Find comfort food in a stranger’s home
More home cooks turning their homes into private dining halls
For foodies decrying the lack of dining options, look into your neighbour's flat.
There might be a thriving food business going on there because more home cooks have turned their homes into private dining halls.
Thanks to word of mouth and social media, some home dining places are booming, and it is not uncommon to wait weeks to get a table. Even as I am compiling this, I am waiting to eat at Ben Fatto 95 next month.
Home dining is not cheap though. The average price is about $90 a person for each meal, and you will need about eight diners before you can get a reservation. (Addresses will be provided when you call to book).
If you are just wading into the sea of home cooks, here is a quick guide.
Jalan Klinik. Tel: 9338-6439
Price: $120 a person, minimum eight to dine, maximum 10.
Pay half in advance.
Veteran celebrity make-up artist Tinoq Russell Goh may be famous for painting faces, but these days, his cooking skills are equally in demand.
You will need to book months in advance if you want to dine at his colourful, over-the-top Housing Board flat. The food is Peranakan, the mood is jovial and the setting is intimate. Goh is a natural host, running in and out of the kitchen with food in his hands and a joke or eight on his lips.
It is difficult for me to pick my favourite dish because I like so many, but standouts are the bakwan kepiting, sweet potato leaves with a to-die-for hae bee hiam and ayam limau purut with kaffir leaves picked from his garden.
OWNSELF MAKE CHEF
Redhill. E-mail email@example.com for reservations.
Price: $99 a person, minimum eight, maximum 12.
She has public dinners every Saturday too, so you can go in smaller groups.
Ownself Make Chef is the latest project from Mod-Sin chef Shen Tan.
Her 10-course aPORKalypse XII menu is a wonder to behold, especially if you are a fan of pork. Every dish on the menu features pork. One of my favourites is the uni pork rice bowl, with an amazing pork jowl char siew (above).
Even dessert has pork: Her bacon ice cream sandwich has sweet potato lard bread with gula melaka butterscotch ice cream and grated coconut, served with candied bacon (above).
BABA STEVEN'S PRIVATE DINING
Bukit Batok. Tel: 9750-6564
Price: $450 for a table of eight
One of the newest players, Baba Steven is a former chef in his 70s. Together with his wife, he serves home-style Peranakan favourites, and their dinner is one of the friendliest on the wallet.
In terms of presentation, the food is low-key and homely. The flavours are not extravagant too.
But Baba Steven's draw are classic dishes that do not appear often, such as ikan kuah lada (above) and tulang babi sio. I also love the really simple but effective chilli sotong (below).
Tanjong Pagar. Reservations via lynnetteskitchen.com
Price: $120 a person, minimum eight.
For me, the kitchen that started the ball rolling belongs to Cultural Medallion recipient and Singapore Women's Hall of Fame inductee Lynnette Seah. The internationally acclaimed violinist has been cooking for friends for ages and continues to do so when she is not playing the violin.
She doesn't just let anyone into her home - you have to be referred, before you can get a reservation.
Seah is cultured, elegant and learned. As she joins you at the dinner table and speaks deftly on issues from politics to fitness, it is difficult not to be awed.
Seah has some signature dishes. My favourites are her tender beef rendang (above) and awesome sugee cake (below) - one of the best I've tasted.
THE MUSTARD SEED POP UP
Potong Pasir. Reservations via firstname.lastname@example.org, although there are no more spaces left this year.
Price: $85 a person, maximum eight diners
You can dine here only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. And all seats have been reserved this year.
Gan Ming Kiat, a chef that has worked in the kitchens of Goto and Candlenut, probably boasts the most gracefully plated food of all the home kitchens. It is like a fine-dining establishment inside an HDB flat.
Gan seems shy - even awkward - and serves the food quietly and without flourish. The food reflects its maker too. Dishes are muted, refined but hint at something deeper.
His turmeric frog legs (above) and his version of the yong tau foo (below, with crab ball, egg tofu and yellow bean broth) had my foodie friends cooing with excitement.
LUCKY HOUSE CANTONESE PRIVATE KITCHEN
Upper East Coast Road. Tel: 9823-7268
Price: $100 a person, minimum eight.
Another stalwart of the home dining scene, businessman Sam Wong is a self-taught chef and cooks Cantonese food. And judging from the fact that he is booked till August next year and that he has increased his price from $80 to $100, the new players have not affected his business.
He was just cooking for friends when Lianhe Zaobao did a feature on him, and since then, demand has been going strong.
Wong's food is restaurant-style comfort food. He is not fond of excessive seasoning and prefers to let the natural sweetness of the ingredients take over. This results in a bland pork and peanut soup but a remarkably sweet crayfish omelette (above).
His roast duck (above) and the concubine chicken are signature dishes too.
Upper East Coast Road. E-mail email@example.com to book.
Price: $95 a person, minimum six diners, maximum nine.
Not only is Annette Tan a food writer, she teaches cooking and cooks for her private kitchen named Fatfuku.
Her dishes are Peranakan and Eurasian, picked up from her family and neighbours.
She can eloquently share nuggets of food information in between courses, so it is like a lesson and a meal together.
She does not make her nangka lemak (above) often but it is very good.
Her signature dish - crispy mee siam (above) - is excellent, and you will want repeat servings.
I love how her plating and even her table is made for Instagram.