Buzzy Amoy Street is just about to get a tad buzzier with the recent opening of Avenue 87. Taking over the space previously vacated by Kimme, the double storey shophouse is now home to young chef-owners Alex Phan and Glen Tay.
Named for 1987, the birth year of both Phan and Tay, the moniker Avenue 87 is also a reference to their Hougang address where they spent their growing up years – Tay at Avenue 8 and Phan, Avenue 7. It must be said, however, that the duo did not meet until they became classmates later in Shatec Culinary School and this friendship continued well into both their working stints at Tippling Club. Tay left for Shanghai thereafter, where he has since been honing his culinary acumen at the three Michelin stars decorated Ultraviolet over the past 7 years (he is still in Shanghai now due to travel restrictions). Phan, on the other hand, stayed in Singapore and spent time at Open Door Policy and Restaurant Ember before jumping ship to hotel operations.
While keeping the interior of the shuttered-Kimme relatively untouched, the new chefs have replaced the large communal table that used to hold court on the ground floor with smaller ones. In time, the level two space will also open to diners.
For Avenue 87, Phan and Tay have conceptualised a pair of tasting menus that zones-in on modern Asian flavours sans complicated concepts. Best of all, price tags – $98++ for 6 courses and $76++ for 4 courses at dinner – are easy on the wallet and the debut menus beckon with familiar local flavours that impress even from the get-go.
Yes, even the snacks make a strong impression, although, for the price, you should not expect more than two bite-sized morsels. First, sour cream topped crispy chicken keropok crafted from chicken breast rather than chicken skin. Following that, kueh pie tee filled with okra and eggplant-choked aerated asam padas (the tangy and spicy rempah usually used to cook fish head curry) enriched with Greek yoghurt, or vegetarian “fish head curry” if you will.
From the 6-course ($98++) dinner menu, there are no lack of standouts but three exceptional courses deserve a special mention.
Inspired by one of the chef’s adoration for local style milky fish soup, they serve Ah Hua Kelong’s seabass poached in a stock prepped with the fish’s own pan-roasted bones alongside condiments of compressed bitter gourd, semi-dried cherry tomato, deep-fried egg floss and deep-fried julienned ginger. Balancing precariously on the fish is a wooden teaspoon-ful of anchovy butter milk sauce that enriches the broth as the chef pours in cloudy anchovies-flavoured fish soup into the bowl. Much like the local milky fish soup usually served with rice, the broth is hearty and intense with a hint of milkiness but instead of getting fish slices like in hawker stalls, you are rewarded with a generous chunk of local seabass.
Singapore is best known amongst tourists for its ikan bakar or BBQ stingray drenched in sambal chilli and at Avenue 87, the octopus course takes its cues from this popular tze char joint dish. Similarly slathered in a thick coat of sambal (this time, using a sweetish tomato paste-flavoured sambal recipe, a heirloom recipe from one of the chefs) and dressed at the table with a burnt lime, the stump of plancha grilled octopus leg arrives in a banana leaf parcel with a disc of custard-like egg yolk confit resting on a riot of seasonally-changing stir-fried vegetables including, interestingly enough, big-head soy beansprouts. Although it looks nothing like the sambal stingray fish we know, a bite into the torched calamansi-dressed sambal on the octopus is all it takes to teleport one momentarily to the nostalgic taste of sambal stingray, even in the absence of the said fish. And that’s not to mention the perfect done-ness of the octopus, tender with a springy bite yet wonderfully chewy.
Taking inspiration from pisang goreng, a local snack of battered-then-deep-fried bananas, the duo presents a fun take on this popular Indonesian snack of Pisang No Goreng, or not-fried banana. To replicate the flavours, they first make a coconut custard with sweetened coconut milk and cream, batters it then deep-fries it till golden brown. Served with salted gula melaka and a scoop of fresh banana-flavoured vanilla ice-cream, this assembly replicates the familiar textures and flavours of the well-loved fried banana snack to a T without sacrificing on refinement.
There is also a main course of Vietnamese-style grilled baby lamb rack marinated in lemongrass, Chinese parsley and sesame oil in the big menu. Served with perfectly charred Thai eggplant and a drizzle of sweet and acidic stingless honey sauce, this dish is well-cooked and not without its merits. It is, however, overshadowed by the choice of sides that accompany the course – a light and fluffy egg white fried rice or the overwhelmingly delicious baby potatoes coated in coriander pesto.
If you don’t have a big appetite and prefer to go with the smaller and slightly-different 4-course menu ($76++), don’t ever feel that this cheaper menu is in any way inferior. It’s tinier, different and just as impactful.
Case in point is the course of Black Silkie, so called for the breed of chicken used – essentially black chicken. The poultry is roasted, slow-cooked into a rich stock and served with a slow-cooked egg alongside deep-fried enoki mushrooms on the side. Whilst black chicken is commonly used to brew chicken soup in Singapore, the chicken is rarely ever pre-roasted first, which is a shame because this technique does bring a unique richness to the broth. Pair that with a disc of egg and crunchy enoki and we have a dish that you’ll be hard-pressed to find fault with.
If you are keen to try this venue, but prefer to do so at lunch, you’re in luck because both the four and six-course dinner menus are available at mid-day on a by-request basis.
© Evelyn Chen 2020