Kevin Wong Seroja restaurant

Photo: Seroja

Over eight years, Kevin Wong worked at fine dining restaurants in France, the US, and Singapore. He then rose to the position of head chef at Meta, a one-Michelin-starred contemporary Korean restaurant.

These experiences, however, did not resonate much with him. The Malaysia-born chef says: “Cooking the other cuisines was something I learned as part of my career, but I couldn’t connect with them. It wasn’t part of my DNA.”

He became more confident to tap into his heritage after placing third at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy cooking competition last October. In his winning dish, a roast duck, he reinterpreted hawkers’ roasting techniques from Singapore and Malaysia.

Inspired by diverse cultures in the Malay Archipelago

Canapes in the form of Tiram, King Salmon, Obsiblue Prawn (Photo: Seroja)
Canapes in the form of Tiram, King Salmon, Obsiblue Prawn (Photo: Seroja)

His restaurant, Seroja (Malay for “lotus flower”), opens on October 1. Seroja explores the diversity of cultures across the Malay Archipelago. The 24-seater in Duo Galleria focuses on Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines. Its tasting menu reflects the diverse cross-cultural influences in the region.

The multi-course Nusantara tasting menu ($268++) puts a spotlight on flavours that come from the spices and herbs native to the region. They include ulam raja (also called king’s salad), torch ginger, nutmeg, and single-origin chocolate from Sabah.

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Heavy on herbs and spices from Southeast Asia

Trader’s Rice with side dishes (Photo: Seroja)
Trader’s Rice with side dishes (Photo: Seroja)

Menu highlights include Hokkaido scallops slow-cooked in garlic oil with a trio of sauces made with ingredients including torch ginger flowers, tamarind with palm sugar and lily bulbs. The dish is inspired by his grandmother’s stir-fried lily buds with tangy tamarind and fish sauce, which he says, tastes like sweetcorn.

His Trader’s Rice combines nutty red rice cultivated by the Lun Bawang tribe in Borneo, and left to age for two years. It is accompanied with an assortment of sides inspired by nasi dagang — a Malaysian dish of coconut milk-steamed rice, beef and served with seasonal lauk pauk or side dishes.

Borneo Brown Sugar Bahulu (Photo: Seroja) 
Borneo Brown Sugar Bahulu (Photo: Seroja) 

His rendition of Trader’s Rice is perfumed with turmeric and shallot oil. Meanwhile, side dishes include pickled chayote from the Cameron Highlands with fish sauce and locally grown vegetables with coconut milk and belachan. Desserts include Borneo Brown Sugar Bahulu, an egg-based cake baked in artisanal brassware from Pak Salleh in Terengganu.

At Seroja, Wong, who grew up in Klang in Malaysia, marries his experiences with flavours in the Southeast-Asia region with his culinary skills honed in the three-Michelin-starred Coi Restaurant and Benu in San Francisco before moving to Singapore to join the one-starred Cure.

Related: Savour old-school dishes from traditional Chinese dialect restaurants in Singapore

Collaborating with craftsmen to tell stories

Seroja's interiors are inspired by the shapes of islands in the Malay Archipelago.
Seroja’s interiors are inspired by the shapes of islands in the Malay Archipelago. (Photo: Seroja)

Besides the food, Wong has collaborated with craftsmen from the region to showcase their ceramic and porcelain serving ware. A key design feature of the 2,700 sq ft restaurant, which sports a “wood-heavy interior filled with curvaceous angles”. The restaurant’s interior is inspired by the shapes of islands in the Malay Archipelago. Look out for a floral installation made from dried coconut husks, flowers and leaves, inspired by the verdant forests of the region.

While travelling the region, the consummate foodie enjoys documenting his food discoveries. On his trips, he takes notes on lost recipes from villagers and home cooks. He says: “The cuisine at Seroja is still in its infancy. But it is the blending of the cultures that makes our region so beautiful.”

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