Due in no small part to the fact that the epidemic has made its presence known on the local eating scene, it has been a few months since Manila played host to major collaborations between prominent chefs from other areas of the world. However, much like the other restaurants that have opened or reopened in the past few months, they are making a comeback, and they are doing it in a big way. To cite just one example: On August 23, 2018, just in time for the impending Singapore Food Festival 2022, we went to a four-hands meal hosted by Gallery by Chele in BGC and Restaurant Labyrinth in Singapore. Both establishments are well-known in their own communities and are considered to be major players.
The four-hands dinner was an opportunity for the resident head chefs and teams from each restaurant to display their distinct cooking styles. The two draw inspiration from different cuisines, which is one of the many qualities that set them apart from one another but still share certain commonalities.
Chef Chele Gonzalez, who was born in Spain and has previously held positions in acclaimed restaurants such as Nerua, El Bulli, and El Celler de Can Roca, is the proprietor of the restaurant known as Spotters: Gallery by Chele. At Gallery, González applies his own style, which is characterized by the fusion of traditional and contemporary elements, to Filipino ingredients and preparation methods. The restaurant in BGC was recently ranked 69th on Asia’s 50 Best 2022’s list of the best 51 to 100 establishments in the region.
On the other hand, “New Singaporean” or Mod-Sin (modern Singaporean) cuisine is what you’ll get at Restaurant Labyrinth. This refers to contemporary takes on the traditional dishes, ingredients, and cooking methods of Lion City. The restaurant, which is led by Chef LG Han and has been awarded one Michelin star and is ranked number forty on the list of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, works their culinary magic on local ingredients such as plants, seafood, and dairy products, but also deviates from tradition in ways that manage to maintain the essential flavors of their origins.
On the eight-course menu that we had planned for the evening, three of the special courses were prepared in collaboration by both of the restaurants.
The Oyster Omelette, for example, flips the popular street food on its head by presenting it as a plate of three Aklan oysters, each prepared in a different way (raw, fried, and grilled), accompanied by a sabayon made from the oyster’s juices, along with zingy fresh herbs, on an omelette sheet with a molten, billowing center. Each method of cooking oysters imparts a distinctive quality onto the finished product, such as a succulent flavor from the raw piece, a crisp and salty flavor from the fried piece, and a smoky flavor from the grilled piece. According to Han, this is because the oysters are typically cooked unevenly in the majority of streetside versions, providing you with varying tastes and textures in each bite.
Octopus is grilled inasal-style for the Laksa Inasal dish at Gallery by Chele, which is a seafood restaurant that has repeatedly shown a great deal of competence in preparing food to a perfect tenderness. The octopus, which is first boiled and then grilled, is served with a laksa sauce that was provided by Labyrinth and cilantro oil. Both of these complement the mildly charred and smokey flavor of the octopus beautifully. During our discussion about the event after it has taken place, Han explains that “[They make a] natural harmony. Spicy, umami, rich from the sauce, punctuated with the acidity… the [inasal] marinade was strong enough on its own… to [balance] the richness of the laksa.” And just when things get too heady, toppings of pickled jicama and chicken skin contribute both flavor and textural variety.
Both restaurants also delivered courses that had been independently created, showcasing the unique qualities of each establishment. Gallery by Chele, to give just one example, highlighted a few of the dishes that particularly stood out on their most recent Heritage tasting menu. The small but powerful pieces of Octopus Tacos with sisig-style octopus and the Beef XO Bao with a Peking duck-esque stuffing of roasted beef, pickled cucumbers, hoisin mayo, and XO sauce brought back many fond memories for us, and we were more than glad to see them again. After that, we moved in the direction of a zesty-umami flavor profile by preparing Salted Egg Fish Skin with Suahe and Curry Leaves.
The Singapore Tourism Board has a lot more exciting events and related affairs planned for the Singapore Food Festival, and the four-hands dinner is just the beginning of them all. You can anticipate that the annual food festival in 2022 will be particularly exciting because travel and tourism are thriving to a greater extent than they were before the devastation caused by COVID-19. You will be able to catch and participate in a month-long celebration in the Philippines that includes pop-ups of Singaporean food icons at PowerPlant Mall’s The Grid Food Market, free-to-watch virtual classes, and more, which we will be sharing more details about in the near future. This celebration will be held in honor of Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence. Keep your appetite for the time being, and if you find yourself in a situation where you may sample both laksa and inasal at the same time, do not be scared to combine the two dishes in your meal.