MasterChef SG Judge Damian D’Silva’s Go-to “Lepak” Place

Hello Makan Kakis! The trio of MasterChef Singapore Judges is complete, with Chef Damian D’Silva, who joins us this week to share his insights from the MasterChef Kitchen, updates from his own restaurant Kin (scroll down for Denise’s visit there) and a personal makan recommendation.

HEAR:

SEE:

As a champion of Singapore heritage food, traditional and local favourites, you’re most likely to find Chef Damian at a hawker centre enjoying zichar or porridge. But when he wants a little change of scene, this is his current favourite go-to spot.

Above all, Chef wants an environment that is very relaxed and unpretentious, a place where you can just unwind and be yourself. He’s found that at Le Bon Funk on Club Street, a charming little bar/ restaurant, where he says he can go and simply “lepak” and “I can just sit down and talk to whoever for four hours and I’m happy. Because you can say whatever you want and they accept you for whoever you are.”

And that is also exactly how Chef likes his food. No bells and whistles necessary, he’s always on the lookout for simple food that is done well.  He enjoys Le Bon Funk for all those reasons – it’s relaxed, they have great drinks including an excellent wine list and really good food too.

One of Chef Damian’s favourite things to eat is Le Bon Funk’s  Beef Tongue & Gribiche Sandwich ($26, see above). Another recommendation is their Cedar Jelly & Foie Gras Toast ($18 for 2) and if you want a hearty meal, you can’t go wrong with their steak. On their menu is a Livingstone Farm Wagyu Striploin with Buttermilk Salad ($175) worth sinking your teeth into.


Photos via Le Bon Funk’s Facebook & Instagram.

What Chef appreciates is their food that’s meant for sharing – there’s nothing quite like communal dining. His advice is to go with 4 – 6 people, then you can order more dishes to enjoy together. So next time, if you’re looking for a chill-out place to have a little drink and nibble, pop by Le Bon Funk.

TASTE:
LE BON FUNK

29 Club Street S(069414)
Open: 5 – 10.30pm (Tue-Thu); 12 – 10.30pm (Fri-Sat All-Day); extended bar menu between 2.30 – 5pm; Closed Sun & Mon.
Tel: +65 62241490

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CHEF DAMIAN’S KIN @STRAITS CLAN

Located at the lobby of Straits Clan, Kin is helmed by MasterChef SG Judge and “Grandfather of Heritage Cuisine” Chef Damian D’Silva. It was a joy to catch our Makan Kaki in his element, presenting us with a veritable Easter feast of complex and diverse Singaporean dishes. The sights and smells – from a quick pre-dinner snack of keropok and sambal dips, to enormous bowls of curry and piles of steaming white rice –  were all familiar and nostalgic. Since 1 March 2021, Chef Damian has added “new” heritage recipes to the Kin menu – here are some highlights and some of my favourites:

Starting off with a seasonal special – Beef Murtabak ($22). Available this Easter only, till 4th April 2021. This dish is close to Chef Damian’s heart, enjoyed only during Easter and lovingly prepared by his Eurasian paternal grandfather, affectionately known as “Pop”. As a Catholic, after a whole month of fasting and abstaining from meat during Lent, Pop would served this version of Murtabak on Good Friday after the family returned from mass. A dish that carries such nostagia and tells a deeply personal story of Chef Damian’s family food heritage.

Ground beef is rolled up inside egg crepes made simply with eggs and salt, then served with housemade sweet chilli sauce and raita made with yogurt, lime juice, tomato, onions and green chilli.. This is one dish everyone can relate to, even if it’s not part of your personal history. It’s pure comfort food you can pick up and eat with your hands. Egg and meat – what’s not to love? The ground beef was beautifully seasoned with whole star anise, cinnamon stick, and nutmeg, along with a housemade curry powder made with cumin, fennel, coriander, pepper, star anise and turmeric. Even kiddos can happily eat this spiced, but not spicy dish!

This next dish is a funny one! We’re all familiar with the Chinese hawker dish “Ju Her Eng Chye”, or Cuttlefish Kang Kong, but in Chef Damian’s family, it’s known as “Uncle Bob”. The name was coined by Chef’s father, who loved this dish of blanched cuttlefish and kang kong dressed with a sweet and sour fermented shrimp paste sauce. Don’t ask Chef why, he doesn’t quite know, but he does remember visiting a back alley in the Joo Chiat area with his family back in the day, where his father would immediately head for the guy selling Ju Her Eng Chye. Who knows? Maybe the hawker’s name was Bob!  At Kin, Chef Damian pays tribute to his father with his rendition of “Uncle Bob”, adding honey pineapples for pleasant acidity.

A mouth-watering assortment of made-from-scratch sambals which went so well with keropok (sorry everything was devoured before photo was taken! Far left: DURIAN TEMPOYAK sambal (BEST EVER! Spicy, umami, with just an interesting whiff of fermented fruit. Really unusual and delicious smeared on everything – prawn crackers, plain white rice, whatever you like!

Chef Damian spent his childhood cooking with his food heroes – his granddad and Peranakan maternal grandma. Pop, in particular, was an adventurous eater and voracious collector of recipes (many more than 100 years old), gleaned from friends and neighbours of other varying ethnicities. One of those recipes is my favourite “Daging Sambal Hijau” ($42), featuring a sambal made with green chilli, candlenut and shallots, cooked with beef that is marinated for 24-hours in cumin, coriander and fennel. So good with rice, I’d be happy to have just this as a meal!

Over the years, Damian has presented many recipes from Aunty Zainab, whose husband was best friends with Damian’s dad. “Ayam Kalasan” ($38) is the latest: Chicken Maryland is simmered in coconut water with aromatics until the liquid is absorbed, then deep-fried before serving with a special accompanying savoury-sweet sambal that echoes the aromatic flavours of the chicken.

Another recipe from Aunty Zainab is her “Nangka Rendang” ($28). Vegetarians will be happy to eat this deliciously meat-free dish, with young (un-ripened) jackfruit as a meat substitute. The jackfruit is slow-braised for 7 hours with a mix of coriander, fennel, cumin and garam marsala in coconut water. The use of garam marsala identifies Aunty Zainab’s dish as Indonesian and harks back to the times when Indonesia was ruled by the Majapahit for more than 300 years. Promise, you won’t miss the meat!

Another dish that Pop used to cook for the family was from a Malay recipe of Indonesian origins – “King Prawn with Dry Sambal” ($48). Hard to believe, but the sambal is made with very simple ingredients, the main being dried chillies. Chef Damian has fond memories of being with Pop in the kitchen, grinding the chillies into a smooth paste by hand using a stone grinder. Assam, salt and sugar are then added and the paste is cooked low and slow for 4 hours to allow the flavours to develop. Big, juicy prawns are then cooked with the sambal and I like eating them whole, shell and all, for even more flavour and texture!

Here’s the piece de resistance of our Easter feast – a classic mainstay of the Kin menu, “Pork Knuckle Debal” ($68). This festive Eurasian dish was lovingly made by Pop from Christmas celebration meats, whatever was leftover – chicken, turkey, ham – were cooked along with a rempah of of shallots, Bombay onions, ginger, and dried chilli into this gorgeous curry. Chef’s family always looked forward to enjoying Pop’s debal on Boxing Day. At Kin, Chef has recreated it using roast pork, smoked pork knuckle and potatoes. Chef joked that he’s dialed back the heat level for diners, “Otherwise nobody can eat it! On a scale of one-to-ten, Pop’s was ten and Kin’s is five.” While this Pork Knuckle Debal isn’t blow-you-head-off spicy, it still packs a hearty, satisfying punch with its abundance of ingredients. Oh, and if you takeaway what you can’t finish, it’s even better the next day!

Simple, clean, but well-executed and a healthy green foil for the decadence of all the previous dishes, wok-fried dragon tooth cabbage with garlic & artisanal soy sauce ($12) completed our main meal. But then the sweets arrived…

Assortment of Kueh-Kueh ($25 for 3 types). In the foreground, Chef Damian’s legendary Kueh Kosui, melt-in-the-mouth tender, jiggly and soft steamed tapioca kueh with gula melaka. Sweetness beautifully balanced by the saltiness of grated coconut. Bliss!
In the background from left to right:
Kueh Serabai – pandan apom with banana sauce on the side
Ang Kueh Kueh with Yam filling.
Ma Lai Koh – traditional steamed caramelised cake

BONUS! Rich, creamy, savoury-sweet Durian Pengat that’s perfectly balanced and completely addictive. Already bursting from the feast, we found ourselves shoveling up spoon after spoon of this aromatic durian “custard”, scraping the bowl clean! This room-dividing dish even made a convert out of a diner who was durian-averse!

Some of Damian’s fondest memories are of Sunday meals around a table with family and friends. At Kin, he’s connecting us to those memories, and also inviting us to create new memories, fueled by food that is Singaporean to the core, drawing from our melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Peranakan dishes are prepared with heart and soul by Chef Damian and his young team. But for me, food just tastes better when the Chef takes time to regale you with the stories and history behind the dishes. He enriches the experience and brings many ingredients to life with his depth of knowledge and passion for sharing his personal stories. Food memories are a powerful thing and to me, an essential magical ingredient that makes a meal at Kin such a pleasure.

KIN
Straits Clan Lobby, 31 Bukit Pasoh Rd, S(089845)
Open Mon – Sat: 12pm–2.30pm (Lunch); 6pm–9.30pm (Dinner)
Tel: +65 63209180
Takeaways and Deliveries also available.

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