Last Updated: March 31, 2020
A dumpling by any other name will be just as delicious. Be it gyoza, pierogi, wonton, ravioli, guo tie, mandu, samosa; you get the idea.
As long as it’s wrapped with dough with some kind of filling, technically it’s a dumpling. You could say they are the great equaliser in the world of food, seeing as every culture has some sort of iteration of this pocket full of goodness.
Which is why you wouldn’t guess that Fusion Dumplings at the pristine white-washed Maxwell Chambers serves authentic Russian food.
Granted, the storefront gives nothing away, which is an effect the owner Vadim Zoubovski wholly intended. After all, he tells me that dumplings are an easy introduction to the somewhat unknown world of Russian food.
Vadim is an affable man with slicked-back hair and an endearing Russian accent. Having arrived in Singapore more than 15 years ago with his wife Alena and son with their daughter born here, Singapore is now home. Vadim’s son is even enlisting for National Service soon.
Unlike meandering and drawn-out Russian novels, the path to Fusion Dumplings was pretty straightforward. It always begins with a great cook and that was none other than Vadim’s wife, Alena. Given the dearth of Russian cuisine in Singapore, Alena took to mostly preparing meals at home, which later turned into preparing meals for friends and soon a takeaway kiosk at Tanjong Pagar called Ang Moh Dumplings.
As their name suggests, they dished out mostly dumpling and even threw in a couple of traditional Russian soups.
Following a slight disagreement with the management with the Tanjong Pagar kiosk, Vadim and Alena decided to open a proper sit-down cafe. Since they have amassed a steady fan base, there was little reason not to open the restaurant. Thus, this is how we arrived at Fusion Dumplings.
Of course, we should definitely talk about the elephant in the room. Where does the word ‘fusion’ play into all of this? Well, the reason was a little more philosophical than I expected. Vadim explains that the word ‘fusion’ for him does not refer to having new-fangled creations on the menu. Instead, it refers to the pervasiveness of dumplings within our foodscape as well as how food and culture constantly mingle with each other.
In a way, it also signifies Vadim and his family moving to Singapore, assimilating and becoming part of our melting pot. It turns out you can glean quite from a bunch of dumplings.
When you say Russian restaurant, it conjures images of opulent interiors decked in gold and Soviet red, though Fusion Dumplings is anything but. The interior is simple and non-descript—it could have been any restaurant. A couple of high tops with slightly uncomfortable chairs make up the entire restaurant.
A little put off by the lack of colour, I wondered if the food would be just as mundane. Luckily, the rather pedestrian interior belied the vibrant and exciting dishes Fusion Dumplings offers.
To allow us to sample a large portion of the menu, Vadim served us tasting portions of each item. So, if you do make it to Fusion Dumplings, don’t worry, you’ll get the full-sized portions. We began with the salads, and three colourful plates were set before us.
Beets are a staple in the Russian diet, so it seemed that I go for the Beetroot (S$7) first. A flurry of different shades of wine and burgundy was what greeted me. With cubed beetroot, potato, carrot, pickles, this dish was earthy and slightly tangy.
I’ve never been partial to beets so it was a little difficult to appreciate the salad, but my feelings aside, this was certainly fresh, bright and full of texture.
The Eggplant (S$7) was a little more welcoming to my palate. Served either hot or cold, this was a veggie stew made with shredded eggplant, carrot and capsicum. My table enjoyed this a lot more since it was more familiar to us. A little lacking in texture, but the savoury sweet flavour of the vegetables more than made up for it.
It feels slightly sacrilegious to visit a Russian restaurant and not have a taste of their borscht. For the uninitiated, borscht is a soup that is common in Slavic countries with beetroot as one of the main ingredients. Having only tried borscht at Shashlik Restaurant, I was pretty thrilled to be trying this one.
Fusion Dumplings’ Ukrainian Borscht (S$8.50) came with its trademark dollop of sour cream and rich orange hue—this was borscht, alright. With a robust pork base and roasted vegetables, each spoonful was complex and incredibly flavourful. Almost like minestrone, but better.
Vadim explains that borscht seems like a no brainer, but truly excellent borscht require a couple of hours of carefully roasting the different vegetable to get them caramelised. Not to mention, the pork base needs time for all the flavours to develop, so don’t underestimate what goes into borscht.
A curveball for me had to be the Summer Cold Soup (S$8.50). Okroshka, as it is known, is meant to have on balmy, sun-drenched summer days where the heat is a little too much. Vadim jokes that the Summer Cold Soup is actually perfect for Singapore and I concur.
Creamy and refreshing all at once, I see why Vadim speaks so highly of this. The liberal amount of dill lent light, lemony liquorice notes to the okroshka. You’ll find little bits of celery, eggs and potatoes in there as well. An unexpected favourite, but one I’ll order from now on.
This is what we came for: the dumpling! Because we just couldn’t decide, Vadim offered us the Combo Plate (S$15) which came with all 12 of their dumplings, with different colours to mark each flavour. Traditionally, these are called pelmeni, though Fusion Dumplings makes theirs a little more square and tighter.
While I would love to wax lyrical about each and every dumpling, I’ll leave some for you to try on your own. Here are some of my top picks.
A shiny black parcel and one of the more popular dumpling the Black Bull has got my heart as well as my stomach. Well-seasoned and hearty, this was all too easy to enjoy. The texture of the meat was slightly coarse, which I appreciated.
The skin of the dumplings was slightly thicker than usual but they were also delightfully chewy.
One that I wasn’t expecting to like was the Minty Ram, which was a pea-green dumpling with a lamb and mint filling. Lamb often gets a bad rap for being overly gamey or tough, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
The lamb was fresh and tender, perked up by several sprigs of mint—this was a winner for me.
The vegetarian option did not disappoint as well. I worship at the altar of carbs, so a Potato and Sauekraut dumpling is a gift from the gods. A soft and fluffy potato centre that is cut by the tangy and sharp sauerkraut makes for a perfect mouthful.
And if you thought carbs cannot get any better, you’d be wrong: they come fried too. Fusion Dumplings has an option where you can fry up these dumplings, drizzled with truffle oil and dusted with a good shot of parm.
With a crispy crunchy exterior and mouth-watering perfume of truffle oil, they were even tastier than their boiled counterparts. A cold pint of beer and you’ve got your Friday night settled.
Endings have to be sweet and Cottage Cheese Crepe (S$8) topped with butterscotch was exactly what we needed.
Here you have cloud-like cottage cheese encased with a velvety crepe and satiny ribbons of butterscotch.
With just the right amount of sweetness, I was pretty pleased with this dessert.
If you want the whole nine yards of the Russian experience, the Honey Cake (S$6) is as traditional as you can. Russian honey cake comes with multiple layers of cake interspersed with a heavy spread of cream and covered with a crumb coat.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take to this classic. For me, the cake was a little dry and the overload of cream did nothing to remedy it. Conversely, my table companions liked it very much and likened the cake to a lighter sugee cake.
So ended my Russian encounter at Fusion Dumplings, and consider the Iron Curtain lifted on the enigma of Russian cuisine. Fusion Dumplings might seem like a gimmicky name at first but it works to their advantage.
While my entrance to Russian food started with dumplings, it ended with me dreaming about borscht. Homey and entirely accessible, Fusion Dumplings makes a wonderful addition to our already vibrant mosaic of food.
And it all started with a dumpling.
Expected damage: S$12 – S$25 per pax
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 4 / 5
32 Maxwell Road, Maxwell Chambers, #01-05, Singapore 069115
32 Maxwell Road, Maxwell Chambers, #01-05, Singapore 069115