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Review: chef Damian D’Silva’s Rempapa is a celebration of Singapore heritage cuisine

The “Grandfather of Heritage Cuisine,” chef Damian D’Silva, is back again, this time with an all-day dining restaurant, Rempapa.

The casual joint, located in Paya Lebar Quarter’s Park Place Residences, is distinctly different from the more upscale (now defunct) Restaurant Kin that he was previously at at first glance. Here, you’ll find a bright open dining hall and a sizeable, airy alfresco terrace with plenty of greens that keep the space warm and relaxed for diners at any time of the day.

What doesn’t change, however, is chef Damian’s passion for local heritage cuisine, and it starts from the restaurant’s name: Rempapa.

It’s coined with chef Damian’s reputation as the custodian and “papa” of heritage cuisine, as well as the word “Rempah” – the aromatic spice paste that all ethnicities in Singapore use as a base in their cooking.

The menu at Rempapa is a celebration of heritage cuisine on all fronts. Take the humble Kai Fan, for instance. Kai Fan, while not an unfamiliar menu item for regulars who dined at Folklore back in 2018, is long-forgotten heritage dish isn’t commonly found elsewhere. Here, the origins of the fare dates back to the 1960s, inspired by chef Damian’s memories of eating it from street hawkers with his grandfather when he was younger.

The dish, which used to feed coolies working at the docks along Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, now finds itself in a hearty bowl of steamed rice with shredded chicken, char siew, Chinese sausage, and chye sim, before a rich chicken stock is poured over it right before serving. Perfect for a rainy day, or anytime you’d like to feel the warm embrace of nostalgia.

Kai Fan

Yet, chef Damian wants to do much more than just spotlight tradition and heritage in the most straightforward way possible. According to the illustrious chef, “if our heritage and the cuisine it embraces is forgotten, it will forever be lost.” And so he’s taken on the challenge to showcases the diverse, magnificent culinary legacy of our ancestors while making it relevant to the younger generation.

An example of this is the Fried Chicken Curry Rice, a dish that he dubs a “Singapore New Heritage” dish. It crafts a familiar, modern visual that sits well with the younger generation, but with the bigger goal of introducing heritage flavours.

Besides the Fried Chicken Curry Rice, another “Singapore New Heritage” dish includes the Pork Chop Curry Rice, a tonkatsu lookalike that sports flavours from the classic Hainanese curry rice.

This dish in particular, which can only be found on the lunch and brunch menu, is inspired by the idea of popular Japanese dish of curry with karaage, while retaining the taste and essence of Eurasian, Peranakan, Indian, Malay, and Chinese cuisines. The winning dish sees a dash of light soya sauce to taste, a classic Peranakan rempah, and a blend of dry spices in the curry.

Apart from highlighting plates from his own heritage, Chef Damian also taps into the recipes drawn from his team. This is manifested into dishes such as the the Stir-Fried Chee Cheong Fun (served during breakfast and brunch), and the Slow-cooked Belly Pork with Ah Seng Sauce (dinner), as a way of motivating their immersion into heritage cuisine. Both come from the team’s Penang-born chef, Ah Seng.

The Slow-Cooked Belly Pork with Ah Seng Sauce will find itself on many tables who love this particular cut of meat — the addictive plate is a 360-degree fan comprising sliced, chilled pork belly that’s been slow-cooked with ginger, before being crowned with a gently-spiced combination of Szechuan peppercorn, garlic, chillies, cumin powder, light soya, vinegar, black bean, cumin, and five-spice powder.

In case you’re wondering, the extensive menu can’t be covered in one sitting (unless your ideal day out is to spend 12 hours sampling the Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch and Dinner dishes). Other stand-outs from the restaurant’s offerings include the Nasi Lemak with Fish / Chicken, complete with a deliciously lemak, thrice-steamed bowl of coconut rice on the lunch and brunch menu, as well as the Baca Assam and the Lamb Leg Rendang for dinner.

It’s a good idea to bring as many friends and family as possible each time you’re making a reservation so you’ll be able to feast to your heart’s desire.

The daily assortment on the Kueh Platter will range from classics like Kueh Kosui and Kueh Ku to others like the Sago Ubi, Lapis Pulot and Rempah Udang.

If you’re looking to dine Masterchef style, Chef Damian will personally present an Omakase “Chef’s Menu” with produce and seasonal catch from local waters throughout the year in the Rempapa private room (for up to 10 guests), complete with explanations of every dish for a truly immersive heritage cuisine adventure.

Rempapa is located at 2 Paya Lebar Rd, 01-01/02/03 Park Place Residences at PLQ, Singapore 409053 from 10.30am to 10.30pm daily. Bookings can be made here.

Jocelyn Tan

Senior Writer

Jocelyn Tan is a travel, food and design writer who's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. Constantly curious (read: chatty), she's the type who'll initiate conversations even with strangers in a shared taxi.

 

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