Since Candlenut Kitchen doesn’t seem to have garnered many reviews on the Internet so far, I guess it’s a tiny bit more worthwhile giving my two cents on it than, say, agreeing with the vast number of other people who rightly observe that Everything With Fries is deeply mediocre.
We ate there last week on a quiet Thursday night, the meal an unexpected but happy consequence of workday Facebook noodling where Chin Chai Chef mentioned in her status that she was drooling over pictures of the restaurant’s food, and I suggested the next logical step.
Kueh pie tee: Very appealingly presented with the four hot, crisp pie tees nestled in a bed of sesame seeds. I sprinkled a generous amount of the seeds over the top of my pie tee. There was a strong flavour of pork in the filling which I wasn’t used to, though – if you like pork this is fine, but it is a bit of a surprise if you’re just expecting juicy turnip tastiness.
Chap chye: This is where I admit I’m a bad Peranakan – I don’t like chap chye and never have. But since the only other vegetable option on the menu was sayur lodeh, it still made sense to pick such a quintessential Peranakan dish over something we could get at any nasi padang stall. So I can only say that this was fine, no better or worse than any other chap chye I’ve had. But given that vegetable dishes have formed some of the highlights of meals I’ve had at other Peranakan restaurants (bayam pais from True Blue back when it was on East Coast Road and affordable, also jantung pisang kerabu and sambal terung from Peramakan), it would be great if Candlenut Kitchen could add at least one or two more vegetable options to its menu.
Babi pongteh: This is where I admit I’m a bad Peranakan again. I’m not a big fan of pork, so my opinion of this dish would be lukewarm even if Emily of Emerald Hill herself cooked me this dish using pork from the laziest pig in the Straits Settlements and tau cheo fermented in the tears of the Little Nonya. So let me give you Alec’s view instead – despite the colour of his skin and his shocking inability to sew beaded slippers, he’s probably eaten more Peranakan food in the five years he’s been here than many Singaporeans have in their lives, so I think it’s a fair substitution. While he liked the tenderness of the meat, he found the gravy rather one-note, lacking the complexity he’s enjoyed in other versions he’s had of this dish. He would have been happy with the dish if he’d cooked it at home or had it in a food court, but for restaurant prices he was expecting something better.
Ayam buah keluak: Obviously, no review of a Peranakan restaurant is complete without such an appraisal. I liked this, the chicken was very tender and the gravy and the paste in the nuts robust yet not overpowering. The serving comes with three nuts but you can add extra nuts for $2 each. Go ahead, you’re worth it.
Chendol cream: A coconut milk panna cotta topped with the “green worms” and a generous drizzling of gula melaka syrup. I thought this was a creative twist on the traditional dessert, and a very pleasant closer to the meal.
Apparently, Candlenut Kitchen is the fledgling effort of a young, talented chef eager to use the skills he learned in culinary school to streamline the production of Peranakan food, which is traditionally labour-intensive. While I still favour Peramakan for its consistency, variety and value for money, I wish Candlenut Kitchen the best and hope that the restaurant will be successful enough to survive and grow into its strengths. With useless Peranakans like me around who can’t be bothered to learn how to cook these dishes at home, we need all the passionate restauranteurs we can get to keep this glorious cuisine alive.