“Why This Restaurant” is a short series of posts about the restaurants we work with – their cuisine, our wines, how and why they work together, and of course the people.
We work with Malcolm and Candlenut for many of the same reasons we work with other chefs and restaurants: the food is delicious and wine-friendly, we have exactly the right wines at the right cost, and of course he and his team are warm-hearted people with a genuine interest in F&B. But there is also the sense that we’re collaborating with someone who is shaping his own culinary identity, drawing on but not constrained by his rich cultural heritage.
It starts, as it should, with sourcing. One afternoon, in between lunch and dinner service, we started talking about buah keluak suppliers in Singapore, and he showed me the luscious, black paste which they had been scraping from the nuts. It’s now easier to get prepared buah keluak paste than the actual nuts, but the results are strikingly different; pastes are often rancid, and impart an unpleasant sharp bitterness rather than the heady, earthy flavour one expects from the nut. What Malcolm was doing is analogous to a pastry chef making his own cocoa liquor from dried beans to ensure the quality of his raw ingredients. Not many restaurants would even think about undertaking something so labour-intensive.
It continues with Malcolm’s careful, measured cooking. His chicken satay is clean-tasting (rather than heavily charred) and beautifully succulent; with the pineapple and peanut sauce, it’s one of the many joys of the menu. The kitchen achieves the texture not via commercial tenderising agents or sous vide (although Malcolm does use low-temperature cooking for other dishes), but by grilling the sticks slowly and attentively. It’s a subtly great dish, like an understated wine, and rewards thoughtful eaters.
Grounding both Malcolm’s sourcing and cooking is how he treats his team, most evident when they sit down for a staff meal after service. Cooking, contrary to the TV-driven celebrity chef fetish, is first and foremost a social endeavour, and the very best chefs understand and nurture their teams. It’s similar to how our winegrowers treat their summer and harvest teams – with respect and gratitude.
In many ways, Candlenut reminds us of our winegrowers who have historically great but under-appreciated vineyards. They recognise that their forebears have done much of the hard work (just as generations of Nyonyas laid down the foundations for Peranakan cuisine), but that there is always space for new expressions of theterroir (just as no recipe is ever perfect). We have three wines from such winegrowers on the Candlenut list – the gently sparkling 2007 Huet Vouvray Pétillant Brut, a fruity, toothsome 2011 Cheverny Blanc from Francois Cazin, and the very fresh 2009 Pinot Noir from the Dupasquiers in Savoie.
Each time we eat at Candlenut is akin to tasting the new vintage with a winegrower; differences to be discussed, improvements to be noted, but always with a clear expression of his roots and personality. For that, we are grateful, and hope to see you at the restaurant on Wednesday 7 August, or in time to come.
Address: Dorsett Residences, 331 New Bridge Road #01-03, Singapore 088764
Phone: +65 8121 4107