Good Eats

Indocafé the white house @ Newton

When you say Indocafé, a beautiful lady in batik came to mind, holding a cup of coffee. If I said they also serve one of the best Peranakan food in Singapore, would you believe me?

Peranakan delight in a colonial bungalow

Housed in a colonial black-and-white, the elegant Peranakan restaurant was understated. Because of its association with Indocafé, the instant coffee maker, it has been mistaken as an Indonesian restaurant. But once inside, you will be served with one of the best traditional Peranakan food in Singapore. I didn’t say that, Michelin gave them a Bib Gourmand accolade in 2019.

Traditional Starter – keropok with sambal belachan

Keropok is an Indonesian deep fried crackers made from starch and other ingredients such as prawn, squid, fish, etc that serve as flavouring. It is commonly eaten as a snack and comes a dried piece of dough that needs to be deep fried a hot wok of oil. The dough expands and becomes really crunchy. To enhance the flavour of the crackers, one would eat them with popular condiments like sambal belachan (fermented prawn chili paste) and sour pickles called sambal buay.

Prawn cracker (keropok)

As a started we ere served a plate of prawn and fish crackers with their signature sambal belachan in a beautiful china enamel pot. The crackers flew off the plate in no time.

Indocafé Signature Kueh Pie Tee

Crispy ‘top hat’ pastry cups filled with shredded turnip, served with prawns crabmeat and homemade chili dip

Kueh pie tee is perennial favourite in the Peranakan repertoire. It is made up of 3 main parts – a pastry cup made using batter coated on a mould and deep fried in oil, a filling made of shredded turnip cooked with oyster sauce, chichup (sweet sticky soy sauce), dried shrimps and fried shallots, and finally an assortment of condiments, most common being crabmeat, boiled prawns, chili, parsley and deep fried garlic.

This is a party favourite where one would assemble their own ‘cup’ of goodies, first by scooping a spoonful of turnip into the cup, which in itself can be a challenge. And then you add whatever condiments you want. As a kid, I used to challenge my nieces to make the highest hip.

And then you have the challenge of eating in one gulp. Why do I remember it to be that tough when I was a kid?

Ngoh hiang and kueh pie tee

Ngoh Hiang

Five-spiced marinated minced pork with prawn, water chestnuts and spring onions, wrapped in soy bean curd skin – deep fried

My mom’s an expert in this Teochew/Hokkien dish that the Peranakan bibiks (Nyonya mothers) have hijacked and made them more extravagant. First, their version is bigger and the flavour more robust and complex with use of spices. Nevertheless, I still prefer mom’s because it was more palatable.

Sambal Kang Kong

Fragrant sautéed water spinach with spicy sambal chili

Sambal kang kong

The family favourite, and every bibik vary this dish with their own sambal.

Indocafé Signature Wagyu Beef Rendang

Slow cooked wagyu beef cheeks in Indocafé’s special blend of spices

Wagyu beef rendang

Now, rendang is always work of art. First the rempah (spice mix), I have yet to taste two rendang that are the same. Their signature wagyu rendang has a very gingerly taste (not in anyway bad) with a liberal use of galangal. Because rendang is a slow-cooked dish, the use of wagyu beef was totally lost in this dish. The beef cheek is fork-tender and deeply infused with the fragrance of the rempeh. It would worked however with normal beef cheeks but when you put the sauce on steamed rice, the rendered fats from the wagyu began to contribute tremendously to the layering in taste. Recommended with steamed rice and not the rich fried rice we ordered.

Buah Keluak Fried Rice

Fragrant fried rice with black nut paste, served with shredded chicken, prawns and peanuts

Buah keluak fried rice

We didn’t expect the rendang to be that powerful so we ordered something that our Hong Kong friends would not get back home – buah keluak. The kepayang “fruit” or buah keluak is actually the seed of the kepayang tree. Kepayang fruits are tricky little things. The raw seed contains cyanide and is deadly poisonous. Locals of Pahang, where they are produced, know that they could cause illness, or what they term “mabuk” or drunkenness. If the villagers’ chickens accidentally eat uncured kepayang, they die.

If properly cured, however, they are culinary miracles. But kepayang curing – which involves boiling, immersion in ash and burial in the ground for an extended period – is a dying art. This ‘black gold’ is used as the main flavour of the fried rice. The chocolatey, nutty, smoky, acidic, complex taste of the buah keluak overpowered every other ingredients and condiments in the fried rice. Either you love it or hate.

The Black and Whites

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Indocafé the White House

The beautiful black and white houses/bungalows of Singapore, now often referred to locally as simply ‘black and whites’, are an important legacy of Singapore’s colonial era. Apart from being aesthetically intriguing, they are often admired for their exotic mixture of styles skillfully adapted for the local tropical monsoon climate.

Along Scotts Road, there were a row of these beautiful bungalows that have been converted to restaurants and spas. Besides Indocafé, there’s the Micheline 1-star Song of India, and Japanese restaurant Ki-sho.

The restaurant was very popular, book in advance. The food was great, the service attentive, and the atmosphere wonderful. And we had a good meal because the company was what that mattered.

Indocafé the white house
35 Scotts Road, Singapore 228227
Tel : +65 6733 2656

Date Visited : Oct 2016

Michelin Singapore Guide 2019 Bib Gourmand

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