The Mitchell Lin Guide: Candlenut

A re-review of that 1-Michelin-starred Peranakan place
by JUNK
Mitchell LinJune 21, 2018
Looking for a second opinion on that Michelin-starred restaurant people won’t stop talking about? Introducing the Mitchell Lin Guide, where JUNK re-reviews Singapore’s Michelin-rated dining establishments. 100% local. 100% honest.

Restaurant

Candlenut

 Cuisine

Atas Peranakan

What Mitchell Lin says...

“Mod-Peranakan is the nightmare of any proud bibik, but those who are less uptight about ‘authenticity’ will find plenty to enjoy.”

Best for…

Impressing your friends from out of town.

Worst for…

Impressing your Peranakan parents.
You will be inundated with “real” Peranakan food at home in the ensuing weeks. Too much good, becomes bad.

The Food

Appetisers

Arriving first, Candlenut’s Crispy Beancurd Skin Ngoh Hiang is a Peranakan essential that’s been upgraded with ingredients that are noticeably better than the mystery meat mush you typically find at hawker ngoh hiang stalls. Mmm… What’s next?

Next came the Octopus Lemongrass Salad. Non-traditional but it shall be forgiven for this is truly an accomplished dish – the notoriously tricky octopus meat was beautifully cooked, while the rest of the salad worked as a contrast in texture and taste.

Maybe salads are just the strong point here, because the Wing Bean Salad is also outstanding; a polished version of a classic Peranakan dish that helps take the apprehension out of eating raw wing beans. Highly recommended, and now everyone can legitimately say they know how to eat “Kerabu Kacang Botol”.

Finally, the parade of itty-bitty appetisers were brought to a close by a plate of Sambal Ladies Fingers. This elegantly prepared dish showcases the delicate flavour of the ladies fingers against a light sambal dressing. Not your ah ma’s ladies fingers and all the better for it. If you don’t agree then you must be unsophisticated, or your ah ma’s cooking is really just that good.

Mains

For mains, we got the Assam Barramundi Fish, which paired satisfyingly meaty fish in a spicy and sour gravy. But the real test for any restaurant laying claim to Peranakan heritage is the Ayam Buah Keluak. You cannot and should not “imagineer” this dish and, thankfully, Candlenut haven’t. The chicken is nice but honestly, it’s all about the gravy. Candlenut’s rendition is especially bold – midnight dark and grainy in texture, the gravy is heaven for those who love the deep, umami flavours of buah keluak. We strongly advise you not to “low-carb” your way through any of this stuff. Go ahead and order a plate of rice and smother it all in spoonfuls of this rich sauce.

Dessert

Dessert was where we got the most contemporary/fine dining flair out of Candlenut. Case-in-point: if you ever wanted to know what Buah Keluak tastes like without being simmered in rempah for hours, then eat the pop rock distillation that’s served with the Buah Keluak Ice Cream. It’s gimmicky, but in an enjoyable kind of way – a cold, spicy, chocolatey, and musky mouthful that rightfully completes the Candlenut experience.

So what’s the verdict, then? Doing anything to change well-loved traditional food is a risky venture, so we appreciate how Candlenut has been brave to take on the challenge of modernising Peranakan food. Its translation of the cuisine is respectful and eloquent, earning Candlenut a solid 1.5 kueh tu tus. It’s just annoying that in the name of modernity, Candlenut chose to sacrifice generosity. The true spirit of Peranakan food is eating until you absolutely can’t anymore. Tiny sharing plates for 2 to 3 people? That’s not the soul of the Peranakan food we know and love. Maybe Candlenut can think “bigger” to get some of that soul back.

That being said, we also don’t give half kueh tu tus so, just to show that we can be generous, Candlenut gets an overall 2 kueh tu tus. Don’t say we never!

The Extras

Ambience

The airy interiors of this Dempsey space are minimally decorated with Peranakan motifs (at least, by Peranakan standards, it qualifies as minimal). If you’re comfortable enough with the “atas” vibes of ladies lunching and expat men discovering Peranakan food for the first time, it’s a very pleasant space to be in.

Overheard

“That’s why I bought my Cayman…”
“Violet Oon is not a chef…”
“Does this buah keluak taste a bit like Marmite?”

Service

Very good. The cheerful wait-staff communicate sincerely, don’t overstay their welcome, and have a sense of humour, too. What’s not to like?

Price

$$$$$

On the pricier side, but you pay for what you get, which is a fancier experience than your neighbourhood Peranakan place.

 
 

Read the rest of the Mitchell Lin Guide here.

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