Labyrinth won the Best Asian Fine Dining in the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) Epicurean Star Award 2015.
It was a close fight between all the nominees, but Labyrinth won in how it was able to create unexpected dishes inspired by the Singapore food culture itself, and also presented the menu in a methodical story.
Banker turned self-taught chef Han Li Guang took a leap of faith in his late 20s, opened Labyrinth, and found relative success in a manner of short few years.
His main training was from At-Sunrice Globalchef Academy, books, self-experiments and short stints at Garibaldi and Tanuki Raw Bar.
Chef Han calls his cuisine “Neo-Sin”, using food science and modern technology to re-present familiar Singapore flavours in unexpected forms.
I half-suspect the “Neo-Sin” is to draw comparisons away from “Mod-Sin” which is very closely tied to lawyer-turned-Chef Willin Low’s Wild Rocket.
But lessons can still be drawn from Willin. After a break, he did elevate the ‘Mod-Sin’ menu to another level, generating more exciting unanticipated tastes while balancing international-meets-local cuisine in the kitchen, while still being the ‘media darling’ (and can I add Instagram) in the forefront.
Labyrinth currently at the Esplanade features a signature “Experience Tasting Menu” is themed on a typical day’s breakfast in Singapore – from breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper and breakfast again.
The multi-course dinner starts with amuse-bouche of “street snacks” such as Radish Cake and Kaya Butter, moves on to “Bak Chor Mee” and “Roast Meat Rice”, to “Century Egg Porridge” and ends with “Soft Boiled Eggs”.
Two thoughts: I come from a local’s point of view, who has some preconceived idea and bias on how certain dishes will and should taste; and a foreigner would have an entirely different take on this same menu.
In addition, I wonder if this chronological story enhances or in fact restricts the type of dishes we see, and sequence they are presented.
Some dishes worked; some required some thought in refining.
Having the local hot signature dish of Chilli Crab in the form of a cold Ice Cream presented an excitement to my palate.
I must had a twinkling in the eye, a surprise moment, that this opposition of spicy-cold actually somehow worked. That somehow worked as a side ‘sauce’ for the deep fried soft shell crab.
The Beef Hor Fun was presented in the form of A4 Japanese Wagyu with thinly sliced radish as the ‘hor fun’. I wondered if actual thin flat rice noodles would have worked better, but Chef explained he wanted a non-carb accompaniment.
My choice dish was the SG Breakfast – looks like the actual thing, but the set contained soft boiled eggs containing mango ‘yolks’ eaten with sugary ‘soya sauce’ and ‘pepper’ made from ground almond. Elements of interaction, fun and nostalgia at the same time.
There was a particular starter, with Nasi Lemak transformed into Chwee Kway which didn’t quite work for me, because I have eaten really smooth rice cakes elsewhere.
Overall, I see influences from ‘elBulli’ type restaurants, with some parts of Labyrinth reminding of New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Bangkok’s Gaggan and more so Hong Kong’s Bo Innovation in its attempts and ambition.
In terms of execution, I would objectively say 60-70% or so can be lauded for what it hoped and could achieve, while some of the other dishes had components which didn’t feel balanced, or not spot-on enough.
Story telling is an important element and forms an integral part of the introduction to the dishes. Some more polished restaurants (usually overseas fine dining) do a sophisticated show-and-tell, while Labyrinth adopts a more straight-forward sharing.
During my anonymous visit, Chef Han did most of the introduction, and to the other tables as well. You can immediately sense his passion and dedication, which I admit is integral in the appreciation of the dishes.
Apart from the new Experience tasting menu, Labyrinth will also launch the following menus:
– Lunch Menu 3 or 4 course at $38 (3-course) and $48 (4-course);
– Lunch Tasting Menu with 5 courses at $88;
– Pre-theatre Menu with 4 courses at $48;
– Dinner Discovery Menu with 5 courses at $98 and 6 courses at $105; wine pairing option available at $50 supplement
– Dinner Experience Tasting Menu with 9 courses at $168; wine pairing option available at $60 supplement
– Ala Carte Bar Bites Menu;
– Bar Tasting Menu (recommended for 2 pax) at $58.
8 Raffles Avenue #02-23 Esplanade Mall Singapore 039802
Tel: +65 6223 4098
Opening Hours: Lunch 12.00pm – 2.30pm (Mon – Fri), Dinner 6.30pm – 10.30pm (Mon – Sun)
Pre-theatre 5.30pm onwards (last order at 6.30pm)