[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap] grandfatherly figure dressed in a crisp red vest and starched white shirt is busying setting a pan of cherries aflame two tables away. This is “Uncle Foo”, a 76-year-old well known to regular diners of Shashlik restaurant in Far East Shopping Centre. He is preparing Cherry Jubilee, a dish he has served for over 20 years.

Shashlik is a restaurant you will visit for its history. All 30 years of it. In December last year, news that the iconic Russo-Hainanese restaurant would be shuttered permanently made its rounds on the Internet. But the two sons of former shareholder and restaurant captain Tan Niap Hin must have heard the laments that ensued, because scant months later, both Derrick and Alan Tan partnered with a new investor Lee Say Yeow to reopen Shashlik.

The once dingy and dim interior has been given a $300,000 overhaul, with a new ceiling and freshly painted dark grey walls (the team had planned to brighten the interior with light grey walls but realised during pre-opening that the visual spectacle of the restaurant’s many flaming desserts could barely be seen against it). Sunny yellow table cloths add a welcome pop of colour.

Food is really more about going back to childhood days. There’s no pushing the envelope here; instead, many of the dishes are fine-tuned by Derrick, who worked as a corporate chef for 20 years, based on the memories of old diners. And the ingredients are exactly what generations of Shashlik chefs have used. For instance, the vanilla ice-cream in the baked Alaska is still sourced from the same supplier from years back. Both Tans had thought to give the dish a modern spin with vanilla ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, but were quickly shot down by diners who wanted the comforting creamy block they had been having for years.

Then there’s the signature Borsch soup. The tomato-based broth is packed with cabbage, carrots and cubes of beef, but take the offer made by brisk service staff who sidle up table side once the soup is served. The silver jug they bear holds the key to what makes this soup extra delicious –  sour cream, which the staff are more than happy to give you a generous dollop of if you say yes. Do, because the cream thickens the soup and adds a tanginess to each spoonful you take.

Shashlik’s oxtail stew is another popular favourite that we notice on many tables around us. The oxtail is slow-cooked for 36 hours to render an intense flavour, and it delivers in large doses. The meat is gloriously fall-off-the-bone tender, the gravy is thick and robust, and the accompanying bread basket is an absolute must-have to mop up every bit of this rustic comfort food. Take note though, that this is only served on Wednesdays and weekends.

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Order desserts anyway even if you’re stuffed to the gills, just for the visual spectacle. Sweets like the Cherry Jubilee and crepe suzette are wheeled up on rickety trolleys, prepared a la minute and set aflame by staff who, if amused by the awed gaping expressions of diners, are well trained to keep their smiles hidden.

Shashlik is no fine-dining establishment, nor does it aim to be. What it has though, is heart and soul. At the next table, a coiffured snowy-haired lady and her husband take their time savouring a three-course lunch. Their enjoyment is plain to see. Her name, she says to Tan as she congratulates him on Shashlik’s reopening, is doctor Lee, and she “likes this place very much”. As we watch Tan help her into her wheelchair and the couple makes their exit, we decide that so do we.

Rating: 3.5/5. Brings us back to the time of Enid Blyton books where the description of country food like cold ham salads and  treacle tarts always sounded so darn delicious. 

Spotlight On: Borsch soup, Oxtail Stew, Baked Alaska.

Behind the scenes: Alan and Derrick Tan, Lee Say Yeow.

Insider’s Tip: The seats by the window overlooking the mall’s escalators were once occupied by late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s father, who would book the entire row of seats and peer out of the glass panes to spot his friends arriving.


#06-19 Far East Shopping Centre, 545 Orchard Road

Tel: 6732-6401

For more info, head to Shashlik’s Facebook page