[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]ccolades come fast for Han Li Guang, whose Labyrinth is a staple on The Peak’s G Restaurant Awards list and which has won, and retained, the feted Michelin star. But the banker-turned-chef is taking his cumulative awards and shoving them down the poker table. He has axed the entirety of his one-star menu – including the Insta-worthy and subversive signatures that kept customers returning – and cut restaurant capacity by half.
Should this suddenness be construed as lunacy? His partners thought so. “You’re crazy!” they told him. But he has his eyes on a grander goal. He says that “the next logical step…is to not just serve interpretations of (Singapore) food”, but to celebrate produce sourced from the island.
The leap of faith manifests in a delicious, storied menu that extols one of cooking’s simplest tenets: fresh produce is unadulterated and intense in ways frozen or airflown shipments cannot be. Weave in Han’s expertise in splicing ingredients, plus a relentless obsession with nailing textures and nuance (“my assistants groan and moan, but it has to be done right!”), and diners are left with a gastronomic journey through Singapore – something absent from the fine-dining scene. To play guide through the dozen courses are charming, illustrated postcards that detail the chef’s intentions, the history of the original dish and, of course, the suppliers involved.
“There’s no point in proving I can do another steak tartare… it’s safe, it helps the bottom line, but that’s not what I want to do.”
Han Li Guang, Chef-owner
Who needs the usual steak – no cattle in Singapore, sorry – when the opening serenade of oolong quail egg puts one in the mood for delicate flavours, often presented in various textures? (In this case: turgid, yielding and finally gooey.) There’s a 30 per cent casualty rate for these eggs, apparently, so precarious is the days-long preparation. Did I ever imagine that goji berry jam would be an astonishing foil for moreish duck pate that’s laced with Shaoxing – or that said liver can be procured from a farm in Loyang?
The eye-opening and palate-pleasing night spans hours, as we’re taken up in Han’s whirlwind gambit, bottom line and accolades be damned. The annual Michelin shuffle looms, and Han won’t rule out a flop, but one thing’s for sure – I’ll buy in again before long.
#02-23, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Tel: 6223-4098.