This morning, I woke up with a hangover from an overdose of gastronomic delights that I’ve had this week. What am I talking about? There is no such thing as an overdose of good food! Okay, scratch that and let me sober up so we can start over.
I was invited to the media luncheon for the Singapore Takeout which was held at London’s Southbank yesterday. Every fibre of my being was wriggling with excitement as the days led up to this event; I don’t want to go too much into the details but you would know why I feel this way if you’ve come across this post. As I got out of Waterloo station, the sky looked ominous. One wrong turn and a huge detour later, I found myself hugging my bag (which held my precious camera and extra lens) for dear life, battling my arthritic umbrella and willing it to workdammit, so I could get to the Takeout without actually having to swim in the Thames. It seemed like a bad way to start, and I was half-wishing that I should not have turned up.
But the day got infinitely better, the minute I stepped into the gazebo where Singapore Takeout was at. I shook off the rain, was offered a drink, whipped out my camera and got into the groove of meeting fellow bloggers and journalists. Things started to get into action, quite literally so, when we were treated to the unveiling of the shipping-container-turned-pop-up-kitchen, all this as we licked some wickedly creamy Chilli Chocolate Corals (inspired by the dead corals she saw when she was working with the Arzaks in San Sebastián and also by Singaporean’s love of chilli) that Chef Janice Wong (owner and chef of 2am:dessertbar in Singapore) had prepared off our spoons! You could obviously tell that I was quivering with excitement from the blurred photo of the corals…There was no better way to kick off this event in the rain, with some velvety smooth dark chocolate cream and some pleasant heat that comes through at the back of your throat. I was duly impressed by Janice’s opening act.
Introductions by Chef Janice and Chef Peter Gordon (owner and chef of The Providores & Tapa Room) were in order, both of whom have created the 9-course menu that made for a very sumptuous lunch. Stories flew from kitchen to floor, the most memorable of which was how Chef Janice went through 72 hours of voluntary blindness to explore her palette and to take her imagination beyond. She even showed us how she printed her favourite poem using transfer sheets on to the laksa broth paper which made an appearance on our main course (excellent by the way, more on that later)! This young woman is indeed serious about the food that she creates and I couldn’t be more curious on what she was going to serve up.
After the food demonstration by Janice, we were ushered to our seats at the table for a meal that will soon make me so proud of Singapore. Granted, the menu wasn’t completely Singaporean; the dishes were created with the flavours of Singapore as a springboard; you could see that both chefs had given a modern interpretation to what Singaporean grub is. Having lived in London for a few years now, I haven’t been able to see how Singaporean cuisine evolved in recent years and I was just delighted to be able to witness this in the presence of esteemed, most unassuming and motivated chefs.
Take Janice for example, she told us how she laid awake till 3am the night before (as she had too much coffee) and jumped out of bed dreaming of serving a four-cheese laksa as an amuse bouche for this luncheon. How crazy is that? By the way, it worked brilliantly. I was a little skeptical when she told us about it, but one mouthful was all it took to convince me that her caffeinated instinct was spot-on! I wish we had more of the those.
To start, Peter served up an interesting twist to our street food favourite (oyster omelette), in the form of a green chilli omelette with a poached oyster, crab, mango, crispy shallots and coriander. This was refreshing on the palette, although a slightly wayward for me as it hinted more of Thai than Singaporean influences.
Janice then took us back to Chinese New Year, a festival that is most well-associated with copious amounts of food, with her clean and floral take on Yu Sheng. She had just returned from a stint at the Noma lab, and we were given a real treat when she served up cured tangy sashimi with delightfully fragrant herbs and flowers she foraged with the team at Noma. The plating was pretty as a picture and showcased her flair for creating visual dynamic and equally delish cuisine.
For our main course, Peter treated us to some five-spice infused pork belly (that was brined for 24 hours, steamed, baked, pressed and chilled before being deep-fried) and peanuts with rice, cucumber and chilli roasted pineapple. The pineapple was slightly reminiscent of the achar (pickled vegetables). This dish also reminded me of the strong, deep and fragrant Nonya flavours that I have come to miss.
After this, a refreshing sorbet that was made from rice infused with lemongrass was served as a palette cleanser. White and incredibly pristine, it looked every bit as light as it looked. I really loved this and again, wished we could have more of it. This is another of Janice’s creations by the way (what can’t she create, honestly?!).
Janice wow-ed us further with her lemongrass infused laksa dumplings with handmade noodles for our second main. Some have warned us that this wasn’t a traditional take on the usual laksa we are accustomed to, but I didn’t care, because this was miles better. Janice packed a tonne of pleasant heat and lemongrass into the laksa broth, which turned out to be quite the perfect soup to me. The poem-printed laksa paper was a fun and thoughtful touch as it brought more flavour to the dish in an unexpected form. I also loved that she added chive flowers to the laksa, which were not only pretty, but lent a good kick to the broth. This was easily my favourite dish of the day. Janice did joke about how relieved she was as she brought on the dessert course, but hey Janice, if you’re reading this, you have nothing to worry about because you did a fantastic job on the savoury courses!
Now I was really looking forward to dessert after the main courses, we’ve seen plenty of flair in the dishes before and since I am an aspiring home pastry ‘chef’, I was very, very keen on what followed. Peter spoke of his love for chendol and created the Pandan Ginger Tapioca with Sherry Agar Jelly, Lychees, Strawberries and Almond Coconut Cream for this. I really liked the tapioca pearls which were richly flavoured with pandan and boasted distinct ginger notes, although I thought it could have done without the lychees and strawberries to keep the flavours simple. I will be bookmarking the pandan and ginger combination, however, for future recipes in my kitchen.
Since Janice is a pastry chef, I could hardly wait for her creations. Her take on Popcorn Nostalgia (first picture in this entry) was spot-on and incredibly fun with the duo of sweet and salty popcorn ice cream served with yuzu parfait and salted caramel. I cleaned off my plate very quickly once I tucked in, although I could hardly bare to destroy the work of art she has created on the plate before I picked up my dessert spoon. She also put a spin to the sticky toffee pudding by making it with gula melaka and serving it up with a dab of vanilla-rish kaya – very rich, very deep and my only complaint was the portion was too small!
As I mentioned to one of the PR consultants, I came away from the luncheon feeling very proud of Singapore. Our flavours have transcended boundaries and made its way into the global scene, and I feel confident enough to say that we are good at what we whip up, whether its street food or modern Singaporean cuisine. People are excited at exploring the tastes and textures of Singapore street food, and many renowned chefs that I’ve spoken to over the last year, such as Jason Atherton and Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, are inspired by our flavours. I can’t wait to return to Singapore to properly witness the old and new coming together in our culinary history.
But for now, I shall say to you that the Singapore Takeout in London is only here for one more day (today!), you might be able to make it for lunch now, or dinner (admission is free and you get two complimentary dishes, whilst stocks last), so head down if I’ve got you curious! I urge you to do so!
Swing by at:
London’s South Bank, The Riverside Walkway (by Gabriel’s Wharf), South Bank, London SE1 9PP
Admission times are:
11th June 2011: 12.15pm – 3pm, or 5.30pm to 7.45pm
Singapore Takeout will be travelling to Paris next, and 7 other countries after that, so check out the Singapore Eats Facebook page for more details!
I leave you with a picture of three manly butts that I spotted after the event. Lady Gaga was recording a show at the ITV studio, which was behind the Singapore Takeout venue, and I was merely (s)taking out the Lady Gaga (s)takeout! Now I wonder if Lady Gaga stopped by for the laksa….she might get her claws out for that!
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Also check out my other food adventures!