The Place Mention Singapore cuisine and hawker dishes like chicken rice and laksa come to my mind. What does it actually mean for a restaurant? The mod-sing term the past few years is vague for me at least, as I struggle to remember anything associated with mod-sing. Here’s a newly coined term by Chef Han Liguang of the One-Michelin starred Labyrinth at Esplanade Mall, the ‘New Expression of Singapore Cuisine.’ Catch no ball? Read on.
First things first, Restaurant Labyrinth went through a revamp and its refurbished dining hall spots a more nuanced sophistication ambience. Dimly lit with a spotlight over the table, the new dining experience shifts the spotlight literally to just the diner and the food. There are also two gallery walls – the ‘Produce Wall’ which displays the unique local ingredients used in Chef Han’s cuisine; while the other wall is a ‘Tribute to Grandma’ and spots some of her kitchen utensils.
The Food We are all too familiar with local hawker food but bringing Singapore cuisine to the fine dining arena is a whole new ball game. The new menu at Labyrinth uses 80% locally-sourced produce, and much of the inspiration comes from Chef’s childhood memories of local dishes. Interestingly, I will think of a local dish and try to imagine what local produce I want to feature but Chef Han goes by the produce focused ideology by identifying the ingredient he wants to use and then create the dish.
The Experience Tasting Menu for dinner comes with 10 courses, pre-appetiser snacks and petit four at S$178++, with an option of wine pairing at S$80++; Lunch Tasting Menu with 4 courses is at S$68++, while the Pre-theatre Menu with 4 courses is at S$68++. Some of the locally-sourced produce include supplies from Hay’s Dairy Farm, Jurong Fishery Port, Nippon Koi Farm, Toh Thye San Farm, Farm Delight, Kwong Woh Hing sauce factory, Chinatown Market, and Stingless Honey Bee Farm. For the purpose of the tasting I had, I managed to try a mix of the dishes from the lunch and dinner menu.
A prelude to my meal is the Tea Egg with Oolong Tea, which has a nice burst of egg yolk upon one bite. There is a series of snacks on both lunch and dinner menu, before diners move on to the mains proper.
The “Nasi Lemak” Cheong Fun is an interesting play on the classic hawker dish. The delicate skin is inspired by the Cheong Fan, while the filling within the skin is Nasi Lemak Sambal and egg yolk gel. To complete the flavour of Nasi Lemak, it is then topped with black deep-fried chicken skin, ikan billis and cucumber. It’s pretty amazing how this petite size dish houses the essence of Nasi Lemak.
The Braised Baby Abalone is slow-cooked with fresh and dried oysters, served with homemade oyster sauce and delicately rested on the thin layer of fatt choy tart.
One of the dishes which resonate well with me is the Heartland Waffle with local duck liver. It’s he first time I heard of locally produced duck liver and this comes from Toh Thye San farm. The inspiration of the dish also comes from the heartland waffles we are familiarly with. I love the taste of the duck liver which is very smooth in flavour and resembles foie gras to some extent. There is also a nice tinge of Chinese aged shaoxing wine and goji berry jam at play in the waffle.
Moving on, the Ah Hua Kelong Lala Clams is like an atas fried wanton. The deep fried wanton skin holds the mini clams and Chinese spinach. Another surprise is the XO sambal which rests beneath the wanton. I love my chilli sauce.
The Labyrinth Rojak is an interesting combination of ingredients. For one, the Stingless bee honey from Batam is amazingly delicious and tastes like the local rojak sauce I’m familiar with. Along with a wide mix of greens from Edible Garden’s herbs, the other surprise here is the cempedak sorbet within. Strictly speaking, the sorbet is 30% Chempadak and 70% jackfruit.
We all love chicken rice and this version is probably one of the most refined I have seen. Aptly dubbed the ‘Ang Moh” Chicken Rice, the dumpling here is filled with diced chicken from Toh Thye San and then cooked in chicken rice stock. The best way to enjoy the dish is to have it with the accompanying white sauce on the plate, made with a mix of chicken fat and flour. I can’t have chicken rice without chilli sauce, and thankfully I do get a dash of the Grandma secret chilli sauce recipe here too.
My other favourite dish on the menu is the Local Wild Caught Crab with egg whites and salted mackerel. The crab meat is fresh and proud to learn that these are live wild caught flower crabs from Ah Hua Kelong. The best part? It is also served with Labyrinth signature Chilli Crab ice-cream. It is my first time having chilli crab ice-cream and this version is amazingly delicious.
Love Bak Kut Teh? The Nippon Koi Farm Silver Perch is Chef Han’s answer to this local delight. Herbal black pepper broth is added to the silver perch, which is served along with black garlic as well.
For mains from the lunch menu, I chose the Toh Thye San Farm Poulet (S$10 Supplement) which is quite a generous portion after the series of small bites and snacks. The Cantonese style roast chicken breast is quite tender, topped with topped with keropok crackers crumbs. Other parts of the chicken is enjoyed in the form of roulade, made with the thigh and drumstick of the chicken, which is then stuffed with glutinous rice and Chinese mushroom.
Before the desserts, I was served the palate cleanser which is the Oyster Plant Snow made with Rosella meringue, grapes and pomegranate.
On to the main dessert which I am very excited about, the Cristal De Chine Caviar which comes with Kaya ice-cream. Kaya toast for breakfast is one of the food I enjoy, and it is very interesting to see how this Singaporean style breakfast transforms to a dessert rendition. The toast here is solid good, with a nice crispy texture and is sourced from Sin Hon Loong, an old school bakery in Whampoa. The kaya ice cream is made with gula jawa, and there is also the element of egg yolk sauce from Freedom eggs cured with light soy sauce from local soy sauce producer Kwong Woh Hing. As if this is not luxe enough, caviar is also added to lend the dessert a savoury flavour. The blue pea flower petals and hibiscus leaves garnishes are also to me, an apt closure to the meal to depict Singapore as a garden city.
Rants The dimly lit restaurant is challenging if you need to feed your camera before yourself.
Will I Return Again? The Dinner Experience Tasting Menu is definitely a fuller dining experience for something innovative like Labyrinth, and it is the menu I will be back for. I will recommend this restaurant if you are looking to be surprised, and I’m pretty sure you will be.
Make your reservations instantly at Labyrinth here.
This was an invited tasting, though all opinions expressed are our own.
Taste bud: 3.5/5
Hole in the pocket: 4/5
Overall Experience: 3.5/5
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday 12pm – 2.30pm (last order at 1.40pm)
Dinner: Tuesday to Sunday 6.30pm to 10.30pm (last order at 8.45pm)
Pre-theatre: Thursday to Saturday 5.30pm onwards (last order at 6.20pm)
Ranted by The Ranter