at Kin, he also fields limited portions of nasi ulam ($18) daily. Now, nasi ulam is one of the most laborious Peranakan dishes to prepare and if you could pre-order this delicately flavoured herbed rice dish at Kin, I highly recommend that you do it. Here, rice is tossed with sambal belachan and lemongrass as well as a melange of finely chiffonaded herbs including ulam raja, betel leaf, lemon basil, Vietnamese mint and ginger, and tossed with prawns, salted fish and wolf herring. The flavours are not heady but refined and delicate with a subtle hint of umami from the seafood. It’s perfect to go with sips of prawny pong tahau broth (Daily Broth, $23)
Fans of D’Silva will be happy to know that both his excellent tapioca-based desserts – Kueh Kosui ($12) and Kueh Bengkah ($12) – are available at Kin. That does not, however, mean that you should stop at two for D’Silva has created a most unusual sorbet at Kin that no one should miss – a buah kedondong and coconut sorbet ($12) that distills the freshness of coconut water with a sweet, zesty, floral and somewhat acidic zing from the kedondong. If you are here for a discovery of local heritage flavours with D’Silva, i can’t think of a dessert that is more apt than this.
31 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 089 845; https://restaurant-kin/; +65-6320 9180