Singapore chef Malcolm Lee might be only 33, but his Peranakan restaurant Candlenut is already eight years old. Considering the rate at which restaurants come and go in Singapore’s fickle dining scene, Candlenut’s eight-year reign is no mean feat – especially as it’s crowned with a Michelin star.
While other Peranakan restaurants doggedly adhere to time-honoured recipes, Lee isn’t afraid to take the occasional departure from tradition. Buah keluak appears thrice on his a la carte menu: first in its classic role as a rich curry base for ayam buah keluak; then as an earthy hit of umami in rice that is fried until it’s gloriously imbued with wok hei; and most unexpectedly, a buah keluak ice cream with Valrhona chocolate and a hint of chilli. It’s a combination that works and successfully teases out the nutty cocoa notes of the versatile nut.
The food is also a reflection of Lee’s deft use of ingredients from the South-east Asian pantry. Our wing bean salad is a refreshing crunch of red radish, prawns, cashews, lemongrass and crisp anchovies, all tossed in a zesty calamansi lime dressing. The sweet flesh of perfectly grilled king tiger prawns is complemented by a coconut sauce that is given extra depth with the addition of caramel-edged gula melaka.
Given the small portion sizes, couples dining here can comfortably share four to five dishes. But larger groups will find the bill adding up quickly.
As this restaurant is under The Como Group, it isn’t surprising that little touches reflect the group’s wellness DNA. Home-brewed teas like lemongrass and ginger are served with sugar syrup on the side. White rice can also be swopped for brown.
When our server arrives with our order for two different glasses of white wine, she asks: “Who’s having the premium white and the normal white?” For a Michelin-starred establishment, the service needs to keep pace with Lee’s hard-wrought fight for his well-deserved star.
17A Dempsey Road, S(249676)