I’ve always been a fan of restaurants that thrive on the personality and the stories of their chefs and owners. It’s a way of seeing (tasting) the world through someone else’s eyes (tastebuds), traveling through a different time and space to experience and learn about cultures and traditions. Eating becomes more than feeding the body alone; it becomes a way of nourishing brain and soul.
Labyrinth, the brainchild of Chef LG Han, is a chef-centric dining experience that honors and elevates Singapore culinary traditions in a modern, respectful and very personal key. It’s not only a tribute to LG’s late grandmother and her age-old recipes; the restaurant has become a platform to showcase and support Singapore local businesses, produce and artisanal treasures with the aim to preserve the country’s heritage and traditions.
The tasting menu is called “Homage to My Singapore” and it starts with the chef’s favorite street food interpretations, all served at the same time. The Homemade Lapcheong is a reminiscence of claypot rice (a similar concept to Bottura’s “The Crunchy Part of Lasagna”), with thinly sliced Chinese traditional sweet sausage in a cone of burned rice nori. The Heartland Waffle is the adult rendition of LG’s all-time favorite after-school snack, with a spread of airy liver pâté from Toh Thye San Farm’s chickens and goji berry jam. Finally a molecular interpretation, the Nasi Lemak Cheong Fun was my favorite course among the appetizers, a blissful bite that packs all the familiar flavors and fragrances of the iconic Malaysian dish.
The Ah Hua Kelong La La Clams is exquisitely plated in the most dainty presentation. The plump and pleasantly chewy clams are architecturally layered over a fried wanton wrapper, covered with glossy congealed cooking juices and accompanied with homemade XO sauce. For your information, Ah Hua Kelong is a local seafood farm in Sembawang which can deliver seafood to your home.
Next, there’s an array of “Plates”. As it’d be too much to go through the whole menu (and I don’t want to spoil all the surprises!), I’ll just mention my favorite courses.
The “Ang Moh” Chicken Rice was the savory dish I liked the most. During the colonial era, LG’s grandma worked for a British family and therefore went all creative in “westernizing” this traditional dish. Having inherited the recipe, LG’s re-interpretation of chicken rice comes wrapped as a dumpling with a mushroom and chicken fat roux on the side. It bursts with a taste that sassily winks at the original flavors, while keeping its own unique soul.
The Grandma’s Fish Soup, was the highest example of how Chef LG can elevate something as simple as a fish cake and make it a refined, elegant course, while maintaining the comforting nature of the dish.
The Local Wild Caught Crab is inspired by Singapore iconic chili crab, but really, it’s a league of its own. The quality of the pristine white and tender meat is testimony that, whenever possible, local produce is better. With the perfect levels of acidity and sweetness, the dish achieves a unique brightness of flavors while the crispy mantou croutons add that addictive crunch.
One of the most interesting anecdotes is how Chef LG, as a kid, preferred letting Hokkien mee rest in a takeaway box before eating it, allowing all the juices to be absorbed by the noodles to intensify the umami taste of the dish. Enclosed in a glutinous rice packet for ten minutes before serving, Labyrinth’s “Da Bao” Hokkien Mee manages to reproduce that exact memory, delivering the most authentic and genuine finish to the savory courses on the menu.
Even in fine dining, I can be a bugger with desserts. But at Labyrinth I found one of my most memorable sweet courses – the 2.5 Year Aged Local Soy Sauce and Fossa bean-to-bar chocolate bar pre-dessert. At first the taste is sort of confusing: it’s difficult to understand weather it’s a savory or a sweet dish. Then, as the tastebuds get completely enveloped with the dense and cold sorbet, the cocoa beans acidity kicks in, the sweetness develops and the taste enhances in a delicious concert of addictive nuances.
The meal then continues with a palate cleanser and two more desserts, finishing off with the petit fours. The “Pasar Malm” dessert trio is a little experience on its own. It’s a trip to Pasar Malm night markets through the eyes of Chef LG as a child, starting with a sweet and smokey grilled corn sorbet, progressing with a fun caramelized salted egg popcorn and cotton candy, and ending with an appeasing warm tea made with corn husks.
Homage to My Singapore tasting menu is available for dinner and will set you back S$ 178++. Worth every penny. The beverage program is an additional S$ 90++ but I found it weirdly disconnected from the chef’s vision. The wine list is ambitious and predominantly European, but I’m not sure it serves the purpose of enhancing the overall dining experience. We only had one local mead (also currently available at Native), from Rachelle The Rabbit Meadery. It’d have been more interesting to have local beverages showcased throughout the dinner.
My suggestions to those who have not been as exposed to the Singaporean food classics, namely visitors from out of town, is to hit a couple of hawker centers before visiting Labyrinth. This way, besides appreciating a delicious meal prepared with world-class cooking techniques, it’ll also be possible to understand Chef LG’s source of inspiration and gauge his mission’s amplitude in showcasing and preserving Singapore culinary heritage.
Labyrinth features on the Diners Club 50 Best Discovery Series, recommended by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy of voters.
Labyrinth has also been awarded one star Michelin on the 2018 guide.
Address: Labyrinth 8 Raffles Ave, 02-23, Singapore 039802