There’s nothing lazy about the Spa Esprit Group’s latest dining concept Lazy Susan, modelled after the revolving tray in the middle of a round table that takes pride of place in many Chinese restaurants. In a similar merry-go-round fashion, the group is bringing in emerging chefs from around the globe who will take turns doing pop-up stints that will last around a month each. The concept isn’t strictly limited to the group’s stable of restaurants, so this means Lazy Susan could pop up in a café in Paris one month, or an abandoned warehouse in New York another. The highlight is for each guest chef to create a menu that features local elements native to the country the pop-up is in, but always including an Asian touch.
Kicking off the series in Singapore is Toronto-native chef Haan Palcu-Chang, who has trained in the kitchens of one-Michelin-starred contemporary Thai restaurant Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen and was head chef of Le Mary Celeste in Paris, where he first met Cynthia Chua, CEO of Spa Esprit Group. It might only be his second time visiting Singapore (the first time he came down was just for a mere three day visit), but Palcu-Chang has already eaten his way through hawker centres like Tiong Bahru Market and Tekka Market to find inspiration for his new menu. What intrigued his taste buds most, though, was the har cheong gai (prawn paste chicken) from Whampoa Keng Fishhead Steamboat on Rangoon Road and Kok Sen Restaurant in Chinatown.
To recreate the dish on his menu for Lazy Susan at House on Dempsey, Palcu-Chang went through 10kg of chicken just to get the taste right.
“I know locals are very particular about how authentic their local fare tastes, so I wanted to be sure I was getting the texture and flavours right,” says the 30-year-old, who had trouble finding a good marinade for the chicken. Not satisfied with the shrimp paste he found here, Palcu-Chang finally struck gold with one from Hong Kong, only to be told just before launching the menu that there would be problems importing the paste.
“By then, I was ready to take the entire dish off the menu!” says the chef. It’s a good thing he eventually managed to sort out his supply of shrimp paste though, because he does a wonderful take on the American soul food tradition. The dish, cheekily named Stinky Meets Crispy, comes with plump juicy pieces of boneless chicken with an aromatic and crispy skin. This is placed atop a rice flour waffle and a sunny side up with a vivid orange yolk (only organic New Zealand eggs are used here), served with sambal maple syrup on the side for a sweet finish that affords some kick.
And lest you think the menu sounds heavy-handed, vegetables actually occupy a good part of the dishes, thanks to Palcu-Chang growing up in a family of vegetarians. This means proper care is accorded to greens in the lotus root and snapper salad, where the chef’s expertise in pickling and fermentation brings out bright and refreshing flavours to balance out the heavier dishes on the menu.
How the pop-up concept continues to play out remains to be seen, but for now, Spa Esprit Group is off to a good start. Catch it while you can.
PS: We hear the next one might just be in the group’s upcoming café opening in King’s Road, London.
Masterminds behind the scene: Cynthia Chua, founder and CEO of Spa Esprit Group
Spotlight On: BBQ Jackfruit Bum, Stinky Meets Crispy, Egg Pork in a Curry, Cornfield Cake
Lazy Susan will pop-up at House at Dempsey from Dec 3 to Dec 27, every Thur to Sun, and at Open Door Policy from Jan 5 to Jan 24, daily.
House at Dempsey
8D Dempsey Road, Tel: 6475-7787
Open Door Policy
19 Yong Siak Street, Tel: 6221-9307