Fine Dining

Labyrinth @ Esplanade

Tonight’s dinner is based on locally sourced produce and authentic Singaporean flavours reconstructed using French and modern culinary techniques.

At one-Michelin-starred Labyrinth, chef Han Li Guang elevates the mod-sin cuisine genre via local produce and honours our eco-system of farmers, growers and artisans with his “new expression of Singapore Cuisine”. Dishes here are conceptualised with broad inspiration drawn from local street food melded with in-depth knowledge of traditional recipes, artisanal techniques (so many components are made from scratch, even their mee pok is homemade, so do take time to savour every bite), and influences from his grandmother’s cooking.

The Labyrinth Experience

In Chef Han’s words: “[Dining at] Labyrinth is a journey, like an adventure through a maze. Every corner is going to be a surprise. We’re not going to serve you normal, boring old food over here.”

Homage to my Singapore

The focus here? Produce. 90% of Labyrinth’s ingredients are sourced locally. Labyrinth sources ingredients, including Toh Thye San for poultry, herbs from Edible Garden City, and shellfish from Ah Hua Kelong.

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Freshest produce from our little island of Singapore (and Batam).

The new direction that Restaurant Labyrinth is taking by choosing to utilise local and regional produce shows Chef Han’s dedication to supporting these smaller agriculture businesses. Apart from that, it also allows the restaurant to be a platform to highlight the modernity of Singaporean cuisine and how far it’s come from tradition, while maintaining its innate heritage.

If you’re unfamiliar with Singaporean cuisine, Labyrinth has helpfully produced a series of illustrated postcards to provide context and Chef Han’s backstory and inspirations for the dishes served on the dinner menu.

Amuse Bouche

Quail egg with Oolong Tea centre

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Quail egg with Oolong Tea centre

The quail tea egg takes three days and stands out with an injection of tea into the egg while the yolk is still runny. The result: a transparent quail egg white like century egg with a liquid centre filled with oolong tea taste.

Oolong Kombucha

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Kombucha

Kombucha starts out as a sugary tea, which is then fermented with the help of a scoby. “SCOBY” is actually an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” It’s very close cousins to the mother used to make vinegar. The scoby bacteria and yeast eat most of the sugar in the tea, transforming the tea into a refreshingly fizzy, slightly sour fermented (but mostly non-alcoholic) beverage that is relatively low in calories and sugar.

Their kombucha was tangy with the fragrance of oolong. A good refreshing start to the dinner.

1/6 Chef’s Favourite Street Food

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Chef’s Favourite Street Food (Starters)

The first quartet of starters came from familiar street food of Singapore. Chef Han draws inspirations from traditional hawker fare like Orh Luak and Laksa, and made them his own. I have included Chef Han’s own words in the opening intro of each course.

Oyster Omelette with Local Oysters

Pulau Ubin Oysters, “takoyaki”, sambal & egg floss

“One of my favourite supper bites after work is the local style Oyster Omelette (aka Orh Luak). The differentiating factor of our local Orh Luak lies in the use of starch to create a crispy yet pillowy dough which works in harmony with the omelette, oyster and acidic sambal sauce to create a depth of textures and flavours. Here at Labyrinth, we use local oysters from Pulau Ubin served in a “Takoyaki” ball and homemade sambal to deliver the same sensations in a bite.”

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Oyster Omelette with Local Oysters

Takoyaki is the street food from Osaka. The octopus has been replaced with an oyster and the pancake starch replaced with potato starch used in orh luak. Not quite the tongue-burning sensation of the takoyaki, but close. I was a bit disappointed that it was cold.  The sauce didn’t remind me of the sour chilli sauce used in the traditional orh luak, more like a chilli aioli. I guessed the original chilli would have made the takoyaki soggy so a bit of artistic license is taken. Well, if really I wanted orh luak, I should go for the real thing, shouldn’t I?

Homemade Lapcheong & Burnt Ends of Claypot Rice

Homemade Lapcheong, barley, pickled bak choy, burnt rice “nori”

“I love claypot and paella partly because of the burnt rice that I get to scrape off at the bottom of the pan. I also love the local style of lap cheong as the texture contrast of going though a nice crisp charred edge and biting into a tender centre with juices flowing is gastronomy in a bite. What if we could combine both on a plate?”

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Homemade Lapcheong & Burnt Ends of Claypot Rice

The correct terminology for these burnt rice is 锅巴 and you either hate it or love it. Many loved it because of the crispy and satisfying burnt taste that is unique with popping grains. I have never understood why some many people love popcorn, so I chose to ignore it when I have claypot rice.

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Homemade Lapcheong & Burnt Ends of Claypot Rice

Here, Chef Han made the 锅巴 into a “nori” rice sheet for making the gunkan sushi.  Instead of shari, he used barley cooked in the style of claypot rice. The topping was chopped lap cheong (Chinese sausage) bits that he made in-house and pickled bak choy for crunch.

The rice sheet was a bit chewy and the barley dropped off the bottom. Too much bite in this “gunkan” but I really liked the lap cheong, very flavourful and sumptuous.

“Laksa” Locally Sourced Green-lipped Mussel

Ah Hua Kelong Mussel, laksa consommé, laksa leaf oil, tau pok 

“I first tasted local mussels 4 years ago and it was a huge surprise – these breed of locally grown green lip mussels were as tasty (if not more tasty) than any mussels I have eaten around the world! To showcase the plump, natural sweetness of these mussels, I decided to stuff it with homemade fish paste and served it with homemade laksa broth with local laksa leaf oil. An expression of both produce and one fo Singapore’s most famous street dish.”

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“Laksa” Locally Sourced Green-lipped Mussel

This was my favourite starter among the quartet. I was so surprised to find the fish cake in the mussel. The laksa consommé worked so well with the mussel, and the dill added the required freshness.

Ah Hua Kelong Lala Clams

Ah Hua Kelong Lala Clams, XO sambal, deep fried wanton skin & Chinese spinach

“Only until a year ago, I have tasted mussels and clams from around the world not knowing that Singapore is actually home to one of the sweetest and most plump shellfish around. This dish is a showcase of such qualities with lala “soft clam” that grows naturally on Ah Hua Kelong (local slang for offshore fish farm).”

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Ah Hua Kelong Lala Clams

The deep fried wanton skin holds the clams and Chinese spinach like a tart, arranged in such meticulous way that an OCD would be proud of. The XO sambal was served separately on a clam half-shell which was a savoury sauce that reminded me of hoisin and rojak and many things.

We were told to use an empty shell to scope the sauce onto the clam tart. It was too much hassle, I simply took the whole tartlet and munched into the deliciousness and umami.

1/5 Wine Pairing – Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier NV

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Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier NV 750ml

The NV Brut Premier is a gorgeous wine that stands head and shoulders above the vast majority of wines in its price range. A blend of around 40% Pinot noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier, Brut Premier comprises wine matured in oak tuns produced from three Champagne grape varieties that originate from various crus selected by Louis Roederer. It is aged for 3 years in Louis Roederer’s cellars and left for a minimum of 6 months after dégorgement (disgorging).

Apparently, it is quite possible to make great Champagne that doesn’t cost a small fortune. Ripe pears, smoke, spices, dried flowers and herbs are some of the many nuances that emerge from the glass. The Brut Premier shows lovely mid-palate depth and fabulous overall balance.

2/6 Plates

Next came a series of 7 main courses.

Restaurant Labyrinth Popiah Party

“Popiah Party”, local native herbs, farmed Vannamei prawns, jicama

“As a kid, I used to attend parties where popiah took centrestage as a communal form of dining where you concoct your own variations of popiah based on what you like and what you don’t like. The interaction, table banter and flavours truly represent a culture in itself and has stuck with me since…”

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Restaurant Labyrinth Popiah Party

The first of the main course was a new dish by Chef Han and is a mini DIY popiah set showcasing local native herbs as popiah wraps. Central to a good popiah is the jicama. Jicama is a globe-shaped root vegetable with papery, golden-brown skin and a starchy white interior. It is difficult to prepare because any machine will pulverise the interior and released too much liquid. So you need to cut the jicama by hand into strips and then cook it to its delicious goodness.

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Herbal wraps

Instead of the usual popiah skin, Chef Han provided three different kinds of leaves for the wrap – sweet potato, betel and daun gadut. Arranged like a typical popiah party, you pick the ingredients and put them onto the leaves. You can pick as much or as little you want, then you wrap it like a burrito and eat it.

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A different kind of popiah

The jicama was cooked in blue spanner crab (locally known as flower crab) stock which enhanced the naturally sweetness of mung kwang (what we call it in Singapore) with the umami from the crab. That’s the base ingredient. You take some chilli and oyster sauce and smear them on the leave. Then you pick some shredded Gotu Kola leaves (which give it a fresh, limey fragrance), hard boiled free range eggs, cut wing beans. boiled beansprouts and cooked prawns, and add a liberal amount of mung kwang. Did I mention everything was sourced locally?

2/5 Wine Pairing – Buronga Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2018

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Buronga Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2018

Zingy Australian Sauvignon Blanc from an old winery in the heart of the Murray Darling. This is not widely known among wines from South Eastern Australia.

Ripe tropical fruits of melon and mango with herbaceous aromas of grass, capsicum and asparagus. This is a full-flavoured wine with the classic characters of passionfruit, cut grass and hints of peach.

The crisp and clean sauvignon blanc is excellent with seafood, and has been private labeled by others so it is not exactly a wine connoisseur choice label.

So far, we have been served two rather budget but tasty wines, hopefully the next few were better in value and more full bodied.

Yu Sheng

Kuhlbarra barramundi, ulam rajah, fermented local tomato dressing, “yu sheng” dressing

“Yu Sheng is a  traditional Chinese salad tossed during Chinese New Year for good luck, good health and prosperity. Created in Singapore in the 1960s by the 3 Heavenly Kings of chinese cuisine and has been adapted across Asia. Traditionally tossed with slices of raw fish. Our version showcases Barramundi bred in open sea waters off the coast of Singapore in our local farm and layered with, instead of root vegetable, a native flower called “Ulam Rajah” which has a distinct green mango flavour as well as local strawberries and fermented consommé of local tomatoes.”

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Yu Sheng

Lo Hei” in Cantonese, where 捞 “lo” (literally mixing) means “tossing up good fortune”, refers to the ritual adopted in Singapore of tossing the yu sheng and saying of auspicious phrases before eating it. It is popularly believed that the higher the toss, the better your prospects and fortune in the year ahead.

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Yu Sheng

An ode to yusheng that’s 100% local. The dainty pink flowers aren’t there purely for aesthetic purposes; they’re actually an edible native herb known as ulam rajah, which adds a green mango flavour to the dish.

Bak Chor Mee with Local Squid

Jurong Fishery squid, shrimp sambal,  chinese sweet vinegar, lardo

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Bak Chor Mee with Local Squid

And no, there were no noodles used in this dish. Close your eyes and you can imagine that you are eating bak chor mee. This was one of the fan’s favourite of Chef Han’s innovative creation from previous degustation menus. And many have clamoured for its return. Returned it has, and in a new and improved format.

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Bak Chor Mee with Local Squid

The “mee pok” noodles were made from squid paste and mixed with their local chilli sambal that was packed with the savouriness of dried shrimp and tart from black vinegar.  It was topped with deep fried squid legs and a couple of pieces of flash-fried sliced Hokkaido scallop as “fish cake”, and the piece de resistance, powdered lardo to resemble the bak chor (minced pork).

Local Wild Caught Crab

Local wild caught crab, signature chilli ice cream, egg whites & salted mackerel

“An iconic Singaporean dish. Labyrinth’s version of the Chili Crab has placed us on the culinary map. Showcasing the quality of our own local wild caught crab. The sweet flesh from the crab adds wonderful flavour and depth to our signature chili ice cream.”

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Local Wild Caught Crab

A sentimental mainstay of his menu, Chef Han’s signature chilli crab ice cream has undergone countless iterations over the years.

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Local Wild Caught Crab

Not only has he tweaked the formula of the ice cream, the star of the dish has now shifted from the chilli crab-flavoured ice cream to the fresh and sweet flower crabs wild-caught by fishermen working with Ah Hua Kelong.

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Local Wild Caught Crab

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.

3/5 Wine Pairing – Domaine Paul Pillot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2015

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Domaine Paul Pillot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2015

Describing the flavors of Chardonnay is not easy. While many Chardonnay wines have high aromatic complexity, this is usually due to winemaking techniques (particularly the use of oak) rather than the variety’s intrinsic qualities. Malolactic fermentation gives distinctive buttery aromas. Fermentation and/or maturation in oak barrels contributes notes of vanilla, smoke and hints of sweet spices such as clove and cinnamon. Extended lees contact while in barrel imparts biscuity, doughy flavors. Because of this high level of winemaker involvement, Chardonnay has become known as the “winemaker’s wine”.

Beautiful nose of lemon curd, stones, apples, salt, burned matchstick, caramel/honey and butter. Lovely substance to the mouthfeel, but without a weightiness. Very elegant. Medium long and refreshing finish. Wow for a basic Bourgogne Blanc!

Nippon Koi Farm Silver Perch “Otah”

Nippon Koi Farm silver perch, otah rempeh, all-spice leaf, kaffe lime oil

“Another favourite childhood snack of mine. Showcasing the flavour of locally farmed perch through the deconstruction of the traditional otah dish. This dish showcases the direction where at Labyrinth, we take robust street food and transform it into an elegant and uncompromising dish, based on traditional flavours or techniques.”

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Nippon Koi Farm Silver Perch “Otah”

In traditional otah, the taste of the Spanish mackerel is often overwhelmed by the spices in the rempah. In his modern interpretation, Chef Han uses organically-grown silver perch sourced from Nippon Koi Farm. Instead of blending the fish together with the spices, he spreads the rempah on top of a fillet of silver perch, before folding it into a banana leaf and grilling it over charcoal. The result is a mouth-watering slab of tender fish otah, redolent with the scents of smoked banana leaf and kaffir lime.

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Silver Perch “Otah”

Served alongside is a plate of omega-3 fats extracted from the silver perch, doused with a sweet-and-sour fish consommé for a lighter, acidic touch to cut through the intense flavours of the otah.

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Silver Perch “Otah”
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Silver Perch “Otah”

The aroma had to be experienced to be believed.  The fragrances of the lemongrass lingered on and the fish was exceptionally fresh.  The otah felt light, fresh and fragrant.

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Silver Perch “Otah”

The fish was meant to be transferred in the aromatic soup. The two married very well together. But the soup as a stand alone was too sour for my palate.

4/5 Wine Pairing – Tournon ‘Mathilda’ Shiraz, Victoria, M Chapoutier 2017

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Tournon Mathilda Chapoutier 2017

The origins of Chapoutier go back to the early 19th century but it was only when Max retired in 1977 and his sons Marc and Michel took over that the company really became focussed on quality.

Michel, now in sole charge, has been the driving force behind this and, deciding that quality started in the vineyard, has moved the entire estate over to bio-dynamic cultivation alongside other innovations such as only using natural yeasts and introducing super cuvées of their top wines. They own an important part of the Hermitage hill alongside vineyards in St-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Côte Rôtie, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and others in the south of France and now Australia. Fruit is also bought in. Chapoutier have been vital in taking Rhône wines to a new audience and their growth continues with new cellars on the outskirts of Tain l’Hermitage.

Michel Chapoutier established Tournon in 2007 shortly after purchasing 50 hectares of property in the heart of the Victorian Pyrenees and Heathcote. He recognized that the cool weather patterns and remarkable diversity of soil and exposures in this region would allow him to make distinctive wines from the Syrah/Shiraz grape of his homeland utilizing his biodynamic winegrowing philosophy. Named after the Hermitage commune, Tournon leads the movement in Australia towards elegant, balanced wines. This vintage is full of soft blackberry fruit with smokey hints and good freshness on the finish.

Tze Char Quail from Uncle William’s Farm

Uncle William’s quail, XO butter sauce, har-cheong, sambal kale

“‘Tze Char’ food or otherwise known as ‘wok fried’ street food is akin to comfort food in Singapore where plates after plates of delicious, fragrant wok fried dishes ranging from meat to seafood to rice/noodle dishes are shared amongst families and friends alike. ”

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Tze Char Quail from Uncle William’s Farm

“In this dish, I decide to pay homage to 3 of my most favourite Tze Char dishes – Prawn Paste Chicken, Coffee Grilled Ribs and Sambal Kang Kong using local quail as the main produce on showcase. The quail is presented 2 ways (Prawn Paste Quail Leg and Coffee Smoked Quail Breast) together with a housemade XO Brown Butter and Sambal Kale to recreate the same fragrance and flavours one can get in a Tze Char meal.”

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Tze Char Quail from Uncle William’s Farm

The claws on the quail leg was a bit off-putting. But the har cheong treatment was spot on for a rather gamey poultry. The sambal kale was too little, just one bite, come on! It should be more! The coffee-infused quail breasts were lost on me, I could not taste the coffee and the pieces were cut too small. I wasn’t too hot on the original coffee-infused ribs in the first place.

Claypot “Ang Moh” Chicken Rice

Poultry from Toh Thye San Chicken Farm, kampong chicken, local mushrooms, grandma’s chili sauce

“This dish is created in memory of my ‘Po Po’. She created her version of the Hainanese chicken rice during the colonial era whilst working for a British family. Through sheer creativity, she created a bottom mushroom ‘roux’ sauce to compliment the chicken rice. Eternally grateful that she has shared with me her special recipe.”

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Claypot “Ang Moh” Chicken Rice

Growing up in a close-knit Hainanese family, Chef Han has a soft spot for chicken rice, which his late grandmother often prepared for her British employers. To keep her memories alive, he serves up her rendition of “ang moh” chicken rice at Labyrinth, albeit with some changes.

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Claypot “Ang Moh” Chicken Rice

The recipe remains the same in essence – rice cooked al dente and folded into a creamy chicken and mushroom roux, almost like a risotto — but Chef Han has made some tweaks for flavour, switching out button mushrooms for abalone mushrooms and cooking the chicken differently so it stays tender and moist. Just don’t ask him exactly how the chicken is prepared. “It’s a secret,” chuckles Chef Han. “We spent a month perfecting it!”

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Claypot “Ang Moh” Chicken Rice

The rice used was the Italian risotto, cooked in grandma’s roux sauce to make the familiar chicken rice, the claypot-steamed kampong chicken is locally sourced from Toh Thye San farm, and the chilli sauce made from a recipe by the chef’s grandmother. It all came together perfectly, tasted just like the $3 chicken rice from Tian Tian but more elegant with risotto-style rice.

3/6 Pre Dessert

Breakfast Cereal Prawn

Shaoxing-oat milk ice cream, crystallised prawn heads, curry leaves

“Introducing Labyrinth’s new cereal dish! Inspired by our tze char Cereal Prawn – Deepfried Local Black Shrimp with Cereal, Curry Leaves and Goji Berry served atop 20yrs aged Shaoxing Wine Milk Pudding.”

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Breakfast Cereal Prawns

Cereal Prawn Ice Cream is reinvented as a dessert instead of a popular tze char (stir fry) dish served at dinner.

Have fun pouring the “cereal” into the “milk”.

4/6 Palate Cleanser

Clam Leaf Snow

Local herbs, aloe vera, stingless bee honey, texture of grapes

“A refreshing dessert that utilises all the fruits and flowers in Chinatown market. The clam leaf was an ingredient that I accidentally stumbled upon in the herbs stall in the market. A deep shade of purple is extracted during the boiling process of the leaves. Pairing this unique herb with grape espuma, thinly sliced grapes and fresh rosella meringue.”

Time for a palate cleanser in the form of a “Clam leaf snow”, a shaved ice dessert inspired by the Singaporean favorite Ice Kachang with local herbs, peach gum & textures of grapes. More than your average palate cleanser.

Our waiter even brought out a rosella plant so we could see what it was made from, but this felt more like a rehearsed, robotic scene than a genuine attempt to add value, which I experienced at Waku Ghin and Shinji.

5/5 Wine Pairing – Pio Cesare Moscato d’Asti 2017

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Pio Cesare Moscato d’Asti 2017

The Muscat family of grapes includes over 200 grape varieties belonging to the Vitis vinifera species that have been used in wine production and as raisin and table grapes around the globe for many centuries. Their colors range from white, to yellow, to pink to near black.

Moscato wine is famous for its sweet flavors of peaches and orange blossom. The word Moscato (“moe-ska-toe”) is the Italian name for Muscat Blanc – one of the oldest wine grapes in the world!

From old vines in selected vineyards in Santa Vittoria d’Alba, in Neviglie and in Trezzo Tinella, the moscato grapes are softly pressed and partially cold fermented, and aged n stainless steel tanks with extensive lees contact.

Flavors of honey, rich ripe fruit, fragrant and aromatic. Slightly “frizzante”. The nose is fresh. Produced in very limited quantity.

5/6 Sweet

“The Crispy Edges of the Min Jiang Kueh”

“Another of my all time favourite hawker snacks, the most desirable part of the Min Jiang Kueh (chinese style pancake) is the corners where the edges are extra crispy and hawkers had to dictate that customers could not pick and choose which part they wanted. In our version, everyone gets the crispy edge and we made the edges extra large on top of that! Traditionally served with margarine, grated peanut or red bean paste, we serve our version with local floral jam or homemade kaya or local bean to bar chocolate-soy sauce spread or chicken floss or grated peanuts; so pick your own flavour combination!”

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“The Crispy Edges of the Min Jiang Kueh”

Long before pancakes with maple syrup and bacon were in vogue here, a more humble variant of pancakes ruled the food scene. Enter the min jiang kueh, a traditional turnover pancake that is sandwiched with fillings such as golden showers of crushed peanuts and neon-orange shredded coconut and dollops of red bean paste.

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“The Crispy Edges of the Min Jiang Kueh”

Moist and fluffy, min jiang kueh is a trusty grab-and-go breakfast option that is served piping hot fresh from the griddle.

The dessert is made up of two parts – a soft centre made up of the pancake and a wrapper that is made up of a thinner crust like an egg roll. You can choose from a variety of fillings, I opted for the kaya jam and pork floss, a sweet and savoury combination.

“Pasar Malam” Night Market

local corn, Hay Diaries goat milk butter, gula jawa-salted egg popcorn

“Based on the local corn that we grew and harvested ourselves – False Corn made of grilled Corn Sorbet, Caramelised Popcorn with Salted Egg, semi melted butter and “Cotton Candy” made of Corn Silk, finished with a warm Corn Tea made with the husks of the corn. Reminiscent of my childhood where I would indulge myself in Corn Cup, Cotton Candy and Popcorn at Pasar Malams (night markets) on weekends.”

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“Pasar Malam” Night Market

A  trio of desserts – a cotton candy made with gula jawa and corn silk, a corn sorbet of frozen corn with caramel popcorn and a corn husk tea.

6/6 Petit Fours

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Petit Fours

A quartet of kueh kueh – Kueh Bingka Ubi, Bahulu, Putu Piring and a

 

The petit fours were quite substandard. The putu piring was crumply and dry. The kueh bahulu was hard and stale. I decided to skip the rest. And they didn’t even offer tea or coffee.

It was an enjoyable night full of surprises. We appreciate how Chef Han turned ordinary ingredients into extraordinary dishes. My suggestion is to those who have not been as exposed to the Singaporean food culture to get a crash course at 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 Han’s source of inspiration and gauge his mission’s amplitude in showcasing and preserving Singapore culinary heritage.

However the service has a lot to be asked for. Staff were not attentive and intruded at the wrong time. They were rushing to explain through the back story and complicated setup of each course. I only wished the service to be as good as the food.

Restaurant Labyrinth
Esplanade Mall, 8 Raffles Avenue #02-23, Singapore 039802
Tel : 6223 4098

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Date Visited : Feb 2020

Michelin Singapore Guide 1 Star 2017 – 2019

1 comment on “Labyrinth @ Esplanade

  1. Pingback: Michelin Singapore 2019 – live2makan

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