One chef’s gamble on local small-scale producers.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

One chef’s gamble on local small-scale producers.

Accolades come fast for Han Li Guang, whose Labyrinth is a staple on The Peak’s G Restaurant Awards list and which has won, and retained, the feted Michelin star as of press time. But the banker-turned-chef is taking his cumulative awards and shoving them down the poker table. He has axed the entirety of his one-star menu – including the Insta-worthy and subversive signatures that kept customers returning – and cut restaurant capacity by half. Should this suddenness be construed as lunacy? His partners thought so. “You’re crazy!” they told him. But he has his eyes on a grander goal. He says that “the next logical step…is to not just serve interpretations of (Singapore) food”, but to celebrate produce sourced from the island.

The leap of faith manifests in a delicious, storied menu that extols one of cooking’s simplest tenets: fresh produce is unadulterated and intense in ways frozen or airfl own shipments cannot be. Weave in Han’s expertise in splicing ingredients, plus a relentless obsession with nailing textures and nuance (“my assistants groan and moan, but it has to be done right!”), and diners are left with a gastronomic journey through Singapore – something absent from the fine-dining scene. To play guide through the dozen courses are charming, illustrated postcards that detail the chef’s intentions, the history of the original dish and, of course, the suppliers involved.

Who needs the usual steak – no cattle in Singapore, sorry – when the opening serenade of oolong quail egg puts one in the mood for delicate flavours, often presented in various textures? (In this case: turgid, yielding and finally gooey.) There’s a 30 per cent casualty rate for these eggs, apparently, so precarious is the days-long preparation. Did I ever imagine that goji berry jam would be an astonishing foil for moreish duck pate that’s laced with Shaoxing – or that said liver can be procured from a farm in Loyang?

The eye-opening and palate-pleasing night spans hours, as we’re taken up in Han’s whirlwind gambit, bottom line and accolades be damned. The annual Michelin shuffle looms, and Han won’t rule out a flop, but one thing’s for sure – I’ll buy in again before long.

#02-23, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Tel: 6223-4098.

It takes 12 slices of house-made fish cake to make this centrepiece.
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Han Li Guang: “No point in doing steak tartare, (even if) it helps the bottom line.” 
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Roughly 80 per cent of the new menu is sourced locally.
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The newest addition to fine Japanese dining in Cuppage Plaza’s upper floors comes in the form of chef Nishi Nobuhiro, who takes over the reins of discreet restaurant Kappo Shunsui. He’s cut his teeth at three-Michelin-star Ishikawa in Kagurazaka, Japan, and brings with him an ingredients-focused ethos, a set-only policy and an effervescent personality. Dive right into the owan – a comforting, umami-laced dashi soup with fishcake incorporating meat from up to five different seasonal fish. The best part? He’ll accommodate requests for seconds – and has some amusing photo poses in his repertoire.

#04-02 Cuppage Plaza. Tel: 6732-0192.

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The reason why Le Bon Funk – the city’s hottest spot for natural wines – is on the food page: chef Keirin Buck is cranking out sublime, memorable bites that match the audacity of the bottled stuff . “Travesty” is what some people might call freezing and finely grating foie gras, then heaping it like winter’s first snow on warm toast. Direct these souls to Unlisted Collection’s swanky spot on Club Street and watch as their conviction, like the foie gras, puddles into a savoury mess in the mouth. In a single, David Chang-ratified stroke, Buck turns unctuous to airy and sees to it that the bed of brioche (baked in-house) is soaked through with goodness. The ingenuity spans over a dozen dishes and rotates often – don’t miss out.
29 Club Street. Tel: 6224-1490.
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