25 October 2015

Candlenut - Peranakan Dining

For our wedding anniversary this year we decided to utilise some of the hotel loyalty points I have acquired through the course of my travels for work (mainly to Hanoi, Saigon and Bangkok) to have a staycation in a Singapore city hotel. As part of the celebration we decided to have dinner at a Peranakan restaurant we had previously visited in January (when some friends headed back to Europe).

Peranakan food is unique to South East Asia, well really to the Malaysian Peninsula and Singapore and is an amalgamation of traditional Malay food with the food of the eighteenth century Chinese merchantmen and settlers to the region. The story goes that an early trader visited the region to sell his wares, fell in love with a beautiful local lady and decided to stay. In order to please him she started to incorporate the flavours he missed from his Chinese home into the local dishes she knew how to cook. And so Peranakan or Nonya cuisine was born.

A key ingredient of Peranakan or Nonya cuisine is the fruit or nut from the mangrove growing Keluak tree, found extensively throughout the South East Asian countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore. The fruit or nut is highly poisonous when it is harvested from the tree and contains Hydrogen Cyanide (not a great plus for the human diet) but can be made edible through a fermentation process involving boiling and burying in ash and banana leaves. It is thought that the process makes the cyanide soluble in water and can therefore be washed away. I often wonder how people discovered these processes to convert seeming dangerous items into something that can be safely eaten (the other one I really want to try is the Japanese fish, fugu), especially as these processes were developed in the distant past without the benefit of modern scientific practices. In Singapore and Malaysia the nut is known as Buah Keluak or the Candlenut (hence the name of the restaurant).

So to our dinner with the poisonous nut. Candlenut, located at the Dorsett Residences on New Bridge Road, on the western edge of the Central Business District, operates a tasting menu philosophy for dinner at the weekends (a different concept from when we previously visited) with the menu changing dependent upon what is available and fresh when the chef visits the local market. The menu comprises of a number of appetisers, main courses and a choice of dessert. When we booked the table we were sent the week’s menu and asked if there was anything we’d like to change due to dietary requirements / challenges. As I cannot eat mushrooms we requested beforehand that one of the dishes was substituted for something else.

Here is the menu we were dining to

The starters (as you can see) were Kueh Pie Tee, warm minced pork in a laksa leaf, chicken satay and tumbuk prawns with starfruit.

Kueh Pie Tee - little cupcake-like shells filled with yummy savoury goodness that come in self-assembly format at Candlenut. The filling was a prawn based sauce with ginger that is spooned into the shells and topped with crunchy peanuts. One needs to eat the shell quickly as the crispy base tends to absorb the moist sauce.

Before (above) and after (below)

Laksa Leaf Pork Relish – little parcels of minced pork wrapped in a laksa leaf. It was similar to a Chinese dish I had many years ago where the pork or chicken was wrapped in a lettuce leaf but this one had a tangy after-taste of banana chili. 

Chicken Satay – satay is one of our local favourites (in fact we ate a lot over the summer when we had some young visitors here) and is served at Candlenut with a sharp apple and mint dressing that contrasts excellently with the succulent chicken skewer. The apple and mint makes a great change to the usual serving of peanut and chili sauce. 

Tumbuk Prawns – this minced prawn dish was served on a slice of starfruit and was the perfect bite-sized morsel. The sharp freshness of the fruit complimenting the savoury deliciousness of the minced prawn. 

The main dishes were then served with a bowl of sticky Thai-style rice, and consisted of a rawon soup with beef cheek (containing the Candlenut), a vegetable curry dish (our substituted non-mushroom dish), braised pork belly, baby squid and tiger prawns.

Rawon soup of beef cheek, Buah Keluak and fried shallots – the dark colour and texture of the soup is dictated by the use of the candlenut (rawon refers to a rich gravy created by grinding the processed nut into a paste) with the once under-used and now trendy beef cheek being delicious and melt in your mouth smooth. Pleased to state that this dish was excellent and although it contained a once poisonous nut we are both still very much alive and kicking.

Braised Pork Belly – a wonderful pork dish in a soy bean and chili gravy, where the pork fell onto the fork with just the right mixture of flesh and pork fat to make the dish excellent.

Wok Fried Baby Squid, Cherry Tomatoes, Sambal – this was a great and spicy addition to the meal that gave a real chili kick with the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes. Usually I try to avoid sambal sauce as it can often be way too much and can over-power the dish it accompanies (a classic example of this is the BBQ stingray that many hawker stalls serve) but not in this case. The balance was perfect. 

Grilled Tiger Prawns – these were excellent and I ate them both as the blog owner is not usually one for overt sea food like prawns in the shell. The prawns were sweet and the coconut sauce complimented perfectly.

For dessert we chose the Buah Keluak Ice Cream (that nut again) which comes complete with popping candy and the Textures of Coconut, with both being excellent palate cleansing finishing touches to an excellent meal. Unfortunately we were too busy eating to take any photos of these!

Candlenut is an excellent restaurant with great service that aims to keep the Peranakan traditions alive whilst updating the dishes with modern twists. It is a great place for an informal dinner with tasty food that is tailored towards Singapore residents and tourists looking for an exotic taste adventure alike. Well worth a visit.

For other Peranakan restaurants the reader could also try Blue Ginger, the rendang is great, as is the achar, in Tanjong Pagar (take a look at this post for some photos of some of the delicious food we had on our visit) or Chili Padi, try the popiah, in Joo Chiat.

19 October 2015

Sofitel So Staycation(s)

We've been lucky enough to enjoy a couple of staycations in Singapore (take a look here and here for some inspiration for your own) and since these have taken the opportunity to spontaneously enjoy a couple more, this time at the Sofitel So on Robinson Road, just near to Lau Pa Sat.

The hotel is in a beautiful heritage building, mixing the best of the old and the new in its style and decor. Owing some of its style and design features to Karl Lagerfeld it's really quite impressive. I particularly liked all the little extra details and nods to its location in Singapore. From the cushions in our room with Robinson Road and Joo Chiat cushion covers, the coffee table with the outline of Singapore painted on to it and the hand shaped towel and bathroom robe hangers in the bathroom, quite amazing. Of course we also got to benefit from a well stocked minibar with both complimentary tea and coffee, items you'd expect to pay for and some surprising little extras, some beautifully fragranced complimentary toiletries and, an absolute must these days, wifi access! 

We opted for two separate one night stays (having enjoyed our first so much) one over a public holiday weekend and one for our wedding anniversary. Both times we had the chance to enjoy both the hotel and also a little more of the surrounding area. Everything about the hotel was just lovely and second time around we were especially lucky as we managed to get an upgrade which gave us a bigger room and our own balcony giving us a fantastic place to sit amongst the grand pillars at the front of the building. 

On our first stay our room over looked Lau Pa Sat but we didn't notice any noise coming from there, the windows are obviously well glazed and we had a great nights sleep. The second time around we did hear a few cars being driven at ridiculous speeds outside during the night, but what can you do about that? Particularly as we hear them sometimes where we live in the east and used to hear them back in the UK too.

Hotel lobby from the bar area - love all the beautiful orchids

Robinson Road and Joo Chiat Road inspired cushion covers

Coffee table with an outline of Singapore as decoration

Our hotel room on our first stay

Our upgraded room on our second stay (above and below) check out that bath!

After checking in ( the first time we stayed there) we decided to go out for a late lunch somewhere close by. After an extensive search of what was in the area (and open as it was a Sunday) we settled on Blue Ginger, a Peranakan restaurant I'd heard amazing things about previously. It definitely did not disappoint, especially as we were served achar which is one of my favourite condiments, that was a definite winning moment for me! I really could eat it simply as it is. As well as the achar we, of course, did enjoy a variety of delicious dishes, including ngo heong and chicken and beef favourites such as beef rendang. All were beautiful prepared and absolutely delicious, it is definitely a restaurant to visit if you've never tried Peranakan food. By the way on our second stay we also went to a different Peranakan restaurant for our anniversary meal, check back on the blog shortly for a post about that.


As I said we stayed at the Sofitel So on a holiday weekend (on our first stay) and in the evening, after letting our lunch settle and having done some suitable staycation chilling, we went for a wander and something to eat in the Chinatown area. I guess because it was a holiday evening and also a Sunday Chinatown was pretty empty of life, though this may also have been because a lot of places were shut. However this made for a pleasant walk around this part of the city without the usual throng of people everywhere and despite this we still found somewhere to eat and enjoyed a pleasant meal.

Upon returning to the hotel we went to the rooftop bar for a couple of drinks before retiring. The rooftop bar has a funky, modern feel and decor overlooking the hotel pool. You can enjoy drinks by the bar or at one of the tables dotted around, admire the surrounding office buildings and skyscrapers and enjoy some funky beats as you do. Second time around we opted not to have a drink up there though as there was a private birthday party in progress and it was a little too busy and noisy for us that evening.

Breakfast the following morning on both occasions was the usual range of both Western and Asian options as well as fruit, yogurt and other lighter choices all washed down with fruit juice, coffee or tea. Again the breakfast area embraced the funky modern decor of the whole hotel and was a very pleasant start to both days. Of course with a one night stay breakfast means that all too soon it's time to check out and head home but, if nothing else, we knew we had a cat waiting to greet us and tell us off for going away for the night!

Down a backstreet in Chinatown

Looking towards the Central Business District

Chinatown temple

On both of our stays we had a lovely time right on our doorstep and without having to set foot on a plane or remember to take our passports. I've definitely become a fan of staycations since we tried it for the first time in Singapore on our first wedding anniversary three years ago. It's a great opportunity to enjoy just a little spoiling and explore your hometown just like a tourist. Where do you like to stay in Singapore and why?

BTW don't forget too to keep checking the blog for a separate post about our evening restaurant choice for our anniversary meal during our second stay.

02 October 2015

Say What??

So if you know Singapore you'll, of course, know about Singlish. I've lived here a little over five years and although in that time I've come to learn some I don't pretend to know a great deal. But if you are new to Singapore or a tourist here you may find yourself completely in the dark about it.

In case you don't know Singlish is a dialect spoken uniquely in Singapore. The vocabulary consists of words originating from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew and Tamil to name just a few. You only need to be in the country a short while to hear it spoken in most day-to-day settings you are likely to find yourself in.

Never fear though if that's you struggling to understand because the PARKROYAL Hotel on Kitchener Road has come up with something that may help just a little. They have taken some of the confusion out of it all by collecting together and sharing on their website a handful of popular and well known Singlish expressions. As you can see from below each expression is colourfully illustrated, an example of how to use it is given and more importantly what it means if you hear it used. You can see this includes such fun expressions as, 'don't play play', 'bo jio' and 'blur like sotong' (a personal favourite of mine) to name just a few. 

So if you are flummoxed by something you've heard on the bus or at the wet market why not check out their helpful page. It might just give you the answer you need and make your time in Singapore (whether it is short or long) all the more enriching.

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