Neo-Singaporean cuisine paying tribute to the city’s little-known terroir
Claim to fame: The chef’s innovative takes on classic hawker center-fare
Reason to go: A crash course in the city’s more unusual bounty
To look out for: The trompe-l’oeil magic that ensues when traditional flavors meet avant-garde reinvention
Singapore’s most restless chef, Han Li Guang is never happy with status quo. His relentless pursuit of improvement has seen the former banker-turned-chef constantly pushing the boundaries of his neo-Singaporean cuisine.
Han’s current eleven-course menu, aptly named Homage To My Singapore, continues to reinvent local favorites for the 21st century. But to really illustrate the city’s bounty, he introduces each dish by shining a spotlight on the heroes behind the farmed produce and, when that’s not possible, the local ingredients used.
Oysters from the northeastern island of Pulau Ubin arrive as a Japanese-inspired snack ensconced in a battered-then-grilled takoyaki (a Japanese street food typically made with octopus) topped with a smidgen of tongue-searing sambal. Green-lip mussels that grow wild in a local kelong (floating fish farming platform) are also served as a snack; the mollusk is stuffed with fish paste and presented on its shell with a spoonful of heart-warming laksa consommé, a drizzle of laksa leaf oil and a piece of tau pok (fried bean curd) – an act that looks nothing like a bowl of laksa but evokes the emotions and palate sensation of tucking into one.
Instead of serving popiah (fresh spring roll) straight up, Han encourages guests to relive the DIY crêpe-making experience, albeit with a tweaked recipe, by serving a bowl of crab stock-enriched braised turnips with eight condiments including, unusually enough, winged beans, gotu kola (Asian pennywort) and oyster sauce that he makes from scratch. Perhaps even more unique are the trio of leaves – sweet potato leaf, boiled betel leaf and daun kadut (wild pepper leaf) – he provides in place of the ubiquitous wheat flour crêpes. Even for guests who’ve never tried popiah, this will sow the seeds of their curiosity.
Whether you’ve ever had rojak (a Southeast Asian-style street food salad that you can find in most of the city’s hawker centers) or not, Han’s interpretation is sure to intrigue. From Edible Garden, he assembles about 10 seasonally changing vegetables such as cat whiskers, Okinawa spinach, white pea flower, and Indian borage, and pairs them with ice cream made from market-bought cempedak and jackfruit. Leaving the best for last, Han brandishes a dressing he concocts with fermented shrimp paste and a sweet and tangy stingless bee honey from Batam, Indonesia; the latter replacing the classic recipe’s palm sugar and lime. While it looks nothing like your ordinary rojak, a bite is all it takes to transport you to the familiar flavors of the tropical salad found in hawker centers.
After a recent makeover, Labyrinth now boasts two feature walls; one decorated with produce showcased in the menu and another heritage wall displaying the chef’s late grandmother’s clay pots and rice bowls. The drinks list has also undergone an update to unveil a seasonally changing menu of about 50 to 60 labels of French, Australian and American wines curated by an experienced sommelier.