[Singapore] Eurasian & Nyonya fare at Folklore, Destination Hotel, Beach Road

I finally got to try the cooking of legendary Singapore-Eurasian chef, Damian D’Silva, last Saturday. It was at the 3-month-old Folklore restaurant which serves what it calls “heritage Singapore” cuisine, drawing from its diverse communities of Eurasians (descendants of mixed marriages between early Portuguese, Dutch & British settlers in Malaya with local Indians, Malays & Chinese), Nyonya (also known as Peranakan, a four-centuries-old fusion cuisine of Chinese and Indonesian/Malay/Thai), plus many other dishes which came about as a result of cross-cultural influences which we in Singapore sometimes tend to take pretty much for granted.

I missed Chef Damian D’Silva in his previous restaurants like Soul Kitchen in Purvis Street (2002-05) and Immigrants on Joo Chiat Road (2012-15) as my job at the time frequently takes me out of Singapore for long periods of time, and my time back home were usually occupied with other activities rather than eating out. So, I’d always deferred intended visits to Damian D’Silva’s food ventures till it was too late. These misses also included his hawker stalls like Big D’s Grill, first in Bedok South, and then at Holland Drive (2008-10), as well as the short-lived Timbre+ in Ayer Rajah Crescent (2016).

The man’s reputation for constant failed business ventures is perhaps as famous as his cooking prowess.

So much so that I couldn’t believe my luck when I finally got to sit down at a table inside Folklore last Saturday evening, in anticipation of a Damian D’Silva meal. The wait was long, as Damian D’Silva has his legion of loyal fans. When the food came, though, they certainly don’t disappoint - Chef Damian D’Silva is a master in creating the perfect balance of flavours and textures in all the dishes he cooked.

  1. Chilled tofu with pidan (century egg) & pickled radish. I first had this dish in Taiwan many years back, but it’s become a fixture in many Chinese restaurant menus in Singapore, from Shanghainese to Cantonese ones. Chef Damian gave it his unique spin - mashing the components roughly together to obtain a pleasing texture but, at the same time, retaining its authentic flavours.

  1. Sambal buah keluak fried rice - an original creation of Chef Damian D’Silva, but much-copied just about everywere in Singapore these days (it’s yet to spread to neighbouring Malaysia, where the food culture mirrors Singapore’s). This dish borrows from Peranakan/Nyonya culture with its use of buah keluak (an Indonesian nut with a strong distinctive flavour & black nut-flesh, much favoured in Nyonya and Javanese cooking), and the result was a taste sensation.

The fried rice was topped with an egg, fried sunny-side up and a dollop of minced, spiced buah keluak flesh.

  1. Singgang - lightly-spiced, minced wolf herring. The rendition here is an interesting variation from the usual Singgang Serani fish stew which many Malaysian/Singaporean Eurasians are familiar with. (BTW, “Serani” is the local Malay word for Eurasians, a corruption of the term “Nasrani” or Nazarene, since the Muslim-Malays refers to Christian-Eurasians as “followers of Jesus the Nazarene”).

Although I miss the usual “fish steaks in light stew” version of the Singgang, Chef Damian’s boneless mince was very distinctive and tasty all the same - an amazing achievement for a dish that looked like baby-food at first glance. Variations on a theme is acceptable in Eurasian culinary culture as, traditionally, each Eurasian family has its own recipe for a certain dish, and proudly defends it. On the flipside, it also explains why Eurasian restaurants in Singapore & Malaysia could not survive for long - its Eurasian customers would inadvertently complain that the food “is not authentic” or “not like what my mum cooks”.

  1. Aberjaw - another forgotten (except by Chef Damian) Eurasian classic: this one consists of pork-ribs cooked in a piquant spice blend which included fermented soybeans, turmeric, garlic and bottlegourd. It was a delicious meat stew which closely resembled the Nyonya classic, “Babi Pongteh”, but with its own distinctive slant. Kudos to Chef Damian for resurrecting a near-extinct Eurasian dish from his taste memory to share with modern-day Singaporeans. And like all of Chef Damian’s other dishes, this one also has subtle, yet distinctive flavours, which is the hallmark of his cooking.

Folklore Restaurant is part of the new Destination Singapore Hotel on Beach Road. Try avoiding peak meal times, and especially on weekends, as the place can get really packed at the moment. Singaporeans love trying out new places, and 3-month-old Folklore is currently seeing very high volumes of diners each meal-time. Irregardless, the dishes churned out were impeccable.

Truly, Singaporean soul food at its best.

Address
Folklore, Destination Singapore Beach Road
700 Beach Road, Level 2
Singapore 199598
Tel: +65 6679 2900
Opening hours: 12noon–2:30pm, 6pm–9:30pm daily.

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Peter, I am actually in Singapore for the next 3 weeks. I look forward to trying this restaurant.

That’s cool. Do let me know what you think.

Eurasian restaurants have always struggled to survive in Singapore - because Eurasian cooking differs from household to household, so the biggest critics of a Eurasian restaurant tend to be the Eurasians themselves. That’s why good Eurasian restaurants in Singapore I’d seen in the past 20-30 years are all gone: Casa Bom Vento (when the legendary late Eurasian chef Robin Pereira was cooking in its original East Coast Rd location, not the Joo Chiat Rd incarnation), Kristang on Orchard Rd, Sandrina’s Kitchen at Lagoon Food Centre, Sylvia’s Delight in Serangoon Gardens and The Eurasian Settlement in Katong.

Back to Folklore again last Monday for lunch. Besides the unmissable Sambal Buah Keluak Fried Rice, which is a must-order (pictured below), we had some really incredible-tasting desserts which must surely rank as among the best which Singapore has to offer.

  1. Ayam Masak Lemak Chili Padi - this is a very rich, spicy chicken stew which obtained its almost cloying, buttery taste from the use of coconut creme in the sauce. 7 different spices were used in the “rempah” (spice mix) for the stew, and explosively-hot bird’s eye chilis (“chili padi”) were added towards the end of the cooking. These tiny chilis really burn, so take care when eating this dish.

  1. Hati Babi Bungkus - this traditional but increasingly hard-to-find dish (practically extinct commercially in Singapore) is proudly offered by Chef Damian da Silva here as one of the signature dishes at Folklore. Basically chopped pig’s liver, scented with coriander and other spices, then wrapped in pig;s caul fat before being grilled - these are little calorific parcels of pure indulgence. Accompaniments are pickled cabbage (must-have) and some blindingly-hot Eurasian sambal.

  1. Seafood Otah - this is Singaporean-style otak-otak - spiced seafood mousse, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The rendition here was pretty rich - generous portions of mackerel, squid & shrimps in there compared to simple, everyday versions we get from the markets.

  1. Kueh Bengkah with Ice Cream & Gula Melaka - basically baked cassava pudding (similar to “bibinca” in Goa, India, or “pone” from the Carribean) - the version here is amazing. Don’t miss this.

  1. Baked Custard with Gula Melaka. Also utterly divine. Must-order.

  1. Kueh Kosui with Fresh, Grated Coconut. Very good rendition, but the other two desserts outshone this one.

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Still one of the best dining destinations in town at the moment.

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No. 14:

A good list! Thanks for sharing, @BoneAppetite.

I heard lots of good things about Colombian Chef Fernando Arevalo’s Preludio (No. 9), so am making a beeline for it the next time I’m back in Singapore. What my friends had when they were at the two-month-old restaurant last week (every dish was just in black-and-white):

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I missed Basque Kitchen by Aitor (No. 7) - simply ran out of time as I spent more time in Singapore doing Chinese New Year shopping and catching up with relatives last week than eating out. Eventually, I had only last evening left to do dinner before flying to Penang - it was a toss-up between Aitor’s Basque cuisine, and Gaig’s Catalonian cuisine a block away. I opted for Gaig (it was good), but now I wished I had set more time aside to do Aitor as well.

Bacchanalia (No. 8) did not wow me as much as I expected. Maybe my expectations were too high.

LeVel33 (no. 11) was a let-down the last time I went, but I hadn’t been back since this new chef (Archan Chan) took over.

Chinoiserie (No. 13) was another let-down - Justin Quek is better than this, and he knows it. I wonder what gives.

Another restaurant I’m very interested in is Thevar (No. 3) helmed by Penang-born Mano Thevar. The menu looked simply amazing!

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Looks like Damian D’Silva could not suppress his nomadic instincts - he’s left Folklore and now cooks at Kin @ The Straits Clan.

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