“It was mindblowing.”
With the recent launch of the Michelin Guide Singapore, the local food scene became more vibrant when top notched local restaurants such as Candlenut, serving Peranakan cuisine ala fine dining, joined the ranks of other critically acclaimed restaurants from around the world. However, the limitation of halal dietary restrictions makes it almost impossible for Muslim food enthusiasts to enjoy the beautifully delicious art of food.
I have watched enough culinary themed shows such a Masterchef, Netflix’s The Chef’s Table and Noma, My Perfect Storm, to make me want to eat a plated masterpiece. From sourcing out the freshest ingredients to plating, dishes served at fine dining restaurants go through a series of thought processes that makes one wonder, how is it even possible for chefs to combine two contrasting flavours and make it work.
Hyde and Co held their second anniversary dinner ala fine dining, but with a plot twist as with any theatrics – the food served has to be created using only halal ingredients. For the unknown, halal dietary restrictions mean no pork or lard, alcohol and the meat served has to be slaughtered in a halal manner. Last year, the cafe and bistro along North Bridge Road held a similar anniversary dinner too, but since acquiring the halal certification from MUIS (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) earlier this year, the challenges they faced in planning this year’s dinner were excruciatingly difficult.
In order to serve the best six course degustation dinner, Hyde and Co partnered with chefs from Equinox Restaurant of Swissotel The Stamford to recreate a fine dining experience previously unavailable to Muslims. Having been to Daylesford in Australia and experience the wonderful farm to table food dining, I must say, Hyde and Co exceeded my expectations. Despite the restrictions of halal requirements and the face that Singapore relies heavily on imported food ingredients, I was transported back to the dinners I had with the friends I made Down Under.
Starters: Homemade Bread
For starters, a freshly baked focaccia was served with a homemade truffle butter. Crisp on the outside, but airy inside, the focaccia was herby. When slathered with butter, it became the perfect opening scene to Hyde and Co’s anniversary dinner – melt in your mouth and you’ll be hoping the wait staff would bring you more bread, and perhaps let you pack the butter home.
Course 1: Oleron Oyster with Tabasco Jelly and Burnt Lemon
Chef Pang, one of the chefs from Equinox, introduced the Oleron Oysters as an Irish breed but farmed in France, just as how he is a Malaysian working in Singapore. The oysters had a distinct neutral taste, unlike the typical buffet oysters, and when paired with the tobacco jelly and burnt lemon, it became an explosion of fireworks in your mouth. The slimy oyster would be considered palatable to the virgin oyster eater, and the lemon wedge was almost redundant.
Course 2: Tiger Prawn. Dashi, Miso Monte, Negi & a note on my seafood allergy
I hesitated on attending the dinner because I have been allergic to seafood, particularly crustaceans, for pretty much the whole of my life. That one time I had crabs and prawns at the tender age of ten scarred me with a horrible allergy reaction of anaphylaxis shock. Since then, I shied away from seafood, fearing for my life. However, I came prepared for the dinner with my antihistamine pills in my purse. The prawn was surprisingly kind to me – it tasted fresh and well-cleaned that the only reaction my body had was all in my head since the fear was still there. The miso monte was sweet yet when paired with the prawn, it became an umami flavour of sorts. For the tea pairing, we were served white peony winter melon tea. Both the dish and tea were light, and it geared up our stamina for the long dinner ahead of us.
Course 3: Caviar, Artichoke, Creme Fraiche, Sea Grapes
Covering almost all bases of seafood, the caviar, to me, was the supporting character at Hyde and Co’s second anniversary dinner. Chef Levin from Equinox Restaurant at Swissotel The Stamford, came to our table to top the caviar with some creme fraiche, providing diners with some sort of a theatrical performance for the night. While the other dishes aced in terms of flavour, the caviar topped everything else when it comes to texture. The pureed artichoke was fluffy and light, and the pieces of deep fried artichoke gave the crunch the dish needed. Garnished with burnt leek ash, the caviar was further intensified with a smoky, ashy taste.
Course 4: Lobster Tail, Laksa Espuma, Curd
Need I say more of the lobster tail with laksa capellini? The halalfoodhunt.com team was invited for a quick preview of Hyde and Co’s second anniversary dinner two weeks ago. The lobster was just as fresh, and it was just as delicious I how I remembered it to be, though this time it was more well coated with the laksa sauce making it a more pleasurable experience to eat. The added crunch from the grated fresh coconut as well as heibi hiam, a Chinese equivalent of belachan, completed the umami of flavours that was distinctively local.I must say the tea pairing of berries virgin mojito exhilarated the typical hawker laksa and canned ice lemon tea experience.
Course 5: Salmon, Amaebi, Shellfish Veloute, Tosaka
Flown directly from Norway, the Norwegian salmon was decadent and sinful. Cooked unlike any other salmon dish, the salmon fillet is rolled like a sushi with two different types of seaweed which provided the saltiness it needed. The salmon is sous vide at 63 degrees for 7 minutes while the tosaka is placed in a hobox at 70 degrees overnight and blend to powder afterwards.Chef Pang recreated his signature dish catered for the halal-certified Hyde and Co, and faced the difficulty of replacing the non-halal ingredients. From my experience, a cream based fish stock would require some fats by sautéing either bacon or pancetta to further enhance and diffuse the fishy taste and smell.As delicious as it was, the serving could have been smaller so more room could be rationed for the rest of the evening. Even so, the Norwegian salmon braved through its obstacles and proved it was worthy of being served last night.
Course 6: Octopus, Sambal Squid Ink, Chimichurri, Barley
The star of the night is most certainly the octopus with sambal squid ink, barley risotto and chimichurri sauce. Octopus is not served as commonly as the squid, so the brave attempt in elevating the typical Malay dish served with rice and sambal was certainly a nice surprise. Rubbed lightly with chilli before going in the water, the octopus dish reminded me of my mother’s sotong masak hitam. Though I would usually eat the rice and squid with a heap of sambal belado, Chef Naz’s decision to serve the chimicurri sauce was a mind-blowing unforgettable experience. It was almost as spicy and hot as the usual sambal belado. I imagine myself eating this dish during the winter months somewhere in Europe and pining for home so desperately.
On top of that, the pairing of lapsang souchong old-fashioned cleansed your palette after every sip, making sure you would want to finish every bit of the octopus and sambal squid ink. Inspired by the old fashioned whiskey, this tea is not for the faint hearted because the naturally bitter lapsang souchong tries to counter the sweetness and acidity from the orange, though what you get at each sip is a refreshing taste of flavours.
Last but not least, the anniversary dessert became the perfect closure to the interestingly colourful and exciting night at Hyde and Co. The earl grey cream magnum was made with a sponge vanilla base, layered with a hardened caramel sauce as well as an earl grey infused ice cream, then dipped in rich melted chocolate and finally coated with toasted almonds. Whilst its looks could fool you into thinking it’s the Magnum ice cream you get off the shelves, its tastes prove otherwise. Not too sweet and sinful, this anniversary dessert will definitely have you begging for more.
I can’t quite compare last night’s dinner to a normal eight course degustation dinner at a non-halal restaurant, but for being the first halal establishment to provide such an amazing menu with wonderful works of art, Hyde and Co proves that there is room for halal fine dining. The halal consumer market may be niche, but they should not be deprived of good high end food worthy of a world class mention.
The collaboration between the chefs of Equinox and Hyde and Co is such a genius brainchild of the cafe and bistro’s owner, Derrick Chew. It must be applauded that more of such collaborations and partnerships between halal and non-halal restaurants to make good food more accessible to the halal market. While it is almost impossible to open a premium fine dining halal restaurant here in Singapore, such collaborations bring our halal food scene to a more thrilling level, perhaps even to a Michelin level.
On a side note, thank you to Hyde and Co for letting me taste what good prawns and lobsters really are. Perhaps I am not allergic to seafood, I’m just allergic to bad food.