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A promising start for 15 Stamford
15 Stamford by Alvin Leung
The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore
15 Stamford Road
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 10.30pm.
ONE wonders if Alvin Leung can cook a good fried rice. As in old-fashioned, wok hei-infused, tossed in an actual wok over a roaring fire kind of fried rice - not, say, a 'Demonised' puffed rice sprinkled with nitrogen-frozen shavings of lap cheong or some such.
After all, isn't his three Michelin-starred BO Innovation really the food version of those extreme makeover videos where women transform themselves into doe-eyed princesses with false eyelashes and facial putty? It's like when a xiao long bao walks in and comes out as a soup-filled condom.
Which explains the excitement/trepidation when it is learnt that the blue-haired maestro of deconstructed Chinese food is tasked to helm 15 Stamford, the showcase restaurant of the newly opened Capitol Kempinski hotel. We figure it can go two ways - as a repeat of his lacklustre Singapore debut Forbidden Duck which is no shining example for other poultry to follow; or some tortuously fusion-ised Singaporean/Asian street food interpreted by, essentially, a tourist.
But yet here we are, digging into his grilled Bak Kut Teh pork chop and compressed watermelon (S$38) with unexpected relish. By all definition it should be a disaster to convert a beloved herbal pork rib soup into a Westernised pork chop. But wait - the herb rub it's been marinated in sets off the familiarity triggers.
The intensity of the herbal, angelica sauce you drizzle over it completes the crossover without going into goosebump territory. But it's the watermelon that has us sold on this dish. It matches the angelica sauce so well we rue the day when it was decreed that pork should only go with apples. The downside, though, is its overly sweet flavour profile and the dry edges of the meat.
This is set to be the signature of 15 Stamford, which is more all-day-dining than Michelin-potential cuisine, served in a lovely bright, airy space designed by the late Jaya Ibrahim.
It's more gentlemen's club than colonial cliche with its dark wood and leather banquettes, softened with Peranakan tile accents and retro floral patterned crockery designed by chef Leung himself (turn the plate over to see).
A solitary chicken and two pineapples turn languidly on the spit in the charcoal burning rotisserie that takes centre stage in the large open kitchen, which we make a point to order.
The chicken is part of its not-so-successful version of chicken rice (S$26) which has flavour but is dry and so too the rice accompanying it. Chicken satay (S$18) is pretty much the real McCoy - tender chicken thigh meat that tastes vaguely like it's been treated with something for added bounce. It's salty but tastes as it should, with fragrant lemongrass-accented peanut sauce.
The next hero contender besides the pork chop has to be the caveman-sized 72-hour cooked US short rib rendang, weighing in at a hefty S$68. The star isn't so much the fork-tender, dense yet gelatinous hunk of meat slathered in (again quite sweet) gravy, but the purple pickled cabbage you must eat it with. Tasting like sauerkraut's sweeter little sister, the cabbage works through the richness of the beef rendang till the two achieve a perfect yin- and-yang balance of flavour.
There are other Leung "originals" that we're ambivalent about. Spicy tuna tartare (S$26) is chopped up sashimi tossed in gochujang dressing and a "secret" sauce. Soft-cooked "son-in-law" eggs are meant for mashing into the whole mix and scooped onto prawn crackers for a crackle, pop and smooth bite.
Great for mindless eating but nothing special. Same too with the three corn salad (S$18) of charred niblets, baby corn and popcorn tossed with sweet tomatoes in a Patchun brand vinegar dressing that lacks depth.
Dessert is unexciting, without a lot of options. And pricey. The familiar mango pomelo sago (S$16) is a rather diluted fruity slush covered with coconut snow that is interesting for maybe a couple of mouthfuls.
The roasted pineapple is a better bet, but S$18 is a lot to pay for a few thin slices and vanilla ice cream.
The "Eight Treasure Lemper" (S$16) is a take on the Chinese eight treasure rice dessert, but if you never liked the real thing you're not going to like this sweet, sticky, stodgy creation either. All in, 15 Stamford's food is thoughtful and restrained and at times shows up some Singaporean chefs and their lame attempts at mod-Sin cuisine. There's no brash gimmickry - in fact, it's almost respectful to the local palate.
It still needs work for sure, but it's starting off on the right foot. Now, if he can really do an excellent classic fried rice, we'd be sold.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.