EDIT: Chef Low has left the restaurant, and the concept and food are now different.
Strictly speaking, the hunky 28 year-old Temasek Poly hospitality graduate Chef Nixon Low has no formal training. He picked up his culinary skills from his experience: Shangri La Hotel for 4 years and another 2 years at Andre and St Pierre. Unlike American Idol’s William Hung (“I’ve no professional training”), Low is a talented young chef to watch out for. His Singapore hawker-inspired cuisine, such as chicken rice risotto, is fun and creative. Best of all, it is affordable: 2-course lunch for $15, 3 for $19; and a 4-course tasting dinner menu for $36.
For starters, the bak ku teh terrine ($8, left) was a pork loin boiled with stock and garlic till it was soft enough to add gelatin to make it into a jelly. It was garnished with giam chye (salted vegetable), cut red chilli, and you tiao (dough fritters), tasting more like kway chap than bak ku teh. The nachos was topped with curry chicken bolognaise. Both starters, though innovative, were salty to us, but I guess they are made to go with beer.
Like the starters, the soups were inventive. I preferred the sweet vegetarian pumpkin soup ($8), infused with very fragrant lavender, which is also the name of the street the hotel is on. The soup was further enhanced with a chewy wakame seaweed. Balls of granny smith apple livened the soup.
My eating companion preferred the ham and croissant soup (above), which was too salty for me. But it really tasted like ham and croissant! Croissant was blended into the soup, which had cheddar cheese foam and tomato tartare. A tuile (wafer), acting like croissant crust, broke the monotony of the texture. Zhuang-zi asks: Is it a croissant dreaming to be a soup, or a soup dreaming to be a croissant?
The ribeye steak (180g/$20), at a steal, came highly recommended: it was wet-aged, marinating in its own juices for 2 weeks in the fridge before being served. But we eschewed it for a more interesting sounding salted egg softshell crab fettucini ($15) because we love cze char salted egg dishes. It wasn’t as salted-eggy as I expected, and had hints of curry (probably due to the curry leaves) which didn’t go well with salted egg. The fettucini was a tad hard, the crab salty.
But the chicken confit was a showstopper. Soaked in brine for 12 hours to give it its forceful aroma and to ensure it remained moist and juicy within, it was then slow-cooked in its own fats at 65 degrees for 5 hours. This was superlatively delicious, about 259.7 times more savory than KFC and 5.2 times healthier. Must order.
It wasn’t oil, it was the juices!
But we couldn’t decide if the dish of the night was the confit or the playful, deconstructed blackforest ($8). It had Belgian chocolate mousse (70% cocoa), caramel ice cream, seriously delicious and intoxicating brandied cherries, and antioxidant blackberries. When you have finished half the dessert, you pick the mini flowerpot up, and dump the edible ‘soil’ (predominantly a hazelnut taste) with a spade . How fun!!! On seeing how much I liked the dessert, my companion said, “Why don’t you finish it?”
I didn’t reply with my usual politeness, “Are you sure you don’t want more?” I said, “Yeah, of course.” If marrying a dessert were possible, I’d have unsingle-lady Beyonce it immediately. Another interesting sounding dessert, kaya toast mille feuille ($7), is a play on our Singapore iconic breakfast, but too bad our hearts were willing to eat, but our bellies were weak.
However, the dishes could be fine-tuned: except the dessert and pumpkin soup, all the dishes were overly salted. Less heavy-handedness, more subtlety is better; let the flavors speak for themselves.
Overall, the affordability means it’s a great place for after work, large groups, families and dates. Not only reasonably priced, this was an inspiring meal for me. The dishes were bold, adventurous and mischievous: they were familiar yet defamiliarized. I predict if Chef Low continues his R&D with some fine tuning, and further training, he would be one of the top chefs in Singapore in years to come.
139 Lavender St, Aqueen Lavender Hotel Singapore 338739
T: 6395 7782
Petite Menu menu
Rating: 3.587/ 5 stars
Thanks, Li-Lin and Nixon, for the hospitality.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.