Peranakan restaurants have proliferated for the last couple of years but not all are good. Luckily, Bonding Kitchen at Orchard Gateway is one of the better ones, comparable to the best of them like Folklore and Candlenut.
The restaurant is set up by Danny Chew who was a home private-dining chef in Johor Bahru. A regular Singapore customer, on multiple visits, kept persuading him to open a restaurant in Singapore so this is the fruit.
But Chew has deep affiliations with Singapore. He was trained culinarily at At-Sunrice Academy and graduated in 2011. In total, starting from age 17, he has over 20 years of culinary experience.
The menu here is rather extensive. They have the usual Peranakan suspects like chap chye and meatball soup, but there are also some innovative dishes—served a la carte. If you want to try more, the set menus (6 courses $68 for 2, 7 courses $118 for 4) are worth it. For this tasting, we sampled mainstays from their regular menu and some specials from the CNY menu.
Chew’s kueh pie tee ($12 for four pieces) has his own signature of pastry shell, a handmade version that looks like top hat. While the shells hold ingredients better, they are also harder to eat. Usually we pop the entire morsel in the mouth, but because of the shape, it is harder to do that unless you’re the freak who can swallow your fist. Tastewise, it is just okay. I won’t recommend ordering this dish.
One of my favourite dishes that day, kacang botol kerabu ($16), is wing beans tossed in a mint-lemongrass-calamansi lime dressing. There are bits of roasted cashew and ikan bilis for texture. It sounds simple but it is zesty in tropical heat. The dressing is delicately balanced, sour enough but not face-scrunchingly so. As many Peranakan dishes are saucy, this sour item helps to undercut the heaviness of other dishes.
Everyone likes wagyu beef rendang ($32), right? Chew uses Australian wagyu beef ribs in a traditional cooking method that requires 15 spices and doesn’t require water, resulting in a dry paste. It is great. It is tender enough but still retains a bite—this is my favourite kind of texture, not the sous-vide nonsense. The spices aren’t overpowering and intense; they are probably gentler than your usual Malay stall’s rendition. But like a longterm relationship, you can finish this rendang without feeling surfeit.
The Barramundi fish assam pedas ($26) is ok but expensive.
The Hokkien lor ark (braised duck $22) is Chew’s mother-in-law’s recipe. The duck is marinated for a full day before simmering in a blend of spices and soya sauce. It’s not bad, but comparing to how other dishes are spectacular, this one feels like a calefare, a passerby in the background.
It’s hard to choose a favourite dish because there are so many good ones but gun to the head, I’ll pick sotong masak hitam ($20). I don’t even like squid or squid ink but this is a must-order! The trick to eating this is to eat every ingredient in a mouthful: squid slathered in squid ink, tamarind, fried belachan, shallot, turmeric leaf, dill. The flavours are amazing: tangy, earthy, sweet, pungent. Also noteworthy is the springy texture of the squid, I don’t think I have eaten squid with this texture.
The nasi goreng buah keluak ($15) is expensive but delicious. The buah keluak comes on strongly, not stingy.
The CNY menu is a 10-course meal ($88/pax).
The pig stomach fish maw soup is nice and clean, but it doesn’t have the strong peppery taste that Singaporeans are accustomed to. Ok, fine, don’t blame it on Singaporeans. I like a peppery, burning pig stomach soup.
The seared fresh prawns with assam ko should be on the main menu because the sauce is interesting and delicious. I think it’s kacap manis (?) with tamarind so it’s sweet and tangy. A pity that the prawns weren’t fresh that day. Hard to peel and powdery texture.
On a whole, Bonding Kitchen is fantastic. The food is refined but still retains that homely feel that Peranakan food should have. We recommend it.
Orchard Gateway #02-18, 277 Orchard Road, Singapore 238858
T: +65 8860 9087
Tue-Sun 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm
Decor / ambience: 6.5/10
You may be interested in…
–Indigo Blue Kitchen, Shaw Centre Orchard: Peranakan Restaurant by Les Amis
–Kin Restaurant, Straits Clan, Bukit Pasoh Rd: Delicious Refined Peranakan food But No Feel of Home
–The Blue Ginger, Great World City: Peranakan Restaurant Since 1995 Opens Second Outlet
–Godmama, Funan: Modern Peranakan Food for the Youths
This is an invitation. Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.