‘Demon chef’ Alvin Leung puts an interesting spin on Asian fare with the right amount of chutzpah without being too pretentious
Yes, the self-proclaimed demon chef is back in town. Early last year, he opened Forbidden Duck at Marina Bay Financial Centre. This time round, he’s the face of 15 Stamford, located at The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore. The two concepts are vastly different. The former offers Peking Duck and Cantonese classics, while the latter, a mishmash of Southeast Asian flavours from Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Leung’s motive with 15 Stamford is clear – to offer uncomplicated and comforting Asian-inspired dishes without all the molecular trappings his three Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong is celebrated for.
The 162-seater restaurant is tucked behind the unassuming confectionery. It’s where you’ll find the hotel spring to life. While the hotel driveway and lobby are fairly quiet save for the coming and going of guests, the restaurant is abuzz with lively chatter. 15 Stamford is an open-concept restaurant and exudes a communal feel with the conversations of diners flowing through the indoor courtyard to the guest rooms above. It’s the sort of place where it’s acceptable to let out out a boisterous laugh while feasting on upscale versions of Bak Kut Teh, Thai beef salad, satay and chicken rice.
Come during dinner service though, 15 Stamford becomes slightly more intimate. A glass panel extends from the ceiling and separates the dining area from guest rooms above. You’re more aware of the now self-contained noise levels. Not the best place to laugh and make merry, then.
The spicy tuna tartare ($26) is dressed in a sweet-spicy gochujang and a ‘secret’ dark sauce. I particularly enjoy the Korean-inspired take on spicy tuna tartare served with soft-cooked ‘son-in-law’ eggs. There are no gimmicks here, the latter is a familiar favourite in a Thai household, with an endearing background story to boot. Mix the eggs with the tartare, then use the prawn crackers to scoop up the mix. I’d ask for a second serving of prawn crackers the next time round.
Leung plays it safe with his variation of laksa, served with housemade shrimp floss, chargrilled tiger prawns and quail eggs. But safe doesn’t quite cut it if he’s going to slap guests with a whopping $32 price tag for a regular bowl of noodles. It’s a lot of fanfare, but none of the oomph. The gravy isn’t rich, the prawns are powdery, a sign of it being overcooked, and..where’s the spice? Altering the backbone of a dish and watering it down on home ground to please diners borders on the line of ridiculous. Instead of offering a side of sambal upon feedback that this laksa isn’t really up to the mark, the restaurant can perhaps allow diners to request for a less spicy version instead, given that the sambal is only added in before the dish is served. The saving grace comes in the form of jasmine tea-smoked onsen eggs, their gooey centres adding a much-needed dose of creaminess to an otherwise bland broth.
The 72-hour U.S. Short Ribs Rendang and Pickled Cabbage ($68) fares slightly better. The beef chunks are remarkably tender, but I’m not sure if short ribs are the way to go here. This cut is loved for its intense fatty flavour, and here, it competes with the rendang sauce for the spotlight. All things considered though, Leung’s pickled cabbage salad – an Asian-style sauerkraut – lifts the heaviness of the dish. But switch the meat cut, and perhaps the salad wouldn’t be needed.
Dessert takes the form of Mango Pomelo Sago with Coconut Snow ($16). A martini glass is filled with a base of chilled fruits including mango, pomelo, sago and yuzu, then topped with mango-flavoured ice shavings. And there’s some nitrogen-frozen coconut slivers (no doubt a cheeky and subtle nod to Bo Innovation) for theatric effects. It’s great for the first few mouthfuls, but then gives way to a lacklustre performance.
I’m sure a few fine-tunings are in the pipeline (the laksa was first served with prawn tempura), as with any other newcomer in the culinary scene. But we’ll keep our eyes peeled for Leung’s other interpretations of Asian dishes in the near future to finally decide if we can call the culinary maverick our ‘local’ food guru.
15 Stamford by Alvin Leung
The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore
15 Stamford Road
Tel: +65 6715 6871