Led by Chef Malcolm Lee, Candlenut has seen its fair share of rave reviews as well as critiques; the latter often comprises traditionalists or punctilious Peranakans who assert that Peranakan dishes ought to be served as they were, without fanfare and void of elevation. Think Buah Keluak.
Chef Lee, who is himself a Peranakan, knows this and he is not in the slightest way fazed by what the naysayers posit. To him, cooking for a restaurant and at home are two separate activities. The former requires consistency and culinary innovation paves the way for that consistency, he said in an interview with Tatler Asia. “Tradition can be modern when you start at the beginning and ask yourself why this cuisine is unique,” he had said. Put simply, he looks back to move forward.
Combined with his profound respect for both culinary artistry and Peranakan traditions, it makes sense that under his leadership and his team’s collective effort, Candlenut was conferred a Michelin star.
Beyond knowing the nuts and bolts of Peranakan cuisine, the staff at Candlenut are also foodies at heart who know where the best grubs are on the sunny island. From Chef Lee’s executive assistant to Candlenut’s front of house staff, The Homeground Asia asked the team’s go-to places for a comforting meal.
We hear from Malcolm Lee, Chef-Owner of Candlenut; Rachel Ang, the Executive Assistant to Chef Lee; Brian Chan, a Sous Chef; Veronica Liew, a Cook-turned-Pastry Chef; Lim Zi Qiang, a Cook; Joyce Tan, a Chef; Isabel Lobenaria, a Service Leader.
Malcolm Lee, Chef-Owner of Candlenut
A familiar name in the local culinary scene, Chef Lee is the owner and head chef of the one-Michelin starred mod Peranakan restaurant. A gentle-mannered chef, Chef Lee has long been an advocate of local traditions and heritage. As a Peranakan, Chef Lee reveals that he grew up eating food infused with spices, such as curries or dishes comprising sambal – all of which are what he calls his favourite comfort food.
Chef Lee is also an advocate of local zi-char (or ‘stir fry’) restaurants, with Keng Eng Kee Seafood in Alexandra Village being one of his favourites. “There’s just something comforting about digging into the homey flavours of familiar zi-char dishes,” he says. At Keng Eng Kee Seafood, Chef Lee recommends first-timers to try the signature moonlight hor fun, a dark wok-fried kway teow (flat rice noodles) dish with bean sprouts, fatty slices of lap cheong (Chinese sausage), some greens and topped with a raw egg yolk. He adds: “Slightly charred with a smoky flavour and rich with the fragrance of pork lard, I like how a simple egg yolk can add so much more depth and texture to this tasty dish.”
Photo Credit: Keng Eng Kee Seafood
Keng Eng Kee Seafood
124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-136, Singapore 150124
Monday to Sunday: 11.30am – 2pm; 5pm – 10pm
Rachel Ang, Executive Assistant to Chef Malcolm Lee
Equipped with an easy-going personality, Rachel Ang, the Executive Assistant to Chef Malcolm, confesses that she is not picky with food, seemingly defying the unspoken assumption that all chefs are fastidious with what they eat. For Mrs Ang, meals from fast food restaurant chains, like McDonald’s, are her definition of comfort food. Even so, mother of one would sometimes give in to and binge on a non-spicy tteokbokki (rice cakes).
However, when quipped about her favourite haunt, the East Coast Lagoon Food Village comes to mind. “I grew up near (East Coast Park),” she says. “You can have coconut juice, barbeque chicken wings, satay, fried carrot cake, and I will always finish my meal with an ice cream from the ice cream man.”
East Coast Lagoon Food Village
1220 East Coast Park, Singapore 468960
Sunday to Friday: 5pm – 12am
Saturday: 12pm – 12am
Brian Chan, Sous Chef
Between the years 2009 and 2015, Sous Chef Brian Chan had a 6-year stint at the critically acclaimed, one Michelin Star French restaurant La Folie in San Francisco, California. It was not until November 2015 that he joined Chef Malcolm Lee and his team at Candlenut. For Mr Chan, his go-to comfort food is a meal comprising hot soup and rice. That is why he raves about Yong Lai Fai Ji Shu Shi’s sliced fish soup (with a topping of milt) at Circuit Road Market Food Centre.
“It’s really affordable and of good quality too,” Mr Chan says. “Plus, I love the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from drinking a hearty bowl of soup.”
Circuit Road Market & Food Centre
80 Circuit Road, Singapore 370080
Monday to Sunday: 5am – 2pm
Veronica Liew, Cook
On a hot sunny day, Veronica Liew, a cook at Candlenut, delights in a bowl of Ice Kachang, a classic Southeast Asian dessert comprising shaved ice and coloured sugar syrups, at Bukit Merah View Market & Food Centre. “I’d always go there for at least two bowls of ice kachang.It’s cheap and really, really good,” Ms Liew says. “During afternoon tea, you’d see many ordering chendol, tau suan, cheng tng, or pulut hitam too.”
When it comes to scouring for the next big meal to feast on, the self-professed foodie claims to always be quite on the ball. “Call me a glutton, but my joy has always revolved around eating or enjoying the company I have,” she says. On days she spent off work, Ms Liew would be busy brainstorming what to cook for her family. “What I cook in the end depends on my cravings. Sometimes, I turn to South Korean food variety shows, such as ‘Stars’ Top Recipe at Fun-Staurant’, for inspiration.”
Ms Liew also recommends having Japanese tonkatsu at Tonkichi in Ngee Ann City. For her, the pairing between a thick slab of crispy tonkatsu and the restaurant’s free-flow (and refreshing) cabbage is a match made in heaven. “The best part? Pair that with a pint of ice-cold beer. It’s really sinful yet satisfying,” she says.
Bukit Merah View Market & Food Centre
115 Bukit Merah View, Singapore 151115
Monday to Sunday: 7am – 9pm
391 Orchard Rd, #04-24, Singapore 238872
Monday to Thursday: 11am – 3pm, 5pm – 10pm
Friday to Sunday: 11am – 10pm
Lim Zi Qiang, Cook
Having joined Candlenut back in January 2021, cook Lim Zi Qiang is a new face at the Michelin-starred restaurant. But even so, he has had several notable stints under his belt; having had previously worked under Chef Brandon Jew at the Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s in California as well as Chef Jeremy Choo, from whom he learned the basics of French cooking, at the now-defunct Vis-à-Vis restaurant.
For Mr Lim, pig intestine soup and braised pork belly have become his favourite comfort food. “The food I grew up eating was simple and nothing fancy,” he reminisces, highlighting how his grandmother would spend hours on end whipping up a piping hot bowl of pig intestine soup during the Lunar New Year.
His favourite dining haunt is at Lorong Ah Soo Hawker Food Centre (Hainanese Village). “This hawker centre is home to plenty of old-school hawker fares,” Mr Lim says. “Working overseas made me realise how much I miss hawker food, and how they reflect Singapore’s identity and culture.”
On what stalls should first-timers try there, Mr Lim gushes out an extensive list of recommendations, including the minced pork noodles at Punggol Noodles. “The stall owner may have lost his right hand due to an industrial accident, but he is still able to whip up these delicious minced pork noodles.” He also suggests trying out HeHe Min Jiang Kueh, which is now run by a second-generation degree-holder, for a tea-time snack.
Lorong Ah Soo Hawker Food Centre (Hainanese Village)
105 Hougang Avenue 1, Singapore 530105
Monday to Sunday: 6am – 6pm
Joyce Tan, Chef
Dim Sum lover Joyce Tan will never say no to a trip to Taiwanese restaurant franchise Din Tai Fung for a meal. Impeccable service and consistent food quality across the franchise outlets are what drives her to return for more. “I came to know of the place when my aunt brought my relatives and me there,” the chef says. A true-blue fan, Ms Tan has savoured almost everything on the menu and her favourites include the “good ol’ egg fried rice”, steamed chicken soup (or as she calls it “chicken soup for the soul”), and the indispensable Xiao Long Bao. For desserts, however, she would settle for a warm fudgy brownie with a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s at home or at other dessert kiosks. “That’s what I call a feel-good dessert that gives me plenty of endorphins.”
Isabel Lobenaria, Service Leader
As someone with food allergies, service leader Isabel Lobenaria understands the struggles of navigating a restaurant menu before a meal all too well. Fortunately for her, a chanced-upon google search for vegan kimchi brought her to the health food restaurant The Gut’s Feeling.
“The way they prepare their food and their friendly staff reminded me of how we, at Candlenut, are committed to serving guests with excellent service and detailed presentation of the food,” Ms Lobenaria says. From vegan kimchi to non-dairy ice cream, healthy protein bowls to burgers made using organic wholemeal sourdough buns, there are plenty of green options to choose from. Her recommendation? The sourdough burger with turmeric fish, kimchi and silverfish sambal sauce.
For her, the best meal is, as she calls, “satisfying”, “light on the stomach”, and “nutritious”.
The Gut’s Feeling
1 Fusionopolis Pl, #01-16/17 Galaxis, Singapore 138522
Monday to Friday: 11am – 8.30pm
Saturday: 11am – 2.30pm
Closed on Sundays