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Cherki is Not Afraid to Experiment with
Bold Peranakan Flavours
18 November 2023
The restaurant had only popped up on our radar recently because of Singapore Restaurant Week (SRW), and made it on our shortlist for the Autumn 2023 edition.
Their special menu featured unusual takes on classical Peranakan dishes. Like braised pongteh lamb shank, instead of the standard pork belly, and gula melaka tiramisu.
It piqued our curiosity, prompting us to check out their entire food menu. The lamb pongteh was there, together with the rest of the SRW menu, but there were so many others that we were tempted to try.
There was only one logical solution: bring ample reinforcements, and order as many ala carte dishes as possible. Subject to the maximum capacity of our collective stomachs, of course.
While the restaurant is in the CBD, its location at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre is slightly out of the way. Once you reach the foyer, where there’s usually an on-going exhibition, the entrance is easy to spot.
Saturday nights in the Shenton Way area are typically very quiet, even more so if you’re not by the main road. When The Wife and I walked in just before 7pm, we were the only customers there.
The space was small and cosy, with numerous warm lights hanging from the ceiling. A well-stocked bar counter took up most of the space along the left wall.
There were hints of their Peranakan heritage, but it felt more like a modern bistro and less like a traditional restaurant.
The menu was decidedly utilitarian and minimalist. No fancy full-page photos, or even thumbnails to entice customers. Just a three column listing with names, prices and descriptions.
What it lacked in aesthetic appeal, it more than made up for in breadth and creativity.
While waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, The Wife and I eagerly scanned through all 38 items on the menu. They all sounded really enticing, and the thought of ordering everything briefly crossed our minds.
But First, Cocktails
Even more intriguing was the craft cocktail menu, with 15 never heard of concoctions featuring far out flavours like chendol, bak kwa and Pi Pa Gao.
They were really pushing the boundaries, and clearly testing how far they could go before descending into chaos.
Prices ranged from S$21-25++, pretty much par for the course in Singapore, where alcoholic drinks are priced
ridiculously on the high side.
We were still within their daily happy hour window of 5-8pm, where all cocktails go for S$18++, including the elaborate Sop Story that The Wife was eyeing.
Sop Story, 25
Gin, Soursop Purée, Mace Powder, Calpis, Vanilla, Citrus, Ice Wine, Basil Seeds
In Peranakan cuisine, preparation is often laborious and done by hand, our drink recreates this experience by having you churn the drink yourself. With a floral and invigorating reward at the end, this job will be nothing to sob about. *Edible Cocktail
Strength:3 | Sweetness:2 | Acidity:2 | Bitterness:2 | Exoticness: 4
It came in a woven bamboo tray, and comprised four different components.
A large cup containing the mixed cocktail, a smaller cup packed to the brim with dry ice, another with fresh soursop pulp and a wooden spoon with two calamansi halves.
As advertised, it was clearly a drink that required audience participation.
Starting with a labour-intensive preparation phase that carries with it a non-negligible risk of frostbite, as The Wife painfully found out.
After admiring the theatrical mist generated by the dry ice, she proceeded to churn the drink to make a slushy.
It was not an easy task and the waitstaff took pity on her and took over the manual work. It didn’t detract from her final enjoyment though, as she happily slurped it down.
While they didn’t require as much time and effort, the other cocktails that we ordered were similarly beautiful, whimsical and delicious.
Starting from the top left, and proceeding clockwise: Fortune Favours the Bold (bak kwa!), Streetside Signature (chendol!), The Descendants (ginger flower!), Assam Boi (sng buay!), Bellvine Mojito (blue pea flower!) and Loquat Elixir (Pi Pa Gao!).
Do forgive my avalanche of exclamation marks. Though I believe they’re warranted, given the uniqueness of the key ingredient used in each drink.
Once all our troops arrived, we started ordering in earnest. Each one of us chose items that we personally found interesting, and we shared everything that was served.
Many of the dishes tasted great, especially the Sweet Soy Crackling Pork Belly. The meat was glazed and roasted to juicy perfection, while the skin was deep-fried into airy and crispy crackers.
We’ve had pork skin crackers many times before, but none were as delicate as these delightful little morsels.
I polled the entire table and this sweet, salty, fatty and crunchy combination was our unanimous favourite. It took a lot of willpower to refrain from ordering another portion.
The Homemade Crab Cakes were also very sedap. So much so that The Wife forgot to take photos before they all disappeared.
Decadently rich, our crab cakes are bursting at the seams with juicy crabmeat. Served with a homemade lemongrass and sambal aioli.
I invite you to read the menu description above, then close your eyes and imagine how they would taste.
Two other standouts were the Chilli Beef Rendang Fries and Yuzu Seafood Kueh Pie Tee.
The minced beef topping on the fries appeared dry, but they were moist and had an unmistakable rendang flavour. Needless to say, they were very addictive and the entire plate was wiped out in no time at all.
Same with the plate of four cute pie tees, stuffed to the brim with jicama (i.e. mang guang), prawn and squid. The best way to eat it was to one-bite the whole thing, which was exactly what I did.
The Laksa Lobster Linguine came highly recommended, and it lived up to its reputation. If you closed your eyes and took a bite, you’d be able to identify the taste immediately.
Compared to the original hawker favourite, the laksa flavour was even more concentrated. Making it more luxurious was the lobster that was served with the pasta, sitting pretty in its half shell.
Traditional dishes also put in a strong showing, including the classic Itek Tim (Duck and Mustard Greens) and Bakwan Kepiting (Crab Meatball) soups. Both broths were hearty and stayed true to their Peranakan roots.
Likewise for the Cherki Ngor Hiang, which came with a mandatory side of kicap manis dipping sauce. The addition of duck pate and foie fat in the filling made it quite decadent.
There were five dessert options but our first choice, the Signature Rice Cakes with Banana (i.e. Apom Berkoah dan Pengat Pisang), was unfortunately sold out.
We settled for the Cherki Nyonya Kueh Platter, which contained bite-sized pieces of colourful kueh kueh. The usual suspects were in the lineup, except for the rose-flavoured one with purple, pink and white layers that I couldn’t identify.
Opinions of some of the items we ordered were mixed.
For example, I really enjoyed the Buah Keluak Chicken Wings and felt that the earthy and bitter candlenut sauce paired well with the deep-fried wings. The Wife and one of our friends held the opposite view and didn’t enjoy it.
Conversely, I thought that the cooked wing beans in the Flying Cempedek Prawns were too mushy. I’m used to having them raw and crunchy, but The Wife was a fan of the both the texture and taste.
Similarly for the Truffle Duck Popiah and the Crab and Otah Frittata.
It’s like what they say: “You can please some of the people, some of the time. But you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.”
I have to say that the courage to push the envelope and create new flavour profiles is commendable. Kudos to the head chef Ze Xin and his kitchen crew, as well as JK and his bar staff, for daring to be different.
Cherki is one of the more interesting restaurants that we’ve come across in Singapore recently. I hope that they continue to thrive, and more people get to try the innovative food and drinks that they serve.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the day that I can finally get to sample every single item on their menu.
13 down, 25 more to go!
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