For an 82-year-old, the Clifford Pier looks magnificent with its tall ceilings, large glass windows and wide arches that extend across the room. Historical lithographs and vintage books also punctuate the space, alluding to the venue's storied history and giving the decor an elegant finishing touch.
“We love how they've managed to restore the building whilst still retaining its beauty,” observes Elaine Lim-Chan, who together with her sister Yvonne Lim, a doctor, and fellow car enthusiast Carmen Ow, are our Prestige Lunch guests at the pier-turned-dining destination.
In fact, Ow adores the place so much that she has chosen it as the venue for her marriage solemnisation ceremony later this year. “I love how regal it feels,” she says.
Once the landing point of Singapore's forefathers, the venue is today a restaurant managed by The Fullerton Bay Hotel. The eatery's Chef de Cuisine Ken Zheng shares: “Apart from having a concept that's in line with the pier's history, we also wanted to pay tribute to the hawker culture that was once integral to the area.”
“It's a nice alternative venue to have local dishes,” Lim, who dines with her sister at least once a week, says as we sit down to lunch. “We enjoy local food and make it a point to try all the different establishments, hawker or otherwise.”
It is the same for Ow who, together with her family, makes regular food pilgrimages to Bedok and Geylang. “My dad enjoys chendol and we've gone everywhere looking for the best,” she reveals with a laugh.
Such is their love affair for local hearty dishes that the trio, particularly Lim-Chan, refer to guide books on Singapore's best hawker spots. “I visit these recommended places, tick them off the list and make mental notes on which is best,” she says.
“I share my opinions with friends and at times, bring foreign friends to try them. Local food to me is essential to the Singapore experience,” Lim-Chan adds.
Today, the ladies' adventurous culinary spirit is appeased with chef Zheng's signature dish: The rickshaw noodles. This dish is the highlight of the lunch and is something Zheng holds close to his heart. His grandfather, he tells us, used to make a similar dish at his old hawker stall (located, where else, but at Clifford Pier) and Zheng, by age five, was already grandpa's trusted helper.
While his grandfather's featured a pork and anchovy broth with minced meat and leafy vegetables, Zheng's is dry and uses handmade ban mian (a tribute to yet another hawker in the family lineage, this time his father, who used to sell such noodles). It comes topped with simmered pork belly and a sous-vide egg, and is flavoured with a special chili sauce made to his grandfather's recipe.
“The soft-boiled egg was a fantastic touch and had me at first bite. It was savoury and had the right amount of chili. Mixing it together with the noodles made the dish even more delicious,” says Ow.
One other dish that helps placate the ladies' cravings for local classics, was the kambing (mutton) soup. Cooked in a secret combination of spices, it is noticeably less oily and is of a thicker consistency than the norm. And whereas a gamey smell is typically associated with the meat, this rendition, Lim-Chan observes, is aromatic. “The soup is robust in flavour and is quite an authentic interpretation,” she adds.
The secret lies in the choice of meat: Instead of mutton, the chef uses lamb shank, which he simmers for roughly four hours. This makes it tender and helps to get rid of the strong aroma. “We wanted to enhance and elevate Singapore's favourite hawker dishes to create a premium dining experience. When recreating them, we were mindful about preserving its authenticity while, at the same time, giving it an update,” Zheng says.
The lunch concludes with pandan ice-cream, which comes sandwiched between two finely sliced pieces of bread. The manner in which it is served is reminiscent of the street-side ice-cream vendors that was common during the pier's heyday and also, as Ow points out, the motorcycle-stall uncles that can still be found along Orchard Road. “Those can be such a treat!” she says.
The pandan flavour, Lim notes, is subtle and, unlike the sugar-laden ice-cream sold by the motorcycle vendors, is surprisingly less sweet — something even the health-conscious can enjoy.
And of course, after such a sumptuous meal comes the onset of food coma and how better to snap out of a local-themed lunch, if not with teh tarik? The restaurant's hot milk tea is packed with flavour and contains the right amount of sugar for a midday perk-me-up.
“Teh tarik is quintesentially Singaporean, best enjoyed with good food and of course, in the company of good friends,” says Ow. Indeed.
Fish crackers, rempeyek & belinjo crackers with dips
KUEH PIE TEE
Crispy shell filled with shredded fragrant turnips,
Ubin's prawns & fresh herbs
A CUP OF SOUP
Kambing mutton soup cooked in traditional spices
with fried shallots & scallions
UNI GLASS NOODLE
Chilled with sea urchin, salted egg &
salmon roe in lime truffle sauce
WAGYU BEEF RENDANG
Tender slow-cooked beef in aromatic & spicy paste
with traditional achar pickles
THE PIER LOBSTER ROLL
Half butter-poached lobster on a toasted bun,
with light mayo, crispy lettuce & chives
TWO GENERATIONS OF RICKSHAW NOODLES
Stewed yellow Hokkien noodles in pork broth
& traditional condiments, Handmade dry noodles
with simmered pork belly & soft boiled egg
PANDAN ICE CREAM
FOOD AND GUEST PHOTOS/ SIMON SIM