SINGAPORE — I'm sitting in a warmly-lit Ding Dong just off Amoy Street and am reminded of the eclectic décor that adorns restaurants in Berlin. Vintage hand-drawn posters from the 70s and 80s are prominently plastered on these walls, probably a reflection of the owner's taste for pop art from a bygone era. The electro-pop tunes too seem to reflect that—'Situation' by Yazoo, Wham's 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go', and the inimitable 'She's A Maniac' from the soundtrack of Flashdance. Head chef, Miller Mai and his band of merry men hustles about in the open kitchen on the far side, while I sit entranced as I always am at the goings-on of a professional kitchen.
Tonight, Chef Miller takes under his wings three enthused chefs whose familiar faces once graced local television—Zander Ng (winner), Genevieve Lee (runner-up), and Aaron Wong (fifth runner-up). The theme for tonight's 8-hands dinner is 'Home Truly' featuring dishes that are a fitting homage to food that holds special meaning from the contestant's growing up childhood years. Individually, they're gastronomic maestros in their rights, but under Chef Miller, their culinary prowess shines bright.
Dinner starts with a trio of Hors d'oeuvre by Chef Miller that is in keeping with Ding Dong's cuisine direction of Modern Southeast Asian fare—an Asian Soiree if you must, as my dining partner and I joked. You know this is a place of Asian persuasion when the default tableware is a fork, a spoon, and a pair of chopsticks. Singapore Chilli Crab & Kueh Pie Tee is a juicy and spicy rendition of the local staple we've come to know and embraced as heritage. Rendang Beef Cheek & Mini Bao is a fruitful exercise in bite-sized tenderness. DD Scotch Egg is exquisitely assembled and comes with a dropper that fills the egg with acidic and tart Nước Chấm. Overall, a thoroughly delightful and sublime first impression.
But we're here not to marvel at the expected. Instead, dinner tonight is a test of what these new chefs, still wet behind their ears, can produce. From Aaron, comes Sanshui Chicken , a plate of such genteel Elegance, and a humorous antithesis to his brusque exterior. Chicken is brined and bathed in liquid before being fashioned into a rectangular block of terrine. It sits dead centre on the plate and is perfectly soft and flavourful. But it is not the chicken that made me gasp. That would be the ginger-garlic gelée—a broad pearlescent strip made from cooking ginger and chicken fat into a fine paste. It is reminiscent of pale chicken skin and is so good; I eat the entire piece all on its own. It is hands down one of the most innovative and creative elements I've had the honour of tasting as a food writer in a long time.
From a block of chicken to a block of fish paste, Zander's Otah Otah (or seafood custard as the menu suggests) is the exact opposite of Aaron's creation in that it embraces visual and olfactory familiarity. Here, it is served covered with a banana leaf that has been charred in-situ (literally torched a few arm's lengths away) to mimic the smell of burnt leaf of an otah that is grilled over charcoal. The fish paste is a mixture of mackerel paste, chunks of barramundi, and scallops. The seafood custard, fortunately, doesn't fall far from the otah tree—it is soft and smoky with a heady aroma. White coconut slurry is creamy with a tinge of saltiness and adds a slight sweetness to an otherwise thoroughly savoury dish.
The last offering is Gen's Roasted Duck. Similar to what she portrays on TV, this plate is audacious, brave, and full of risks that only the golden age of youth can afford. And they are risks that thankfully pays off. Duck breast is sous vide, seared, and served with a tart spiced plum jus, and creamy cauliflower puree. The duck itself is tough at parts, which is a shame because when tender, it is like cutting swiftly through butter. Nonetheless, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Certain elements shine—like the taro croquettes that take inspiration from the classic Cantonese dim sum, Wu Gok, and the incredibly innovative construction of the Kumquat compote, essentially pickled beetroot wrapped around kumquat to resemble a flower.
The 8-hands dinner runs on 2nd and 3rd August in two seatings—6.30pm and 8.30pm. It is priced at S$100++ per diner with an additional S$45++ for wine pairings.
115 Amoy Street S069935, +65 6557 0189
Mon - Sat: 12pm - 3pm & 6pm - 11.30pm, Sun: Closed