Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Antoinette Heritage Menu - The Hakka Son Returns

Sometimes, it is all about the execution. And in the case of Mod-Sin cuisine, very few can pull it off, not even the originator of that movement.

But now, Chef Pang from Antoinette has come dangerously close to making Mod-Sin his own. And in the process, he has also thoughtfully revisited his Hakka roots, something that I have always wished for.

For years, I have longed for his Hakka dumplings to be available in some commercial form, but never could I have imagined he would take his Hakka food memories and translate them into a gorgeous fine dining edition.

Then again, one can never anticipate his each and every dessert move. Year in and year out, he has always managed to come up with aesthetically stunning sweet pieces that resemble more of an artist than a baker. And time and time again, he can always deliver on the flavour to prove it's not just fluff.

Yet, his savoury menu has all this while, consisted of only classic French fare as a way to lead in to his dessert highlights. Now he has just come up with a heritage menu that might even put his sweet works of art on the backburner. And a menu that has encompassed not just his dialect roots, but a brief Singaporean cuisine overview.

Kale Caesar

His idea of a Caesar salad is anything but the conventional trappings. A chicken roulade that has a Chinese infusion of five spice will remind you of the best Ngor Hiang you never had, and yet the roulade harks back to his classic training.

The kale salad on the side is even more surprising, and grabs you with its vibrant freshness and colour. The quinoa pearls providing playful textural context while the sweetness of the butternut squash counters perfectly with the bitter nuttiness of the much debated vegetable.

Suan Pan Zhi Gnocchi

This beautifully plated dish is not only a supreme highlight, but it is a superb culmination of Chef Pang's culinary journey thus far. Hakka in its origin, but modern in its execution and presentation. Various potato categories replace the classic yam balls, yet somehow it makes just as much sense to recall the breakfast Hakka staple.

The cured minced pork is what makes this dish so delicious, with its familiar and comforting savoury taste that flavours each gnocchi dumpling and gives it both a depth and a nostalgia that is equal parts brilliant and creative. Yet, it is the execution that nails this dish and exemplifies what a Mod-Sin dish should be. A perfect and heady mix of old and new, east and west that leaves you wanting more even after that last bite.

Chicken Rice

I have often dismissed any chicken rice fusion dish, with the ridiculous risottos marking a low point in this Hainanese update. Truth be told, I was just as skeptical prior to actually tasting it. Undoubtedly it is a colourful plate that is almost playful.

The first couple of spoonfuls soon laid my fears to waste. The barley as a rice alternative works really well with the tried and tested flavours of ginger, scallion, garlic and shallots. The poached chicken is suitably moist and tender, and the garnishes like the fried chicken skin add a western touch that are not out of place. Ultimately, it is all about recalling all the classic tones of a good chicken rice but almost deconstructed.

Admittedly, there are slight missteps on this new menu like the chilli crab arancini that misses the mark. But overall, everything else on the new heritage menu has shown that Chef Pang still has the Midas and mojo with him.

Having the privilege to have talked to him over the years, it is clear that food is not just a profession to him. It is also more than just a passion. It is simply something more. His unconditional affection for his family and in particular, his children, has always been reflected in his food and dessert creations.

Whilst he has not named any of his savoury items after his little ones, the care and attention in creating and executing the new dishes is reflective of the great man himself. He demands the highest in quality, yet he also has a receptive chef's mind to soak in all that is around him.

And that is what separates Chef Pang from the usual Singaporean chef. If this new menu is a harbinger or greater things to come, then I honestly cannot wait for the next chapter in Antoinette's fascinating culinary journey.

Somewhere on Penhas Street, you should know it by now anyway

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