By Daven Wu
Jan 14, 2021
THE EAST END OF SINGAPORE‘S CHINATOWN is experiencing a bona fide culinary boom. Fueled by a perfect storm of talented young chefs who cook with unfettered joy, and a COVID-captive audience with piles of unspent holiday cash, today’s buzz began percolating on Telok Ayer Street a year or so ago with a clutch of hipster cafés, bars and meat-houses.
Faster than you could say, “Sparkling water, please,” these spilled over into neighboring Amoy, McCallum and Boon Tat Streets as newcomers such as Cloud Street, Appetite and Basque Kitchen by Aitor jostled for coveted gastro real estate among the rows of lovely late-19th-century shophouses.
And now, quite without any warning, Stanley Street has grabbed the spotlight, debuting four of the neighborhood’s tastiest new eateries, closing off 2020 on a high note and giving us more meals to look forward to this year.
Izakayas are a dime a dozen in Singapore, most of them seeming to have sprung from a 1990s template in both décor and food. Which makes Sake Labo such an interesting outlier. For starters, it helps that local design studio Tsukurto has carefully avoided the usual Japanese design tropes and tchotchkes – there’s not a single maneki-neko (waving cat figurine) in sight – opting instead for a handsome palette of terracotta, moody hues, industrial table lamps and chandeliers made of sake bottles.
The two stars here are the drinks and food menus. The sake list is a thing of beauty, soaking in a literally heady sweep of labels from across Japan, including a specially commissioned house blend by the Niigata-based small batch producer, Kamonishiki.
These are paired with great aplomb with head chef Angus Chow’s “japas,” a delightful mashup of Japanese flavors and Spanish tapas with plenty of choices for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Think popcorn-chicken laced with nori and shichimi; Impossible burgers; the classic capas de patata crowned with tobiko pearls; and a sea bream ceviche scented with truffles and shio kombu.
29 Stanley St.; envyhospitality.co/sakelabo; dinner for two S$120.
In a town that falls over itself with the annual arrivals of spring asparagus and black truffles from Europe, Laut makes a compelling case for eating local and regional produce and flavors – both as a way of updating familiar standards, and supporting Southeast Asian farmers, artisans and traditional spice makers. The result is a perpetually buzzy dining room whose trellised panels and basket lamps echo Singapore’s dwindling stock of kelongs (offshore seafood farms).
Laut’s head chef Hoe Gern has clearly had fun experimenting with the small menu of reimagined hawker and tze-char fare to pair poached oysters with steamed egg custard and seagrapes; to stuff kueh pie tee shells with rojak and pineapple chutney; to sear crab with fiery Borneo peppers; and to slather toast with flower crab and soy-cured quail eggs. It all adds up to an intriguing meal, made more so by the inventive cocktail list whose ingredients include fermented Sarawak pineapples, smoked longans and cacao husk vinegar.
17 Stanley St.; lautcollective.com.sg; dinner for two S$80.
Nishikane works hard at maintaining the kind of inscrutability that camouflages so many of Japan’s best restaurants from the casual public eye. The front door – set on the far end of the ground-floor lift lobby – gives no hint whatsoever of what’s behind it. Which is a bijou, sparsely dressed dining room of mood-lit granite that’s anchored by an L-shaped counter.
Here, Nobuhiro Nishi commands the open kitchen, watching his brigade like a hawk as they crank out a choice of two omakase menus (the pricier one includes sushi) that are, by turns, simple in their seasonality and complex in execution. Who, for instance, would have thought of nuzzling braised Wagyu up against wintermelon, much less uni? Shredding Australian black truffles over a steaming clay-pot of crab rice? Or encasing cold somen and shredded egg within a block of ice? Nobuhiro Nishi, that’s who. Remember the name.
10 Stanley St.; envyhospitality.co/nishikane; dinner for two S$440-$640 depending on the omakase menu.
After successfully cloning Miznon in Vienna, Paris, New York and Melbourne, celebrity chef Eyal Shani has finally brought his celebrated Tel Aviv eatery brand to Singapore. And judging by the daily crowds that funnel into the narrow space – lined with handwritten notes and menu items, and wooden fruit crates that double as extra seats during rush hour – his MO of casually homey, easy-to-eat Israeli street food has really taken hold.
The centerpiece of the menu is the pita, a thick fluffy yet chewy pillow that’s made in Tel Aviv and flown in bulk to Singapore, along with vats of creamy, nutty tahini – the latter is so evocative of sunshine and Israel’s sea-washed air that, were it not for your waistline, you’d be tempted to eat it by the spoonful.
There is nothing delicate about Miznon, not the generous portions, nor the already chipped enamel tableware, the brown paper-bags encasing the pitas, and certainly not the ruggedness of the flavors. Standouts include a fish stew hit with paprika and harissa, a pile of sirloin strips and egg nuzzled with sour cream and Japanese cucumbers, and lamb and beef meatballs draped with salsa and green chilli dressing.
6 Stanley St.; miznonsingapore.com; dinner for two $80.