It’s interesting to follow a young chef’s career as I have for Chef Nixon Low from Petite Menu to the Portico group to Jiakpalang Eating House at Alexandra Road, just beside the PSA building. Experience plays a part in the progression of a chef, and Low has grown from strength to strength.
Jiakpalang Eating House (which means eat until full or an eclectic mix) presents a return to Low’s roots of his love for Singaporean cuisine. The restaurant adds to the growing diversity of mod sin (modern Singaporean) cuisine; in the past, mod sin was found only at fine-dining restaurants, but recently, there are mod sin grill, mod sin cafe, mod sin wine bar, and now, mod sin cze char!
During lunch, the restaurant serves rice bowls at $ 6.90 for busy executives (recommended: sesame soy chicken rice bowl) while for dinner, they offer mod sin cze char food, suitable for big groups or families.
The three appetizers are flawless in design and taste. Mr Fitness, who hates tomato, recommends the sour plum vine tomato ($ 7): a whole tomato is compressed in a vacuum bag with sour plum sauce for 24 hours. It then lies effortlessly on a bed of wakame seaweed to provide texture and umami.
My favorite appetizer, cream of mushroom soup ($ 8), combines Asian mushrooms and Western cooking; instead of fresh mushroom usually used for mushroom soup, they use dried shiitake mushrooms that are soaked and softened and roasted. The muskiness of dried mushrooms gives depth to the dish, giving the cream a deeper, almost cheese-like flavor.
Singaporeans will recognize this tofu with century egg sauce ($ 7).While I thought the sauce could be more pungent, the tobiko roe provides a nice crunchy texture to an otherwise soft dish. The pickled ginger serves to undercut the denseness of the sauce.
The dishes are best served with rice, of course, so when I say “mains,” I don’t mean it in a Western one-dish style. I mean in a Singaporean communal style where we order a few mains to eat with rice.
Here, the main har cheong gai ($ 13) is smartly presented as a roulade. The chicken thigh is marinated with shrimp paste for 6 hours. It is then rolled into roulade, and steamed for 30 minutes. After resting it for a while for the water to dry completely, it is deep-fried until crispy. It comes with calamasi mayo. I like this dish because firstly, it is difficult to make a good tender roulade and they achieve it here; and secondly, no bones! However, I suppose traditionalists may prefer wings and drumsticks because they have more skin to meat ratio.
Charcoal Katarosu pork collar ($ 16) is inspired by coffee pork ribs at cze char stalls. The pork with a beautiful bitter char is seared and smoked in charcoal. Kopi C sauce is drizzled and coffee soil is powdered over it.
The “Ang Ji Kao” stout-braised beef cheek ($ 17) is inspired by uncles drinking stout and eat peanuts at kopitiams. The tender beef cheeks, braised in beef stock and stout for 24 hours, is paired with peanut butter mash. This dish is pretty weird to us because it feels like eating beef with peanut butter. I suggest adjusting the proportion of potato to peanut butter for the mash; the mash should have just a hint of peanut butter instead of the dominance it has now.
From the name, assam Pulau Ubin seabass ($ 15), you know the fish is locally sourced, reducing carbon footprints. Fresh fish is best steamed or pan-seared; any other flowery method is a waste of good fish. And here, the fish is cooked fantastically; very fresh with crisp skin and moist flesh. However, we thought the assam curry wasn’t sour enough; more tamarind and some tomatoes please.
You can’t see it from the photo, but the plating of the fish is gorgeous. Only half the plate has curry; the curry is blocked by a wall of ingredients. Pretty cool.
Milo Dinosaur ($ 8): Milo panna cotta, milo crumbs, dinosaur eggs (housemade shiratama or Japanese rice ball)
All in all, we were very satisfied with the mod sin food here. Traditionalists may lament the loss of heritage, but culture and food evolve constantly to suit the needs of the times. What we eat now–even the so-called “traditional” hawker food–isn’t the same as what people ate 50 years ago; the ingredients themselves have changed because of selective farming. Our tastes have also changed; what people liked 50 years ago, we may not like it now. The only reason people hold on to the past is out of an inertia and resistance to change. But time does not stop and there is no use holding on to the past; we should march forward towards the future. And, after eating at Jiakpalang, the future looks bright.
Jiakpalang Eating House
456 Alexandra Road, #01-04/ 06 Fragrance Empire Building Singapore 119962
tel: +65 6266 8511
11.30am-10pm, closed weekends
You may be interested in…
–Wine & Chef, Keong Saik Road: Surprisingly Good Mod Sin Food With $ 6 a Glass of Italian Boutique Wine
–Po Restaurant, The Warehouse Hotel, Robertson Quay: $ 28 Popiah and Other Mod Sin Cuisine by Willin Low and Lo & Behold Group
–Redpan, Marina Square: BESTEST Modern Singapore Fusion Food by GRUB and DP Architects
–The Quarters, Icon Village Tanjong Pagar: Mod-Sin Cafe, Durian Creme Brulee, Buah Keluah Ice Cream
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.