Monday, September 21, 2015

A 9-course meal to remember

Remember last month when I wrote about how doctor-turned-chef Chan Tat Hon invited me to his restaurant for lunch at The Bento People? Well, not long after that wonderful experience, he invited me back again for his 9-course Omakase degustation menu at the Snack Culture Company. This menu has already taken Singapore by storm since it began earlier this year, winning rave reviews from food critics and bloggers for its creativity and taste.

Before I went, I was very curious, partly because degustation meals are not my usual food scene. My family is the type who would eat a lot of the one type of food we like, not mini plates of many dishes. For us, a fancy dinner is one that features Peking duck or some French dessert that we can't pronounce. But we do love food (sometimes too much) and as far as adventures go, the culinary type is our favourite!

I decided to bring Andre as my date because I thought it would be nice for him to experience something different and it was rare for us to have mother-son bonding time that didn't involve me yelling at him to study. Although once we were there, I wondered if I'd made a mistake bringing Vacuum Cleaner Boy who might inhale each dish within seconds.

Arrived at 7.15pm and the place was comfortably filled (as in not too many that we had to share tables but not too empty that you felt you were being watched). Tat Hon's wife, Janice, served us drinks first. One of their specialties is the Yuzu Italian Soda but since we don't like aerated drinks, she made us the non-fizzy version. Nice!

Before dinner started, a fellow diner approached me and asked if I was the author of the Danger Dan books. Her son was a big fan. Wow! Dinner was off to a good start and I hadn't even eaten yet! Heh.

Ok, enough of the preamble and on to the food!

#1 Japanese Edamame with Thai Tom Yum Espuma

You're supposed to eat this by dropping the edamame peas into the tom yum broth and eating it together. The natural lightness of the peas was a bright contrast to the spiciness of soup. Even though Andre has an extremely low spice threshold, he slurped this up and declared it very good (as beads of sweat appeared on his nose).

#2 Mini Korean Mandu (Pork Dumplings) in Chilled Singapore Bak Kut Teh Consomme

I had serious doubts about this dish when I first read about it. Chilled bak kut teh? Sacrilegious! But I was instantly ashamed of my scepticism when I had my first taste of the broth. It was sublime. The peppery flavour was subtle, not overpowering - it was akin to chilled beef consumme. And the dumplings were equally fantastic (I wanted more). That's when I began to have an inkling as to why food reviewers were hailing Tat Hon as a budding new talent.

#3 Chilled Black Fungus and Mushroom Salad in Nonya Belachan Mayo Dressing

How pretty is this dish? Inspired by nonya chap chye, it was bursting with a myriad of mushrooms. The creamy dressing and chilled serving made this yet another harmonious East-West creation. The little bowl on the left contains the belachan mayo.

Unfortunately, Andre is not a fan of black fungus so he ate everything else except that. Silly boy. When Tat Hon came around and saw the black fungus untouched, he exclaimed, "You don't like? I'm so hurt!"

#4 Ter Kar Chor Scotch Egg

This is a Scotch quail's egg. According to the chef's instructions, we were supposed to take a bite of it plain (like a regular Scotch egg) and then dip it in the vinegar, eat it with the deep fried ginger and experience it as Ter Kar Chor (vinegared pork knuckle typically served to women during their confinement after childbirth).

Dutifully, I took a bite. It tasted fine but a little bland. Then I dunked it in the vinegar, tried it and my brain exploded. It was brilliant. The Scotch egg had magically transformed itself from a score of 7.5/10 to a 10,000. I LOVE the unexpected pairing and the ignition of flavours. I immediately wished I hadn't eaten half the egg without the vinegar. I wished I had a bigger egg. My advice if you're going to the Snack Culture Company for dinner - ignore the chef's advice! Eat the whole egg with the vinegar! You're welcome.

#5 Asian Trio: Beef Bulgogi Shabu Shabu in Vietnamese Rice Paper Roll, Ayam Buah Keluak Wanton, Laksa Prawn on Haebee Hiam Cookie

By this time, we were almost halfway through the dinner and Andre whispered to me that he wasn't even half full. Aiyoh. Patience! The bulgogi beef wrap was tender and very tasty, especially with the sweet chili sauce. The buah keluak wanton was so, so unique. The nutty, almost liver-like flavour packs a punch in its deep fried casing. I thought the sour spiciness of the laksa prawn battled a little against the sweet spiciness of the haebee hiam (dried shrimp) cookie but it was extremely tasty nonetheless

#6 Pen Cai Parcel

Pen Cai is a popular Chinese New Year dish where fresh seafood and other expensive ingredients are usually lined with cabbage and steamed in a pot. We opened this neat little parcel to reveal a mini abalone, shiitake mushroom and a fantastically scrumptious scallop. The soup was rich, yet light (this seems to be Tat Hon's signature ability - extracting maximum flavour from ingredients without overloading your palate).

It was at this time that Tat Hon went round from table to table, asking diners to guess the secret ingredient in the soup. Red date? Nope. Kelp? Nope. Beef? Nope. Nope Nope. After several dead ends, Andre's competitive streak kicked in and he called out, "chicken feet!", making Tat Hon stop dead in his tracks. Just to be clear, Andre has no clue what chicken feet tastes like. He probably figured that since everyone else had gotten it wrong, he would just make random guesses. Tat Hon did tell us what it was in the end (no, it's not chicken feet!) but so as not to spoil the fun, I'll not reveal it here.

#7 Kaffir Tomato Capellini Pasta + Cantonese 'Har Jeong' Soft Shell Crab Pasta

Andre's eyes lit up when this was served because he is a huge fan of carbs, especially pasta. The crab, with the prawn paste that's typically used for chicken, is very tasty. The pasta sauce however, was too acidic for us. I think most Singaporeans are accustomed to the sweeter (albeit less authentic) version of Italian pasta sauce.

There were some crispy pieces in the pasta which we enjoyed and couldn't figure out what they were. When I asked a server, she gave me a strange look and replied, "bacon". That triggered a bout of giggles in both of us. Our palates so hopeless lah! Can't even tell we're eating bacon. All those hours of watching Masterchef wasted. Food critics we will never be.

Anyway, Tat Hon mentioned that we were the last diners to sample that dish. Following feedback, he would be changing it to something else.

#8 Seafood En Papillote

This is the piece de resistance, Tat Hon's masterpiece if you will. Fresh seafood baked in parchment with Cajun spices and loads and loads of garlic. This was a generous serving of large prawns, mussels and clams - moist, buttery and delicious. Best of all, it was served with this:

That's right - light, fluffy and crispy prata! This was a stroke of genius. A local twist to an American dish. Andre wasted no time in wolfing down the prata, using each piece to mop up the addictive garlic sauce. Tat Hon even topped up our prata, which was much appreciated by Andre. After this dish, the bottomless pit that is Andre was finally full. He was a happy camper.

#9 Chendol Panna Cotta

First, let me say that Andre doesn't like chendol. And I never understood the big deal about panna cotta. It's just a custard, isn't it? So we were prepared to be underwhelmed. Then we both tried a spoonful and we almost didn't stop for breath as we guzzled it down. I know I should have tried to savour it more but I couldn't stop. It was THAT good. The panna cotta was amazingly rich and satisfying. I actually didn't think it tasted that much like chendol, it was more gula melaka, and the gooey gula melaka was an oh-so-perfect complement. A very satisfactory end to an exceptional meal.

You know how people say you remember a meal based on how it ended? Going by that, I give it 5 stars. If you're looking for a different dining experience that doesn't burn a hole in your wallet, the Snack Culture Company is the one to try. At $59 per head, it's pretty good value compared to other degustation meals on the market.

Andre was so impressed he pestered me to buy a jar of hae bee hiam cookies for dear old dad. So we did. As the official hae bee hiam lover in our household, Kenneth approved!

A parting photo with Tat Hon and Janice, because I totally forgot to do this the last time I was here.

The Snack Culture Company
#02-17, CT Hub, 2 Kallang Avenue
Singapore 339407
Tel: 6443 2006  / 8218 8700 (after hours)

Thursday, Friday & Saturday Nights
‘Around The World in 9 Small Plates’ Degustation Menu: 7.30-10pm. 
By reservation only, limited to 20+ diners per night.

$59+ per person, minimum 2 persons

For reservations and more information, visit here.

1 comment:

April said...

The 9 small plates dinner is really good! I went for dinner twice before the price increased from $49 to $59. The chef & his wife are very friendly. :)

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