Chef Damian D’Silva moves from eatery to eatery so fast that I seldom get to dine at any of them more than two or three times before he’s gone.
The good thing, though, is that with each move, you get to see more of what this talented chef has up his sleeve.
His current stop is at Folklore, a family-style restaurant in the new Destination Singapore Beach Road hotel next to Golden Mile Complex. This is his biggest showcase of what he calls Singapore heritage cuisine, which is what he ate growing up – Eurasian on his father’s side and Peranakan on his mother’s.
Previously, he had served both Western and Singapore dishes at Soul Kitchen, gastrobar-style Eurasian food at Immigrants and a small menu of heritage dishes at D’s Joint in Timbre+. All have closed down.
But the menu at Folklore is bigger than at any of those places. You find some dishes that he had served before, but also many that he has not. Some are based on recipes from his family, others are created by him in a mix of old and new ideas.
One of my favourite dishes from Immigrants was Sambal Buah Keluak Fried Rice, which allowed you to savour the rich flavour of the inky-black buah keluak without having to dig into the nuts.
Level 2 Destination Singapore Beach Road, 700 Beach Road, tel: 6679-2900, open: noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 9.30pm daily
Food: 4/5 stars
Service: 3/5 stars
Ambience: 2.5/5 stars
Price: Budget about $50 a person
The dish is available in Folklore and not in the tiny bar-sized serving, but in a generous family portion. Even better, it is priced at $22, just $2 more than at Immigrants.
At an earlier hosted dinner, the flavour of buah keluak was lacking, but when I returned with friends last week, it was as good as I remembered it – rich and luscious, with slices of wing bean in the rice.
That gives me reason to return to Folklore to see if the other dishes have improved too – not that many need to be. In my two visits, I have tried close to 20 dishes and almost all are as great as they were earlier.
One exception is the Ayam Pelencheng ($15), a grilled boneless chicken leg that is marinated in seven kinds of spices though none of them come through distinctly.
I’m not a fan of the Beef Cheek Rendang ($32) either because although it is cooked with 15 types of herbs and spices, chilli does not seem to be among them. It’s the chef’s family recipe and, as with most home-style dishes, there is no right or wrong way of doing things. Still, I like my rendang with some fire in it.
But most of the other dishes range from good to great, rankings that I reckon depend more on personal taste.
Oxtail Stew ($26) is one of the great dishes for me, with fork-tender meat full of the flavour of the rich gravy sweetened with carrots.
Among dishes that benefit from long, slow cooking is Masak Lemak ($14), where three vegetables – spinach, sweet potato leaves and kangkong – are simmered in a coconut milk gravy with prawns. The softened vegetables soak up the delicious gravy so well.
There is also Aberjaw ($24), a less common dish of soft bone ribs that also boasts a long list of spices and herbs, with a distinctive taste of fermented bean paste and a touch of tamarind to brighten the flavours.
If you prefer something more piquant, there is Babi Assam ($22), where the more pronounced zing of tamarind is just what is needed to balance the fat in the pieces of pork belly.
Fans of wing beans should also order the 4 Angled Bean Salad ($12), a tart and spicy cold starter that is ideal for waking up the appetite for the heavier dishes that follow.
Four-angled beans, another name for wing beans, have a crunch that is found in few vegetables. Here, they are tossed in a sambal belacan sauce with strips of green mango, ginger flower, kaffir lime leaves, chillies and dried shrimp – a combination of spice and aromatics that rouses the senses.
Desserts are just as good too, especially the Kueh Kosui ($6) and Kueh Bengkah With Ice Cream ($10), which taste like they are made in a home kitchen.
That’s the charm of dining at Folklore. The cooking makes you feel like you are in someone’s home, eating food that a member of the family has spent the whole day preparing. Except in this case, you do not have to wait for another invitation to enjoy it again.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
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