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Spice Market’s new Singapore Street Food Tasting Menu
May 13, 2015
Housed in the ultra-modern W London Hotel, Spice Market sits on the corner of Lisle Street and Wardour Street. We descend into the low-lit restaurant and are greeted by an unsurprisingly slick décor evoking Asian fusion: brass brushed gong lights hang regimentally from the ceiling; a colour palette of black, dark browns and red permeate the two floors, with brass filtering into the spiral staircase and the woven wire placemats. The crowd is mainly “city types” wining and dining clients, catching up with friends or popping in for dinner after work. However, our reason for being here tonight is to sample Spice Market’s new Singapore Street Food Tasting Menu.
Whenever a restaurant of similar ilk to Spice Market claims that they are creating a “Street Food Menu” alarm bells ring and we assume – backed in our maybe unfair prejudice by previous experience – that the result will be a bland, botched attempt that loses almost everything in translation. This is certainly not the case here.
Executive Chef Peter Lloyd tells us that the 10 course tasting menu is comprised of his take on typical street food. Recently returned from Singapore, Lloyd claims that he wanted to ‘channel the spice market classics but with a twist.’ He didn’t want to copy them, especially seeing as we are sitting in Chinatown. Whilst these elements of fusion can certainly be seen and tasted in some of the dishes, others are astoundingly close to the traditional servings, not only in flavour but also in portion size!
We start the meal off with Black Pepper Shrimp, served with Sun-Dried Pineapple, Jicama and Pea Shoots. The black pepper sauce is thick and with a hint of sweetness which is accentuated by the pineapple. Chef Lloyd explains that dehydrating the pineapple makes it sweeter and more syrupy so that it can cut through the harshness of the sauce. It doesn’t quite work as the pepper of the sauce is incredibly potent. The shrimp however are beautifully cooked and the delicate crunch of the diced jicama adds a nice texture to the dish.
Our next starter comes in the form of well-seasoned, medium cooked Beef Satays, with Pickled Red Pepper and Cauliflower, Lightly Fried Rice Cake Cubes, served with a Chilli, Peanut and Tomato Sauce. The pickled vegetables cut through the weight of the meat with the sauce adding an extra sweet yet earthy element to the plate. The rice cakes are deliciously gooey.
Our remaining starters of Crispy Soft Shell Chilli Crab, Fried Steam Bun, with Kaffir Lime Salt, and Roasted Sambal Skate Wing, with Cucumber and Mint come and go. The crab is crisp on the outside but palpably soft within. The sauce is light and fragrant, with kaffir lime, fresh tomato, chilli and thai basil coming through. The skate is flaky and topped with fresh chillis, watercress, and sambal – which is like a sweet and spicy jam that is a little overpowering for the type of fish. The shredded cucumber and mint on the side temper the sambal slightly but the course is not as impressive as the previous ones.
At this point, we are already quite full, however, the mains are yet to come… The next four courses arrive more or less together and make up the “Main” portion of the meal. We take a few deep breathes, feeling like we’re at an Asian auntie’s house, and plunge in. The Scallop, Shrimp and Cod Nyonya Laksa, with Thai Basil and Mint is an intensely rich and fragrant stock with incredibly depth and subtle spice. It contains soft noodles, gently grilled scallops and cod, as well as large (overcooked but still tasty) shrimp. The Vegetable Nasi Goreng is could have come straight from a street market in Singapore, the only difference being that Chef Lloyd has elected to top it with a spring onion omelette as opposed to mixing chopped egg into the dish.
The Hainese Chicken & Rice comes as a large breast over slightly hard rice, dressed in a sour sauce and garnished with mint and ginger. It is pleasant but not hugely noteworthy, unlike the Wok Fried Carrot Cake with Chilli Bean Sauce which is truly fantastic: the depth of flavour with the sweet carrot against the chilli bean, and the variety of textures from the soft glutinous dumplings to aldente green beans, creates a wonderfully exciting yet balanced dish where all the elements work perfectly together.
We are unable to finish everything but it would be a sin to waste such great grub and our waiter diligently packs our leftovers up for us as we await dessert. The first – Durian Ice Cream – arrives in a cute cardboard takeaway tub, stamped with “Spice Market.” Durian is not to everyone’s taste but is well-worth a try seeing as in South East Asia, it is considered the “king of fruit.”
However, there is nothing divisive about the last dessert of Kaya Jam & Pandan Macaroon, with Soy Caramel Ice Cream. Chef Lloyd explains to us that Kaya Jam is usually eaten in a sandwich for breakfast alongside an egg. Here, he decided to move it to dessert, switching the sandwich for a large macaroon, containing his play on salted caramel ice cream. The result is outstanding. The macaroon is exactly how a macaroon should be and is not overly sweet. The ice cream is phenomenal, with the soy sauce’s saltiness coming through, working well with the caramel to create a muscovado/molasses taste with hints of malt. The plate is painted with an intense soy caramel and is an exquisite pairing of East meets West, flavours and ideas. The dessert is the perfect way to end an incredibly filling but wonderful meal.
The Singapore Street Food Tasting Menu costs £48 per person and is available from May until August.
Vicky Ilankovan – Lifestyle Editor