Nowadays, as Singapore progresses, sometimes we take Peranakan cuisine for granted as most Singaporean families know how to cook a few Peranakan dishes by inheriting a few popular classics, or eat versions of Peranakan food from economic rice stalls every other day.
So much so that we sometimes forget the heart and soul of Peranakan dining and taste – a sense of family togetherness.
We’re glad that Candlenut’s Chef-Owner Malcolm Lee has brought about a refined take of the Peranakan classics, modernized and taken to another level.
All of Candlenut’s rempahs (spice pastes) are made from scratch using fresh ingredients without MSG or preservatives. Dishes are cooked for hours to bring out the very best. This was the way Chef Malcolm was taught by his Nyonya mother at an early age, and that’s how the dishes are done in Candlenut.
Candlenut Satay ($10) with option of either fresh chicken thigh or Pork Belly.
Trying the plump and well-seasoned chicken meat, we can taste the quality of this lightly char-grilled satay that is a great prelude of what is to come.
Grilled Pork Cheek ($16) with kichap manis glaze, green apple and mint kerabu
One of the main difference in Peranakan cuisine is that the kerabu (or condiment or sauce) can be creatively different from one family to another. The pairing of apple and mint to grilled pork is not uncommon in Western meals, but the creative application of grilling tender pork cheek on a glaze of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) brings out the caramelised flavour even more when grilled.
It’s one of my favourite dishes here and a perfect beer food too!
Wing beans salad ($14) with prawns, crispy fish, baby red radish, lemongrass, chilli flakes, cashew nuts, mint and coriander with lime dressing.
I like Chef Malcolm’s interpretation of this classic Peranakan Wing Bean Salad. Generous with prawns, caramelised crispy fish, refreshing pops of baby red radish, subtle highlight of lemongrass, and casual mix of chilli flakes, cashew nuts, mint and coriander all binded with a lime dressing with the crunchy Wing bean.
The end tends to get a bit sour though, as the lime dressing soaks to the bottom of the bowl and accumulate there.
Chap Chye ($14). Braised cabbage with mushrooms, sweet & dried bean curd, pork belly and black fungus in rich prawn stock gravy.
Somehow this Chap Chye tastes closer to what my grandma made, than my mum’s inherited version. While it is commonly available in economic rice stalls in Singapore hawker centre, I believe the rich prawn stock gravy and good ingredients made it a notch better. We lapped this dish up no time!
Yellow Coconut Crab Curry ($24). Blue swimmer crab meat, turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime leaf
This is a lovely dish, leaning towards Thai-style curry and comes with a heavy, spicy kick. It’s a dish we all enjoyed and a wonderful and interesting addition to dinner with its heavy curry cream for variety.
Buah Keluak – F5 Ranger Valley Wagyu (BMS 7+) beef rib ($24)
This is the statement dish that I highly recommended to try at least once! No decent Peranakan restaurant is complete without having Buah Keluak. The Wagyu Beef paired beautifully with the Buah Keluak paste and tasted better than the typical Chicken Buah Keluak variety.
Absolutely tender and melts in your mouth, although the natural beefiness of the wagyu is completely obscured by the distinct and heavy Buah Keluak.
Gula Melaka King Prawns ($24). Coconut butter sauce infused with gula melaka, lemongrass and roasted coconut, fresh herbs & chilli
I had 4 out of the 8 prawns, enough said! Finger licking good. Prawns were fresh and cooked just right, soaking up the sweet and creamy gula melaka marinade, although its taste is a lot softer than the usual gula melaka pairing in desserts. Overly sweet prawns would have be a little weird too.
Note to self: have to buy Chef Malcolm’s cookbook and ask my mum to replicate this dish at home.
Coconut Charcoal Grilled Wild Snapper ($24). Smoked sea salt, dried shrimp sambal.
A delightful dish of wild snapper fillet. Perfect for dainty diners who can’t stand eating a whole fish or adverse to swallowing a fishbone (but my grandaunt might disapprove of wasting a perfectly good fish head and tail).
After a long meal, we were pleasantly surprised with a Watermelon Assam Sorbet (complimentary palate cleanser) sitting on a bed of passion fruit jelly, dragonfruit cubes and topped with basil leafs. This totally refreshes your palate and washes out the heavy savoury flavours of the meal, cleansed and ready for dessert.
Texture of Coconut ($9)
An elegant take on our favourite tropical thirst quencher fruit, coconut, presented in various forms – a Sorbet, espuma (foam), jelly, grated and fresh coconut bits. The lightest dessert to finish off the meal and probably the best choice to ease off the tastebuds.
Chendol cream ($7)
A well-balanced signature dessert – a bed of coconut custard cream like a panna cotta, topped with gula melaka and pandan jelly. Might be a bit sweet for some though.
Banana Caramel Pudding ($10)
A lovely dessert to fill you up if you still have room for something warm and sweet. Delicate steamed banana cake, caramelised banana ginger crumble with gula melaka ice-cream – we only wished there were more of the yummy ice-cream to go with each spoonful!
Buah Leluak ($14)
If you only have room for one dessert, it has definitely got to be the Buah Keluak ice cream (not all the other tasters agree though). This dessert is a scoop of dark earthy Buah Keluak ice-cream mixed with a generous dose of 80% Valrhona chocolate, served on a bed of salted caramel, chocolate crumble and chilli flakes.
It is then topped with warm milk chocolate espuma. A great dessert for sharing – remember to tell your guest to close their eyes and savour the unexpected candy fizz pop sensation for that hit of nostalgia.
This very complex dish is controversial though, so you either love it or hate it.
The consistent theme I noticed in Candlenut is the use of fresh, quality ingredients, a willingness to reinvent the classics while preserving the Peranakan way of homemaking.
From the Satay pineapple peanut sauce, use of Wagyu beef, to the sambal chilli, the little details are what made a difference to me.
Candlenut is definitely a great place for to bring your elder relatives, foreign delegates and in general, overseas friends for a refined Peranakan dinner setting.
Expected damage: $50 – $70 per pax