Photo: Instagram / Ah Hua Kelong
Singapore is hardly a farming society, but – like everywhere else – the farm-to-table concept is catching on here. With more vegetable and fish farms popping up, there is enough harvest to sell to restaurants.
The owners of Ah Hua Kelong, which has an online home delivery service for seafood, are going into the restaurant business themselves to showcase their produce. They have stalls selling steamed and grilled seafood at The Grandstand and The Bedok Marketplace, but recently started a proper restaurant called Scaled By Ah Hua Kelong. It uses the kitchen at cocktail bar Bar Stories, located on the second floor of a shophouse in Haji Lane, and serves dinner in the bar.
Photo: Bar Stories / Dave Koh
The menu is small, with just 10 items (five under Small Plates, five under Big Plates) and an omakase option at $32 or $58, depending on how much food you want. Instead of going the mod-Sin route by turning hawker fare into Western-style restaurant dishes, Scaled’s cooking here does not fall into a particular genre. There are Asian and Western elements, but not something you can put a country’s stamp on. The fusion of cuisines comes across as more organic than deliberate.
The idea, says Ah Hua Kelong’s managing director Wong Jing Kai, is to open diners’ minds to what can be done to the farm’s produce beyond the usual cooking methods and thus boost sales of its home deliveries. That is why you find a Small Plate such as Locally Harvested XL Clams priced at just $12 for four, while the same number of live clams for home delivery costs $18. At Scaled, the oversized clams are steamed and served with butterscotch and a dollop of burnt miso.
Photo: Bar Stories / Dave Koh
They are more chewy than normal-sized clams but taste sweet, something that is unfortunately masked by the salty miso. When I help myself to a second clam, I scrape most of the miso off and it tastes better. The ideas for Scaled’s dishes are interesting and the chefs do not appear to copy or follow trends. You won’t find yet another chilli crab pasta here. But as with the clams, there are often little things that can be better, which can sometimes be easily tweaked.
Another example is the Black Grouper En Papillote ($26), a Big Plate. The fish fillet is baked wrapped in paper with glass noodles and lala clams in what is described as a “Cantonese-style broth”. It should have a well-balanced sweet-salty sauce, but I find the soya sauce-laced broth too sugary. Another problem, which is more difficult to solve, is that compared with the wild-caught groupers I enjoyed in the 1980s, the fish available in the market these days has a chewier texture. But youngsters who grew up eating only farmed grouper may find nothing wrong with the fish here. Pomfret ($22), which is slow-cooked and served with tofu puree, kimchi, pickled onions, pita chips and an “Asian chimichurri” of chopped local herbs, is delicious. All the different flavours come together really well and I especially like the crispy strips of deep-fried pita. But the dish is served cold – which is very odd for something tucked among other main dishes under Big Plates.
So my vote for favourite main dish goes to Curry Mussels ($16 or $18), which has an original sauce that is more rendang than curry and is nicely spiced without overpowering the sweet and perfectly cooked shellfish. You can choose either mantou or pasta- either will work with the sauce. For Small Plates, I’d suggest the Smoked Seabass Pate ($14), which has a lovely smokiness and is not at all fishy. Well-seasoned and topped with a spoonful of tobiko (flying fish roe) for texture, it is delicious on a piece of toast.
Fresh Crispy Squid ($12) is probably the least exciting item. It’s deep-fried calamari with a bit of spice in the batter to give it an Asian touch. But it boasts such a light and crisp batter that I’d recommend it too. The squid is bigger than what most restaurants use for calamari, so the pieces are thicker. But their freshness ensures that they are not tough, just a tad more chewy.
Being a bar, the premises are tight and tables are small. It’s not a place for a family dinner and there is no dessert to round out the meal. The plus side, however, is that you can pair your meal with one of the cocktails that Bar Stories is famous for.
Scaled by Ah Hua Kelong
55 Haji Lane, tel: 9830-0117; open: 5pm to midnight (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays
Price: Budget about $40 a person, without drinks
This article was first published at The Straits Times.