Share on:

Contemporary Chinese: how Singapore restaurants are serving up traditional cuisines with a twist

These three restaurants represent a new way of approaching Chinese cuisine.

Why does Chinese food have to be so – Chinese? That seems to be the thought going through the minds of chefs and restaurants these days, going by the way some Chinese restaurants are heading towards modern plating while adapting French techniques in the kitchen as well.

In Singapore, you’re likely to step into a contemporary bistro and be served a plate of wok hei-infused noodles as much as a hamburger – but chalk that up to a growing confidence of chefs who, already proficient in their native cuisine, are also exposed to Western culture and techniques.

As a result, it’s given rise to restaurateurs who are keen to explore the diverse flavours of Chinese food and its place in modern cuisine.

(RELATED: 3 new modern Chinese restaurant offerings for you to try)

A new expression of Chinese cuisine

“Chinese cuisine is one that many Singaporeans are familiar with,” says Norman Hartono, creative director of Ebb and Flow Group, which runs Dragon Chamber. “And it’s time to move beyond its strict barriers.”

Going for a modern take is a strategic move, says Ricky Ng, owner and managing director of Blue Lotus Concepts, which owns a string of restaurants showcasing new-age Chinese and local fare. “Chinese food is rarely the first choice for younger diners.”

They’re not out to replace classic Chinese restaurants or zi char eateries, but rather offer a different dining experience. Adds Mr Ng, “Our dining concepts shine light on Chinese cuisine by using western techniques, giving us a broader appeal.”

Don’t be mistaking this “upgrade” to be fusion, however. The roots must come from a Chinese or Asian dish, and staying true to its flavour profile is critical.

(RELATED: Spring Court: How Singapore’s oldest family-run Chinese restaurant found success across three generations)

Quality still important

“To pull it off, you’ll need good cooking methods and quality ingredients as well,” says Steve Aw, assistant vice president of Tung Lok Group. Lokkee has already proven to be a success but the group is now banking on their famed roasted duck, presented in Asian and Western-style dishes, to draw in a new crowd at Duckland.

There is another underlying factor. “It’s not easy employing staff in the F&B industry, particularly for Chinese cuisine. Having a kitchen that uses both styles, albeit predominantly Western, allows us to employ staff from either cooking backgrounds,” explains Mr Ng.

Check out what these three new restaurants have to offer:

  • 51 Soho

    51 SOHO

    Don't let its daytime menu of croissants and lunch bowls mislead you. Come dinner time, 51 Soho takes diners to Sichuan with its charcoal-grilled skewers and western classics accentuated with the spices the province is known for.

    "Chinese elements with a modern touch has always been part of our company's direction," says Megan Lim, assistant director of The Foreign Project Group, which is also behind mod-Asian concepts Birds of a Feather and Halcyon & Crane. It's also a nod to its location in Telok Ayer, "which was historically a focal point of the migrant Chinese community, and now is a vibrant urban centre."

    Modelled after old Chinese drinking places, its signature cocktails are based on traditional rice wine or bamboo wine which "bring together a Western cocktail idea and the long-forgotten Chinese liquors which are now experiencing a revival".

    The food also shares the same approach, with dishes such as Spice Canard, which features Chinese braised duck with a Mediterranean twist. The meat skewers, too, are inspired by the ancient Chinese pastime of dining around a huge fire stove with skewers of meat and vegetables grilling over it. "We've updated the presentation a bit, with the skewers being grilled by chefs in the kitchen but we want to bring in this bit of Chinese culture, this spirit and ambience for 51 Soho," says Ms Lim.

    #01-01, 51 Telok Ayer Street. Tel: 9755 1058

(RELATED: Chinese food being paired with rum, bourbon and whisky)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: 51 Soho, Shang Social & The Dragon Chamber