When, in the middle of last year, Shashlik threatened to close its doors after 30 years in the business, headlines were made. Would those beef shashlik skewers and other Russian-by-way-of-Hainanese cuisine disappear from our lives? Thankfully, the restaurant got bailed out by Alan and Derrick Tan, sons of the restaurant's long-serving, late captain, Tan Niap Hin. And they seem to be taking it in the right direction.
The restaurant’s layout has mostly been left untouched. The tavern-like wall panels have been filled in and taken down to a matte blue-grey, and seats distilled into clean, modern lines. With present dining trends enamoured by heritage and provenance, prefacing the menu with Shashlik's story breathes fresh life into its old favourites. 'Uncle Tan’s recommendations' – the parlance for 'chef’s choices' – speaks to you like an old trusted pal. And just like that, this handsome grandpa is tuned into the cues of Modern Restaurant Design 2016.
We’re embraced in a warm hug with the mild, chap chye-harking borscht ($7), and mildly amused by the endearingly simple plate of lumpfish caviar heaped generously on jaggedly cut boiled eggs ($16). Even the limp, sticky bread rolls come with the requisite Lurpak butter. Qualifying the food as 'Russian with a Hainanese touch' allays any expectation that the food bears any resemblance to what Muscovites chow down at dinnertime. Our rib-eye steak ($30/220g, $38/300g) arrives perfectly medium-rare on a sizzling hotplate, and we’ll happily take more fried garlic than Russian dressing to have with our slices. The Chicken à la Kiev ($25) is a juicy, battered roulade of breast meat, although the beef stroganoff with a side of white rice ($22) is more reminiscent in flavour of a zi char fry-up.
The clincher for the all-new Shashlik, however, has to be its hospitality. The lean wine list comes with an enthusiastic offer of a recommendation, service is swift, and there are plenty of smiles from the team of all ages to go around. Our baked Alaska ($24), fired table-side by an auntie in a vest that could very well be our neighbour, tastes of cheap ice cream, badly frozen cake and burnt whipped cream. But you have to admit that you, too, have a special place in your heart for a restaurant that can still take you back to the cake-on-face happy birthdays of your childhood.
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