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Labyrinth: A Singaporean Gastronomic Journey

The vibrant city-state of Singapore has this culinary gem, full with fun and story, Labyrinth.

Nestled within the iconic Esplanade Mall, Labyrinth is the brainchild of the enigmatic Chef Li Guang Han, affectionately known as LG. Hailing from Singapore, Chef Han has etched his culinary identity with a distinctive philosophy that reflects his tenacity and commitment to pushing culinary boundaries.

Describing himself as a free spirit, Chef Han is unapologetically headstrong, harboring a robust determination that defines both his philosophy and techniques. As the proud owner of Labyrinth, a one-Michelin-starred establishment since 2020, he embarks on a culinary journey that continually challenges and reimagines the essence of Singaporean cuisine.

Labyrinth stands as a testament to Chef Han's locavore approach, with up to 90% of its menu showcasing produce sourced directly from local farmers and fishermen. The restaurant offers a "new expression of Singapore cuisine," drawing inspiration from Chef Han's childhood memories and transforming familiar Singaporean flavors into edible art designed to captivate even the most jaded palates.

Now, let's get to the good stuff – the food! Chef LG introduces the "New Singaporean Cuisine," a fresh take on his culinary roots. Shall we dive in?

To kick off the experience, I indulged in a welcome glass of Dom Pérignon, as I'm a bit of a champagne enthusiast. The first course brought a delightful surprise – braised quail eggs served with a rich broth. Nestled on straws that resembled nests, these eggs, steeped in spices and soy sauce, presented a departure from the usual French fine dining fare. The combination of flavors, including the local Singaporean spice, the savory essence of the eggs, and a cup of piping hot labyrinth tea, felt like a rewarding respite from a hard day's work.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the manager rolled out a large round tabletop, reminiscent of those found in hawker stalls. With a portable tissue atop it, I couldn't help but wonder about the significance. As it turns out, it's a nod to Singaporean etiquette at crowded Hawker Centers. To secure a seat while fetching food, locals use disposable tissues to mark their territory. Labyrinth's playful inclusion of this practice adds a layer of fun to the dining experience.

Upon this yellow top, a spread of Hawker Center delights awaited – from Hainan satay and fried oysters to grilled fish cake wrapped in green onions and a cute hamburger-shaped bun. Each bite was a celebration of the authentic "real taste" of local Singaporean cuisine, skillfully enhanced by Chef LG's intricate techniques.

As the culinary journey continued, I found myself entranced by the delicate textures, flavors, and nuances meticulously crafted by the chef. Labyrinth is more than a special restaurant; it's a showcase of culinary artistry, offering a delightful array of big and small variations that captivate the palate.

We're still immersed in the vibrant world of the Hawker Center, and the next culinary chapter is aptly named "Bread!" This course pays homage to a bakery Chef LG used to frequent at the Hawker Center, boasting an old-fashioned oven with a charred top that locals would scrape off with a knife due to its irresistible taste. The bread dough itself, infused with powdered milk and cream, exudes a unique blend of savory and sweet flavors that evoke a sense of intuitive nostalgia. The accompanying butter adds another layer of deliciousness to the experience.

Moving on to the next delight, inspired by the popular Pandan Waffle from Vietnam, the waffle is crafted with Pandan leaves, offering a crispy exterior and a moist, fluffy interior. Drawing from Singapore's street food scene, the waffle is adorned with strawberry jam and a "fake foie gras," ingeniously recreated by Chef LG using secret ingredients like Miso. The result is a delightful and surprisingly authentic taste that surpasses expectations.

The journey continues with a creative take on tuna belly meat and beetroot, artfully sliced, rolled, and flavored with lime and honey. This dish draws inspiration from a Singaporean delicacy called 魚sang, known for its sweet and savory raw fish preparation.

A playful nod to McDonald's follows, presented in a pie box reminiscent of McDonald's apple pie packaging. Inside, a hot pie awaits, elevated by the addition of truffle. Surprisingly, the filling isn't chicken but local frog meat, offering a unique twist that adds to the overall culinary adventure.

The climax of the meal arrives with a tribute to a Singaporean classic – chili crab. Chef LG presents the ninth edition of this iconic dish, featuring crab meat atop orange ice cream. The flavor is an impeccable recreation of chili crab, a taste so authentic that even after numerous encounters with chili crab in Singapore, this rendition stands out as a truly innovative and memorable experience.

The culinary journey concludes with a nod to an old airport street signature dish, combining Changfen and shrimp noodles. The dish features Changfen covering shrimp with sliced cuttlefish, and the shrimp noodles, with a robust shrimp head-infused soup, deliver a taste that resonates with Asian palates. The spices add a vibrant and colorful touch, bringing this extraordinary gastronomic adventure to a satisfying close.


Now, let's delve into the next creation that Chef LG fondly calls "Mom's Steamed Fish." This dish features fermented cabbage, steamed fish, and Japanese-style yuzy-kosho. The flavors are subtle, lacking any pungency, yet they unfold with a delicate umami taste that envelops the palate. The aftertaste is a beautiful blend of savory and salty notes, evoking a sense of maternal sincerity.

Following this, we encounter the palate cleanser, a precursor to the main event. The presentation in pottery is exquisite, designed with the iconic Merlion, symbolizing Singapore, in a Japanese workshop. Adorned with ginger flower sorbet and elegant herbs, it refreshingly prepares the taste buds for what's to come.

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for—the main dish, an homage to the historic Cairnhill Steakhouse in Singapore. A revered establishment in the '60s, now closed since 1994, Chef LG resurrects its memory in 2023. The ambiance is set with a checkered tablecloth and a romantic candlelit atmosphere. A scorching cow-shaped iron plate arrives, reminiscent of the restaurant's original setup.

The theatrics begin as the sizzling, boiling, and smoking sauce is sprinkled on the hot iron plate, releasing a symphony of scents that captivate the senses. To add to the spectacle, edible candles, crafted from cow oil, grace the center of the table. Dipping chips into these unique candles becomes a delightful experience, a surprising touch to an already extraordinary meal.

Moving on, a manually operated shaved ice machine takes the stage, bringing a sense of playfulness. Melon and cool lemon sorbet accompany this free dessert, adding a refreshing touch to the culinary journey.

The main dessert surprises with a savory twist, featuring pork, potatoes, and gingko. But the adventure doesn't conclude just yet—there's one more treat in store. A homage to the beloved kaya toast, this version is lighter and more playful with meringue, providing a delightful ending that lingers on the palate.

In summary, it was a fantastic dining experience for me. Chef LG's creativity and playful approach truly shone through. It's fascinating to note that Chef LG, with a background as a financier, took a unique path into the culinary world, ultimately bringing the joy of innovative Singaporean cuisine to food enthusiasts worldwide.


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