It’s been a year since Woo Wai Leong, the Masterchef Asia winner, went ahead with opening Restaurant Ibid. There’s been quite a lot to reflect for the first-time chef-owner. Now, Woo is starting on a fresh note with a new team of chefs and cooks, and with that a new approach to his cuisine.
Woo still flies the progressive Chinese flag, while keeping a slight distance from the Nanyang cuisine label first coined by him when Ibid debuted. He hasn’t abandoned the term entirely — a convoluted culinary philosophy inspired by the Nanyang Art movement.
We’re relieved that there isn’t a stubborn attachment to it. It’s a move to elegance without frills and taste without extravagance. If we put it in more practical terms: it’s better time management for a 50-plus seater restaurant.
The menu we saw a year ago was one that was overly meticulous and extremely detailed. Today, there’s a simpler menu in place: one that allows Woo to breathe a little and still unleash creatively.
There’s still a couple of familiar dishes. The spring onion shaobing gets a mini update and Woo’s signature beef short rib with angelic root sauce is still on the menu. But after that, they’re all new ‘inventions’.
Warming up with tea
Here, the restaurant offers diners a spot of tea to rev up appetites for the feast ahead. Instead of the usual Chinese teas, Woo whips up his own version with celtuce leaves. The leathery leaves, typically discarded, are left to dry and then boiled with rock sugar and seaweed. The sweet-savoury concoction goes along with a fragrant layer of fennel oil, easing diners into the next course.
Understated, flavourful bites
Gone are the days of deconstructed tea eggs and escargot skewers. Now, Woo preaches a simpler approach while remaining committed to putting out small plate after small plate of lavish bites.
On one plate, a single Japanese Tiger prawn is done two ways. It’s left raw, shrouded in a weave of sliced carrots, atop a sweet dollop of prawn stock spiked with Shaoxing wine and kefir. But the head ends up in the deep fryer for a glorious crunch, then crowned with an intense emulsion of prawn roe and its essences.
Then, we get one of the bravest additions to the menu: a single crispy, chicken wing. But this isn’t one that demands violent ravishing. Each wing, carefully deboned, is bursting with fish paste and foie gras — ready to scorch the lips of anyone who dares approach it nonchalantly. It goes through a thick, tart glaze of hot sauce and Chinese black vinegar, then another cascade of dried liver sausage just because it isn’t quite indulgent enough yet.
Jinhua Ham-infused Custard
The Jinhua Ham custard offers a quick pitstop between starters and mains. The combination sounds intense, but the dish couldn’t be more welcoming as a palate cleanser. The silky-soft custard offers just wisps of Jinhua ham’s savouriness, briefly enlivened by a thin disc of burnt onion consomme and caviar. It’s a moment of pure comfort, yet fleeting enough to jolt you back to the main highlights of the night.
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When it comes to mains, Woo goes for brief updates of familiar signatures. Black grouper goes for a quick sear, leaving a smoky, crisp skin over plump slivers of fish. The dish is served with tofu butter and undulating coils of bright pumpkin. The chef’s passion for laoganma chilli sauce is showcased here as a spicy concoction over the dish, simply stirred up with ikura roe. It’s controversially uncomplicated. But it works and in the realm of good cooking, that’s really all that matters.
Roasted Duck – the best of both worlds
This additional course is not listed on the menu just yet. But if you’re harbouring a huge appetite and dining with a group of friends, consider taking this up as an additional course to dinner.
Woo’s duck dish is a true labour of love. Local duck is doused in a master-stock of soya sauce, spices and duck bones, then left to age for a week. Afterwards, it goes roasting in an oven before getting a thorough basting session in hot, boiling oil. Diners get the best of Peking duck and Western-style cooking: perfectly crispy skin and still-juicy medium-rare meat.
Every roasted duck here is carved by the open kitchen — there’s no sneaking away back to the kitchen like with Chinese restaurants and their half-carved birds. Every bit of skin, meat (and if you want, the neck, the bishop’s nose and even the head) is all accounted for.
You could enjoy it Peking duck style. On the side, there are pancakes, slices of leek, pickled celtuce and a lovely sauce of spicy bean paste and plum preserves to slather everything over. But you’ll find the meat and skin, with hidden slicks of fat, thoroughly enjoyable on its own.
If you found Restaurant Ibid hard to identify with in the beginning, do yourself a favour and make another trip back here. It’s become less of an abstract art piece, and more of an approachable self-portrait unequivocably understood by all. After all, there need not be anything too overtly fancy about progressive Chinese cuisine. Good, earnest cooking is all that’s needed.
Monday to Saturday
6:00pm – 10:30pm
$98++ for 6 courses, $138++ for 9 courses