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To me, Peranakan cuisine is the epitome of comfort food. But what happens when cuisine commonly associated with home kitchens is elevated to the point where even Michelin inspectors start taking note? Does it lose its rustic charm? For Candlenut, I say no. And while chef-owner Malcolm Lee does innovate with some dishes, it’s in the cooking of the classics where he shines.
The restaurant’s new COMO Dempsey space departs from the stark decor of its previous digs in Dorsett Residences. Large straw lanterns hang from the ceiling, weaved baskets deck the floors and vintage pieces like an ice kachang machine finish the look. It’s befitting of a Michelin-starred spot while remaining warm and inviting.
Dining here is a communal affair. Opt for Lee’s signature ‘ahmakase’ menu ($65/ lunch, $88/dinner) or order from the new à la carte menu. I start with kueh pie tee ($20) stuffed with hamachi tartare, pickled shallot and laksa leaf pesto. Pop the whole piece in your mouth and you’ll find that there’s nothing to write home about. For curry, I order both the buah keluak ($22) of braised local chicken and wagyu beef brisket rendang ($28). Lee’s buah keluak is almost all nut – so while the chicken is fork-tender, it’s a shame that it didn’t fully absorb the flavours of the intense sauce. As for the rendang, I wish Lee used good ol’ beef instead of unctuous wagyu. The serunding-rich rendang punches hard with flavour, but the fattiness means it gets too jelat after a few bites. These are dishes that definitely go better with rice.
The chap chye ($18) is the standout because of its simplicity. The vegetables are stewed ’til they achieve the perfect texture – a cross between chewy and melt-in-the-mouth. Other highlights include the wok-fried sambal tiger prawns with petai beans ($24) and curry of Petuna ocean trout ($30). Even though I didn’t expect curry to work with pink fish, the tanginess of the assam manages to cut through the fattiness of the seafood, which is served perfectly medium-rare. Wash it down with a Tiger ($10) to show your Singapore pride. After all, Lee’s cooking is definitely a rallying point that we can be proud of.
Time Out Singapore reviews anonymously and pays for all meals. Read our restaurant review policy here.
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