Update 10 Mar 2021
Chef Philip has since left the establishment.
Fancy a restaurant with the audacity to call itself “The REAL Peranakan!” Being such a close knit community, I am sure the other Peranakan restaurants must be rather riled at the impudence of the brand new upstart!
What, you mean to say the rest of us are “Bluff” Peranakan is it?
But as you well know, there is no such thing as a canon of Peranakan cuisine. Every Peranakan household feels that their recipe is the right version of each dish. If you grew up eating Ayam Buah Keluak where the kernals are left intact in the shell, then you’d feel indignant that someone else felt they needed to scoop out the meat, adulterate it with spices and other ingredients and stuff it back into the nut. On the other hand, if you grew up with stuffed nuts, then you’d probably feel that the cook was just plain lazy.
So we can argue over the matter till the cows come home, or alternatively, we can sit back, recite a pantun and just accept that what is like that is just like that!
What is “Real” about The Real Peranakan is that the both the owner and the chef are Peranakans. Chef Philip Chia in particular is perhaps the last of a breed of Peranakans who grew up spending most of his time in the kitchen. His own story is almost as dramatic as “The Little Nonya” TV Series in which he was involved as the culinary consultant.
In a nutshell, he was born to a Peranakan family, the youngest of 13 kids. Because of financial woes his father couldn’t pay the nanny who was hired to look after him, so he was sold to her for a top-up sum of $500. Being the youngest of 4 in his adopted family, he was bullied by his elder siblings and made to do the housework. (Sounds like Cinderella, doesn’t it) His adopted mother also forced him to work in the kitchen where he would spend most of the time pounding the rempah! It might have been tough when he was a kid, but now he is one of only a few chefs who are gatekeepers of traditional Peranakan recipes, some of which are on the verge of extinction.
Chef Philip had just taken over from the original Chef who started the restaurant earlier in the year and is still in the process of fine tuning the existing recipes on the menu. At the time of our tasting, quite a few of the recipes still belonged to the previous chef which explains why some dishes were really good while others were quite forgettable.
Of the dishes we had, the best dishes for me were the babi pongtay and udang belimbing. He serves his babi pongtay with fresh sliced green chilli which is a nice touch and the pork was braised till the texure is just right — not too soft that it is falling apart but tender enough so the fats melt. 4.25/5
The udang belimbing had a lovely tang and was really well balanced and the prawns were nice and sweet. The sweet and sour tang of this dish serves as a nice contrast to the other dishes which can be a tad heavy. 4.25/5
The iconic ayam buah keluak was good. Chef’s style is to scoop out the flesh, mix it and stuff it back in. It did lack that little something that makes it so irrestible that you would need to take a second helping of rice and self declare a “Cheat Day”. Chef also does a pork trotter buah keluak which I actually prefer to the chicken version! 4/5
Click here for my buah keluak recipe!
The other dishes which I think still needs work is the fish maw soup. It is great that they make their own pork and prawn balls, but I felt the texture was just too soft and not bouncy enough. 3.5/5
I also felt the chap chye could have been much better. They do use quite a bit of fried tau kee which is nice but the overall flavour of the dish was just lacking that “POW!” 3.5/5
The Kueh Salat was good but again, it still lacks that X Factor that would make me order it again. 3.5/5
Click here for my Kueh Salat Recipe.
Having shared some recipe notes with Chef, I sense that the dishes that day just weren’t an accurate reflexion of his true potential. Hopefully, the restaurant owners will give him enough leeway for him to truly express himself through his food.
This was a media tasting. That means we were hosted with no obligation to write unless I felt the food was good enough.
The Real Peranakan