Much differently from Chinese, Indian or even Indonesian cuisine, you won’t easily find dedicated Singaporean restaurants outside of the motherland and, while local food is much of an obsession in Singapore, it doesn’t seem to have gained the international recognition it deserves yet.
Among others, I believe there’s two main reasons for this: on the one hand, it can be argued that Singaporean cuisine is such a melting pot of foods from different countries that it’s difficult for the wider public to discern its own unique identity; on the other hand the association of Singaporean cuisine with street food has made it extremely hard for restaurateurs around the world to replicate its traditional dishes and give them a new home outside of the hawker center environment.
The Mod-Sin (Modern Singaporean cuisine) movement aims at representing Singaporean food beyond the traditionally humble hawker eateries and refining it at various mid to upscale restaurants. Set in the gorgeous The Warehouse Hotel and helmed by Chef Ken Zheng, Po is a great example of this style of cooking.
Their Popiah (S$28++), served as a fun and interactive DIY concept, is the signature dish at the restaurant. Diners are let to prepare their own wrap following the instructions provided on a step-by-step guide. Each individual ingredient of the popiah is expertly prepared by the kitchen and, for a touch of extra luxury, fresh flower crab or prawn are available as add-ons. This is a smart dish that manages to elevate a traditionally cheap street snack to a restaurant-worthy dish, without coming across as overly pretentious.
The Truffle & Duck Pie Tee (S$19++), is inspired by the Peranakan specialty but completely reinvented in French key. Airy canapé shells are filled with truffle purée and braised pulled duck. Flavor wise, it was one of my favorite courses, though it was also the one that strayed further away from the original dish in terms of taste and treatment of ingredients. I’ll pick Po’s kueh pie tees over Candlenut’s any day.
Among the small plates, the Charcoal-Grilled Iberico Satay (S$21++) is another hit. Marinated for twelve hours in a secret spice mix, the skewers are nicely charred and served on coal, accompanied by the typical peanut dip. As a twist, the sauce is enriched by a grated pineapple chutney that brings out some welcome acidity, cutting through the fattiness of the pork.
Among the mains, the Carabinero Prawn Konbu Mee (S$32++) is outstanding. It’s hard to think of street food such as Hokkien Mee outside of a hawker center. However, the elevated spin on the classic, enriched by pork belly, sakura ebi, and the most gorgeous, perfectly cooked carabinero prawns just tastes magical: it’s familiar and comforting like the original, yet decadent and refined in true high-end style.
For dessert, the Chef’s reccomendation is the Ice-cream Popiah (S$15++). Three huge scoops of taro, pineapple and peanut ice-cream lay on a bed of candied peanuts. You can then wrap it all up with popiah skin.
My favorite dessert though was the lighter and brighter Chilled Mango Sago (S$16++). The mixed textures of sago pudding and pomelo pulp along with the cooling yuzu sorbet, mango juice and an airy evaporated milk foam make this dish the ultimate Asian dessert.
All in all, Po is now on top of my recommendation list for a unique and elevated Singaporean dining experience (their cocktails are great too!). While nothing will ever replace hawker food in my and Singaporean people’s hearts, I do believe the Mod-Sin way of cooking may be the winning strategy to exporting Singaporean food to the rest of the world, and therefore lifting the global awareness on this incredibly tasty cuisine.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mod-Sin cuisine, my friend Tristan has written a great in-depth piece for South China Morning Post on this exact matter.
Address: 320 Havelock Road Robertson Quay, Singapore 169628