Singapore’s first Russian restaurant, Troika, opened in 1963. When Troika shut its doors in 1986, nine of its former staff – mostly Hainanese folks – got together to create Shashlik at Far East Shopping Centre. Today, a sixth-generation chef helms the kitchen.
Lots of Nostalgia
Shashlik was set up by the late Mr Tan Niap Hin and eight colleagues, together with an original group of 10 staff from the now-defunct Russian restaurant Troika when Troika closed down in 1985. Opened on 23 April 1986, Shashlik made a name for itself serving Russian and continental cuisine with a Hainanese touch.
The iconic restaurant closed its doors in December 2015, this time because many of the originals have passed away, retired or going to retire. And timing coincided with the expiry of the lease at Far East Shopping Centre where they have operated since opening. Many words of reluctance were shared and so it was brought back in March 2016 by new owners, chef Derrick Tan, who now helms the kitchen, his elder brother Alan Tan (both children of the late of Mr Tan) and business partner Lee Say Yeow.
They retained the mustard-yellow table cloth of the original Shashlik, the 10 wall lanterns from the original Troika and lots of memorabilia from the past. The front staff still don the maroon vest that remind me of those dining scenes in black and white Cantonese movies. The walls were repainted to a dark colour to “highlight” the flames when they do the flambé for the table side service.
And then there’s the original kitchen doors. They were incorporated into decor, blocking up the old washrooms which have even converted into storage space.
I think there’s no where else in the world that would serve this cuisine – while the roots of the menu items are Russian, but the influence is definitely Hainanese. The Russian roots came from the Russian chef from Troika, Mamochka “Mummy” Liber. The elder Tan took over with his band of brothers, many were Hainanese cooks on Russian ships. They incorporated MSG and soy sauce as part of the seasoning to give it that distinct Hainanese/Chinese touch.
To kick off dinner, warm and soft sweet dinner rolls made in-house were placed on the bread plate with the SCS salted butter. Sweet and savoury, unpretentious and down to earth. It was so good we asked for seconds.
A hearty classic Russian broth, served with chunks of beef brisket, slow cooked to perfection
If you are looking to the authentic beetroot based Russian borsch, this is not it. The tomato-based broth is packed with cabbage, carrots, potato but only a single cube of beef. Take the offer made by brisk service staff who sidle up table side once the soup is served. The silver jug they bear holds the key to what makes this soup extra delicious – sour cream, which the staff are more than happy to give you a generous dollop of if you say yes. Do, because the cream thickens the soup and adds a tanginess to each spoonful you take.
French Onion Soup
Consommé of beef and herb-sautéed onions, served with melted cheese and croutons
Thick slice of cheese-covered crouton floats on a flavourful clear beef consommé with caramelised onions. This is a favourite among those not accustomed to the thick and rich borscht.
Homemade Russian pancakes served with caviar and sour cream
Blinis are Russian pancakes, and instead of the traditional buckwheat flour, they use the normal wheat flour here at Shashlik. Made thin like crepes, it is served with a quenelle of sour cream and caviar on top. Would be perfect if there’s some chopped chives on it.
Escargots à la Bourguignonne
Escargots sautéed in savoury homemade parsley garlic butter and toasted till fragrant
The snails were standard issue, but it was the garlic butter that stole the show and made us ate all the sweet buns.
Shashlik retains the table side service that is signature to their presentation of the dishes. The wood and steel trolley has seen better times, but they are all a part of the experience.
The meats are served on cast iron hot plates, no fancy plating.
Shashlik of Beef
Lean beef tenderloin skewers, infused with house-specialty marinade for 24 hours, served on a sizzling hot plate
The word shashlik or shashlick entered English from the Russian shashlyk, of Turkic origin. In Turkic languages, the word shish means skewer, and shishlik is literally translated as “skewerable”.
Marinated with herbs and their secret marinade and soy sauce, the signature beef shashlik done medium rare is tender and juicy. Unlike many restaurants that serve shashlik as grilled beef cubes on a skewer, here it comes as a long piece of tenderloin sizzling on a hot plate.
Blue Fire Ribs
Fall-off-the-bone pork loin ribs, glazed with Ah Kor’s Hainanese Sweet & Sour sauce, flambéed with dark rum at tableside
Unlike their American cousins, these ribs are moist yet folk tender. The sauce reminded me of Hainanese pork chops, hints of Maggi seasoning and lots of ketchup. The full slap is nine bones, but it is not the full slab of ribs from the same pig. So you will not get that few smaller ribs that have the soft bones that I love so much.
The ribs came with really simple side dishe of a mesclun salad with simple vinegar and olive oil dressing, and the shashlik came with a Russian-style potato salad, coleslaw and sliced vegetables.
Homemade crêpe, flambéed with brandy sauce, served with ice cream
The signature Crêpe Suzette is completed by the table. Make sure you get your smartphone ready on video mode. The server tries to get the flames as high as possible with the flambe, so it’s always a good photo or video opportunity.
The Crêpe Suzette is served with a ball of vanilla ice cream. The vanilla ice cream brings back memories of the ice cream stand in Marine Parade Centre, a simpler time of ending the day with a sweet treat after the regular evening walks with my dad. The alcohol was slightly burnt and left a bitter aftertaste. Other than that little flaw, it was a memorable dessert to end the dinner with your love ones.
Shashlik is not fine dining, it does not even try to be. Although the food is top quality, there’s always that down-to-earth uniqueness of Hainanese Western food in every dish. What it also has a plenty is heart and soul. It is always comforting to know that an establishment like Shashlik has stood the test of time and the incredibly cut-throat restaurant business in Singapore.
The food is top notch, and the service endearing, but Slavic it ain’t. Like what I always say, 哥吃的是回忆。
#06-19 Far East Shopping Centre, 545 Orchard Road
Tel : 6732 6401
Date Visited : Sep 2020