[Singapore] Dinner at 1-Michelin-star Candlenut, Dempsey Hill

Candlenut at Dempsey Hill is the world’s first Michelin-starred Nyonya restaurant. Chef Malcolm Lee has an interesting modern-Nyonya interpretation of the cuisine. The new place is larger and has a much more spacious feel due its high ceilings, but lacked the warmth of its old Outram Park set-up which I quite preferred.

  1. Charcoal grilled pork neck satay with kicap manis glaze, beef buah keluak in roti jala, kueh pai tee with salmon tartare, pickled shallots & laksa leaf pesto, and prawn in spiced dressing.

  2. “Pong tauhu” shellfish bisque, prawn & tofu pork ball, bamboo shoot & prawn oil.

  3. Wing bean salad with radish, cashewnuts & lime dressing.

  4. King prawn in green sambal sauce.

  5. Lump crabmeat curry.

  6. Fish and bamboo shoot soup.

  7. Grilled Rangers Valley Wagyu Beef Flank, green mango black sambal.

  8. Barramundi assam pedas, with baby okra, eggplant and pineapple.

  9. Palate cleanser: dragonfruit with jackfruit & basil seeds.

  10. Kueh sarlat, with kueh bangkit crumbs & coconut sorbet.

  11. Buah keluak ice-cream, Valrhona chocolate, chilli, warm chocolate Espuma.

Both a la carte and a menu degustation are available. Book well ahead - this is Singapore!

17A Dempsey Road
Singapore 249676
Tel: +65 1800 304 2288
Operating hours: 12noon–2:30pm, 6pm–9:30pm daily.

Thanks for the post. Actually, I don’t see your reactions towards the meal.
How do you feel about it? Which are your highlight dish(es)?

Is there any sides to accompany these dishes? Some dishes, e.g. the crabmeat curry looks like you need some rice, bread etc.

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Reaction towards Candlenut has been pretty mixed in Singapore - Chef Malcolm Lee is seen as a maverick by many (if not the majority of) Singaporean diners. He’s young and brash, and sought to “update” traditional Peranakan/Nyonya dishes to suit “modern”/international diners’ palates.

As a result, Malcolm’s food appeals more to foreign diners who do not carry a sort of “cultural baggage”, and are hence more able to accept Malcolm Lee’s oftentimes non-traditional takes on much-revered Nyonya classics and staples.

In a nutshell, Malcolm Lee’s new-age “Nyonya” food will appeal more to non-Singaporeans than to Singaporeans/traditionalists.

I always try to be objective in my assessment of this style of cooking - as they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Being a 6th-generation Peranakan-Baba myself, and brought up on home-cooked Nyonya cuisine for most of my life, I could not bring myself to “like” any of the dishes at Candlenut. Frankly, none of the dishes appealed to me, and I couldn’t detect any traditional Nyonya flavours in any of the dishes that evening. My first thought was, “What possessed the Michelin folks …”. Pretty unfortunate, really - but that’s just me.

Steamed white rice is served with all these dishes - it’s essential as Nyonya food tend to be pretty strong and assertive in flavours, and you do need a carbo dish to temper the heat and extreme tastes which all of these dishes carry.

I went back to Guan Hoe Soon at Joo Chiat Place a couple of days’ later - it serves traditional Nyonya cuisine. There, I get true-blue traditional Nyonya flavours which I really enjoyed … for a fifth of the cost we had to pay at Candlenut.

TY … I just finished licking my computer screen !!!

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Cultural baggage is knowledge of tradition, to me it is actually positive. I agree Michelin (or even the Best Restaurant 50 list) at times gives too much acknowledgement to “creativity” lacking of culture context (and to services). A true master should be able to balance his knowledge of tradition and his signature (creativity).

Sometimes the rejection of tradition can comes as a cycle with a generation of rebellious chefs, and later the second generation will try to go back to find the root and values…(or even the same chefs when they mature).

By the way, it seems you have talked about Guan Hoe Soon many times, I searched HO but couldn’t find a post on it. Have you written about it somewhere that you can point us to?

Ah, I’ve blogged about Guan Hoe Soon but in other food sites previously. I shall update HO on my last visit there a few days back.

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Place sounds terrible…

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It wasn’t so “bad” actually, but it’s terribly over-rated - and its one-Michelin-star rating simply showed how inconsistent the Michelin folks can be across the globe: different standards for different cities/countries.

I think the SG ratings for the most part have been highly suspect…

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Absolutely - especially those 1-Michelin-stars given to two noodle stalls, both located in low-brow neighbourhoods amidst grimy surroundings. French chefs who went into large debts in the old days just to do up their restaurants into virtual palaces to impress Michelin inspectors & “hopefully” procure a star must be wondering what’s going on these days.

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