Restaurant Labyrinth: “Nasi Lemak” Cheong Fun & Other One-Michelin Star Mod-Sin Cuisine Dishes At Esplanade

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When you think of true-blue Singaporean cuisine, you’d think that there’s no way it would fit into the mould of fine dining. But at Restaurant Labyrinth, you’ll get to witness (and taste) for yourself just how elegantly and refined Chef-Owner LG Han transforms familiar local recipes.

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After undergoing a facelift, Restaurant Labyrinth’s space at the Esplanade Mall is now more intimate and purposeful, with tables and lighting shifted every service to accommodate to the number of diners.

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Diners at Restaurant Labyrinth are also treated to walls adorned with memorabilia handed down from his grandmother as well as paintings that showcase the marriage of modern culinary skills and traditional methodology.

The menus offered here only come as set menus, one for each service of the day. The lunch menu is $68++, while the Chef’s Tasting Menu is $178++. The menus generally remain the same, save for slight changes dependent on seasonality of the produce.

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As I was treated to a curated menu that was a mix of lunch and dinner offerings, an amuse bouche of Tea Egg With Oolong Tea was the first of 13 courses served that afternoon. Despite its dainty, tiny size, the process of preparing this delicate mouthful takes patience and time. The quail eggs were first boiled in salt water for slightly over a minute, before being flash-cooled in an ice bath.

They are then cracked open, and smoked in a smoker with oolong tea leaves. The result is a really deep, smoky bite, complete with a warm, runny centre. It’s sure to whet your appetite for the meal at Restaurant Labyrinth.

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The next one-bite treat was the “Nasi Lemak” Cheong Fun. Wrapped in thin cheong fun skin is nasi lemak sambal, made with gula jawa. Fun fact: the skin is made with rice and tapioca flour with coconut milk, that has been infused with lemon grass for two days!

The morsel is then topped with fried black chicken skin, ikan bilis and sambal. I absolutely loved the slight heat and mellow sweetness of the sambal, combined with nuances of savoury coconut.

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Resembling a nest, the Braised Baby Abalone is cradled in rehydrated black moss and the dried abalone itself is braised for two days in a vegetable-based stock. The flavour was a harmonious mix of earthy and salty; something that took me a while to digest (both literally and otherwise).

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At first sight, you’d instantly assume this familiar street snack is sweet. At the same time, you’ll always be confused as to why dessert has arrived so early.

Affectionately called the Heartland Waffle, these pandan waffles sandwich local duck liver that’s been cooked with chopped garlic, shallots and Chinese aged Shaoxing wine.

I really enjoyed the contrast between chewy and crunchy. The gaminess of the duck liver wasn’t overly potent, as it was balanced with the sweetness of the goji berry jam.

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My OCD self was really pleased with the sight of the next dish, Ah Hua Kelong Lala Clams. I was informed that this tiny dish takes meticulous effort, not just in terms of process, but also just to line up the lala clams so they gracefully and perfectly overlap one another.

The best part of the dish was the house-made XO sauce that uses hae bee powder, but my least favourite bit was how thick the jelly mixture was set to; it could’ve texturally been more pleasant if it was thinner and more gelatinous.

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Their Labyrinth Rojak was one of the favourites of the afternoon, especially with the ingenious use of cempedak (same family as jackfruit) sorbet. I was absolutely loving the multitude of textures, from crunchy to crispy to icy smooth (how else would one describe sorbet’s texture?).

Although all the flavours were potent, they complemented each other well, and the overriding pleasure was most definitely how aromatic and fruity the dish was.

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Candidly called “Ang Moh” Chicken Rice, this recipe remained in Chef Han’s family simply due to the fact that his grandmother once modified her chicken rice recipe to feed a Caucasian family and they responded with fervour.

Did I react the same? Rather so, as the diced chicken is cooked in ginger sauce and sesame oil and wrapped in rice flour dumpling. The white sauce is a roux of chicken stock and tasted amazingly silky.

I loved how the familiar scent of chicken rice permeated through the air the moment I cut through the dumpling. Despite the significantly smaller portion, this recipe gets two thumbs up from me.

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What’s a Singapore cuisine restaurant without chilli crab? The Local Wild Caught Crab also comes with a surprise — Labyrinth’s signature chilli crab ice cream. Weaving through the dish are ribbons of egg white and the crab meat is seasoned with salted ikan kurau (threadfin) powder.

As someone who loves a robust chilli crab sauce, this one didn’t really meet my mark. It packed a punch in terms of spiciness, but the flavours fell muted on my palate and personally, enjoying chilli crab just isn’t the same without getting your hands dirty.

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When a fish dish is done well, it’s pretty phenomenal in my books. This one is definitely one of them. With the simple use of silver perch from Nippon Koi Farm, the Nippon Koi Farm Silver Perch is cured with jing hua ham for three hours.

The broth was rich with bak kut teh herbs, especially since it’s infused with 16-year-old aged Mandarin peel. Despite the numerous use of herbs, the fish itself really shone through with its flaky and sweet flesh.

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The Toh Thye San Farm Poulet (requires a $10 top-up) may be miniature in size, but wow, who knew chicken could taste so good? The chicken breast is slow-roasted for four and a half hours, and topped with keropok cracker crumbs, and honey with mustard cress.

For something that looked really simple, this dish was pretty impressive.

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Palate cleansers prior to dessert are usually a sorbet of sorts, but the Oyster Plant Snow was next level. Fresh rosella flowers are infused in water and sugar, before being mixed in with egg white powder and allowed to set overnight. To get the base, oyster plant is also infused in water and sugar and exposed to nitrogen to get it to “snow-ify”.

For someone who isn’t big on sorbets, this one was an incredible pleasure to eat; I had to remind myself to slow down and enjoy it. The “snow” melted down into a pool of sweet and slightly sour juice, while the hidden pomegranate seeds and diced dragonfruit at the bottom was even more rewarding.

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As a tribute to the traditional ice cream sandwich, which typically uses bread, the Crystal De Chine Caviar did their homage to justice. The homemade kaya ice cream uses gula jawa, eggs, fresh coconut cream and pandan leaves. The sauce is an egg yolk sauce and the ice cream sandwich is topped with caviar in place of salted butter.

My initial thoughts were, how does caviar play into all this? Miraculously it worked! The saltiness from it emphasised the sweetness of the kaya ice cream, and I fell in love with this elevated version of a childhood favourite.

The new direction that Restaurant Labyrinth is taking by choosing to utilise local and regional produce shows Chef Han’s dedication to supporting these smaller agriculture businesses.

Apart from that, it also allows the restaurant to be a platform to highlight the modernity of Singaporean cuisine and how far it’s come from tradition, while maintaining its innate heritage.

I was really fascinated with the interpretations presented that afternoon, and I would highly recommend both local and international diners to have a taste of the future of Singapore’s local fare.

Expected damage: $75 – $200 per pax

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Restaurant Labyrinth: 8 Raffles Avenue, Esplanade Mall, #02-23, Singapore 039802 | Tel: +65 6223 4098 | Opening hours: (Tues to Fri) 12pm – 2.30pm, 6.30pm – 11pm, (Sat & Sun) 6pm – 11pm | Website | Facebook | Instagram