When Han Li Guang opened his first restaurant, Labyrinth, in 2014, it wasn’t long before the eatery drew curious epicureans with its modern Singaporean food that put an unconventional spin on local flavours. Its rendition of bak chor mee (minced meat noodles), for instance, looked similar to the hawker staple but actually consisted of saffron-infused squid (the “noodles”), Hokkaido scallops (the “fishcake”), and anchovy and tapioca powder (the “meat”). Then there was its take on chilli crab, where the popular dish was turned into a savoury ice cream.
Labyrinth relocated from Neil Road to the Esplanade in 2015, and earned its first Michelin star last year. Ever on a quest to push the boundaries of local cuisine, it recently underwent a revamp that included a redesigned space and a new menu.
While it still maintains its black-hued interiors and dim, moody lighting, the restaurant now has a more spacious dining area. Gone are the rows of tables clustered together — the furniture has been rearranged to offer the different groups of customers more privacy, as well as to ensure the overhead lighting shines directly onto each place setting — almost like a spotlight for every dish that arrives. The previously open kitchen has also been hidden away, to create a more intimate dining experience.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Labyrinth’s refurbished space is the addition of two feature walls, one of which is crafted as a tribute to his late grandmother and is adorned with her teacups, teapots and claypots. The other one is mounted with various local ingredients such as dried oysters, fish maw, torch ginger flower, and dried shrimps.
The latter isn’t just for show, though. It’s a nod to the new direction in which Han has steered Labyrinth’s menu — one that focuses almost exclusively on highlighting local produce. From meats to vegetables and seafood, 80 percent of the ingredients used in his cooking are obtained from Singapore markets and farms like Jurong Fishery Port, Hay Dairies, and Ah Hua Kelong. The remaining 30 percent is sourced mostly from within the region.
Chef Han’s sauces and honey are from local suppliers too — Kwong Woh Hing sauce factory and Stingless Honey Bee Farm respectively, to be exact.
Labyrinth now serves a four-course lunch tasting menu ($$68++), a four-course pre-theatre menu (S$68++), and a 10-course dinner tasting menu (S$178++). In line with its newly embraced locavore slant, all three prix-fixe sets are titled “Homage to My Singapore” and have been carefully designed to showcase the finest produce from Singapore’s farms, fisheries, factories and markets.
The dinner menu is the best way to fully understand Labyrinth’s new focus. It starts off with a variety of snacks like nasi lemak cheong fun, and braised baby abalone. The former translates nasi lemak into bite-sized morsels of housemade cheong fun skin (created using rice and tapioca flour with coconut milk that’s infused with spices like lemon grass and pandan leaves) wrapped around dollops of sambal mixed with egg yolk gel. This concoction is then topped with slivers of ikan billis, cucumber and deep-fried black chicken skin, and presented on a banana leaf. Most of the ingredients in this snack are sourced from Chinatown market. The final result looks nothing like a conventional platter of nasi lemak, but tastes surprisingly like the real McCoy.
The braised baby abalone is another standout. The plump abalone is braised in a vegetable stock and grilled over charcoal for a smokey finish, before being nestled on a crispy cloud of dehydrated, fried Fat Choy or black sea moss (obtained from Chinatown Dried Goods Shop at Chinatown market). It’s covered in a rich and aromatic oyster sauce, made in-house over three days using fresh and dried oysters.
Sweet, chewy lala clams from local fish farm Ah Hua kelong are given their moment to shine in a clam tart appetiser. They are ensconced within a jelly layer made from their natural juices, perched on a sheet of stir fried Chinese spinach from Nippon Koi Farm, and finally set atop a piece of deep fried wonton skin.
The clam tart is paired with a piquant house-made XO sauce mixed with powderised dried shrimps and Chinese Jin Hua cured ham, and garnished with dog fennel from urban farming company Edible Garden City.
More herbs and plants — 10 different types, to be exact — from Edible Garden City appear in chef Han’s zesty reinterpretation of rojak. These include white pea flower nectar and petals, red and green wood sorrel, Indian borage, moringa leaves, and purple basil. The traditional fruit and vegetable salad also contains sweet potato leaves from Nippon Koi Farm, and ginger flower from Chinatown market.
Chempadak (from Geylang Serai market) and a refreshing jackfruit sorbet (the fruit is from Tekka market) are thrown into the mix alongside stingless bee honey from Batam and hae kor dressing (which is made using fermented prawn paste) from Chinatown. A smattering of ground peanuts is sprinkled on top for crunch.
After that wholesome medley of greens, tuck into the less nutritious but absolutely scrumptious “Ang Moh” chicken rice — which subverts expectations by arriving in the form of a small, unassuming-looking dumpling decorated with chilli threads and coupled with a white sauce. Its soft, delicate skin breaks apart to reveal a moreish filling of diced chicken (from Toh Thye San Farm) infused in sesame oil and ginger sauce.
Thanks to an elaborate preparation process that entails the dumpling being cooked in a chicken rice stock of chicken bones, wings and feet with spring onions and pandan leaves, it actually does taste like a mouthful of chicken rice, perfumed with its unmistakable fragrance. There’s even a tiny blob of chilli sauce crammed inside for a hint of spice. The only anomaly is the accompanying white gravy, which tastes like a Western-style cream of chicken soup as it’s made using thickened chicken rice stock and button mushrooms.
According to Han, this cheekily-named dish is inspired by the Hainanese chicken rice dish that his grandmother adapted for the British family she used to work for during the colonial period. Back then, she served the rice with a button mushroom “roux” sauce, to better suit the family’s palate.
The new menu also features a refreshed iteration of the restaurant’s signature chilli crab ice cream. The rich, creamy confection is paired with slippery ribbons of pan-seared egg white, and flower crab meat (from Ah Hua Kelong) that’s steamed and seasoned with salted mackerel powder. All of this is bound by an emulsion of shaoxing wine and chicken fat.
Local produce also takes centre stage in Labyrinth’s desserts. A highlight is the Cristal de Chine Caviar, which, rather unexpectedly, turns out to be a luxed up version of kaya toast. Kaya ice cream (which comprises a blend of eggs from Freedom Farm, gula jawa, fresh coconut cream, and pandan leaves), is sandwiched between slices of toasted bread from Sing Hon Loong bakery, and bedecked with caviar pearls — meant as a substitute for butter.
The whole combination is unabashedly sinful, with the melt-in-the-mouth caviar enveloping every bite in its saltiness. In place of soft boiled eggs — the usual accompaniment to kaya toast — egg yolk sauce (also taken from Freedom Farm eggs) is cured with a light soy sauce from Kwong Woh Hing factory, and smeared on the plate.
We love how Labyrinth is supporting local farms, fisheries and suppliers in its latest menu. Its refreshed repertoire is testament to the variety of quality produce that’s available right here in our country, and shows how homegrown ingredients can be just as good as imported ones. Made in Singapore? Count us in.