Friday, 3 April 2015

A Review of David Thompson's Long Chim, Singapore: Me Love You Long Chim!

That was not an excuse to use a hackneyed, utterly non-PC quote from a Kubrick movie (showing my age?), but it is true.  Me....ahem, I mean I love Long Chim.

I had mixed feelings coming to Long Chim.  After all, this was the space that previously housed Guy Savoy, the late, much-lamented (at least by me), ill-fated venture by that fine three-Michelin-starred chef and his faithful lieutenant Eric Bost.  I had previously remarked that the arrival of Long Chim into the Savoy husk was the perfect illustration of the casualisation of the local restaurant scene.  Some call it "democratisation", I say bullshit.


Chef-Owner of Long Chim, David Thompson
I digress.  Long Chim at Marina Bay Sands is the first outpost of Australian chef David Thompson's Thai street food venture.  It is no secret that there are numerous Long Chim outlets already in the planning, so Thompson has a lot resting on how the pioneer outlet in Singapore fares.  Thompson is, of course, the owner of Nahm Restaurant in Bangkok, currently 7th on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list (#1 in 2014) and the first Thai cuisine chef to win a Michelin star for his efforts at the first Nahm in London.

I liked Thompson's food at his Sydney restaurants (showing my age again?), but have not had the pleasure of visiting Nahm.  So who should come to my rescue and join me at this tasting but my old friend S, who is a fan of Nahm and also happens to spend a lot of his time in Bangkok, where he owns an apartment.

We ask the manager Khun Aom to hit us with her best shot, so this is what we had on the evening.

Aromatic Beef Skewer with Cumin, Coriander and Turmeric ($15++ for four skewers)


These are, bar none, the best beef satays I've had in Singapore.  Ever.  The smokiness of the cumin is complemented beautifully by the heat of the charcoal grill, the marinade super-intense yet in perfect balance.  The meat itself is tender without feeling like some over-cornstarched cotton wool.  Excellent.

Chiang Mai Chicken Larp with Cabbage, Chilli and Mint ($10++ for four rolls)


I'm starting to get what people mean when they talk about "David Thompson-style" Thai food, and that is basically an unapologetic assault on the senses, old school Thai-style.  Again, the larb reeks (in a nice way) of fish sauce, and the potent heat and acidity find no relief or counterpoint (such as sweetness, etc.).  I absolutely love this dish, but (a) each of the cabbage leaves is not evenly filled, and (b) I wonder how much more my palate can take before I need to take it for a re-tuning.

Cured Pork Fritters with Ginger ($13++)


I find some momentary relief in this pork fritter, which is reminiscent of a milder version of the Isaan-style sausage sai krok.  S says there is too much breading on the fritter for his liking, but I put that down to his health-consciousness.  This would be perfect with an ice-cold beer on a typical Singapore evening.

Thai Fish Cakes ($9++)


This is the first let-down of the night.  The texture is nice, as far removed from rubber as Chateau Latour is from my everyday drinking (S reckons its due to it being more fish than cake), but the flavour is lacklustre.  And maybe it is my obviously farang palate, but this could really do with a dipping sauce of some kind, even if it's just a small dish of sriracha.

Prawn Bean Thread Noodles


Do you want the good news or the bad news first?  The good news is that the noodles are wonderful, having absorbed the flavour of some 7-8 large prawns, and is further beefed up with liberal spikings of black pepper.  While drier than the more familiar crab bean threads, the noodles manage to remain separate and maintain a nice bite.  The bad news is that the prawns are not fresh.  My first specimen is OK, but the second and third are cottony in texture, and all three seriously lack any good, deep prawn flavour.  I am a noodle junkie so I am prepared to call it evens, but many others may not be so forgiving.

Braised Lamb Rib Curry


This was good, and my God was it rich, but by this point, I am fading faster than a vampire left out in the sunlight.

Kai Lan with Chinese-Style Roast Pork and Oyster Sauce


This dish brings back memories for both S and I, but for two very different reasons.  My late paternal grandmother used to fry green vegetables with siew yoke that she used to buy from the local butcher, and whether by coincidence or design, I have not encountered this dish much, if at all, in recent years.  For S, the nostalgia comes from the taste of the meaty, concentrated oyster sauce, which he says was how most good oyster sauces tasted 30-40 years ago (showing HIS age!).  He tells me that many of the "younger generation" wouldn't even recognise this taste as oyster sauce, because today's commercialised oyster sauces are more caramel and colouring than any real oyster content.  I nod intently and continue to scarf the contents of the plate while S talks.

Green Curry of Wagyu Beef with Basil and Thai Chillies, Served with Roti ($22++)


This is another rollercoaster of Thompson-esque flavour, and I wish that this dish had arrived some three plates earlier rather than having to bring up the rear.  It is otherworldly good, but the sauce is oily, and I suspect a lot of the oil comes from the wagyu beef.  The roti does bugger-all to help the situation because it is greasier than Soul-Glo (I really should stop with these references to 70s and 80s pop culture).  Oh well, at least I have a valid excuse to stop eating...

Somewhere in there, during a moment of lucidity from my food coma, there was also a som dtam papaya salad.  This unfortunately, is boring and unbalanced, with too much sweetness and not enough acidity and heat.  I like to think that maybe it was served as a counterpoint to our green curry, but as the traditional way is to eat som dtam as an entree in its own right, this rendition doesn't quite cut it.

Pad Thai Sen Chan ($25++)


Khun Aom walks over and sees S and I moaning in pain and clutching our bellies.  She asks "Do you want to try our pad thai?"  S and I look at her in horror.  She says "I know you want pad thai.  Here, we get our noodles from Chanthaburi province southeast of Bangkok, which is very famous for its chewier noodles. We call this dish pad thai sen chan, which signifies that it is from Chanthaburi.  So if you ever see pad thai sen chan in Thailand, you should order it.  So...would you like some pad thai?"  Well, after an introduction like that, it would be rude to decline.  S asks if we can have a smaller serve.  Khun Aom is firm.  "No, one size only".  

Of course, we order it.  When it arrives with its little set of condiment jars, S breaks into a big smile and says "Now this feels like Bangkok!"  The pad thai is more of a wetter style, and I suspect this was necessary because you couldn't try cooking the firmer, chewier Chanthaburi noodles without just drying them up and making them inedible.  I really like this, although $25++ is a bit steep for a noodle dish.

When one of the staff threatens to bring the dessert menu, we feign death.  That seems to be the only polite way to say no.

Conclusion

Despite what I said earlier about Guy Savoy, I think Long Chim is a great addition to Singapore's restaurant scene.  Thai food in Singapore generally has a bad rep, which I suspect is largely to do with the inability to source the super-fresh produce and other ingredients which make Thai cuisine such a joy.  Long Chim has made a genuinely impressive start and I hope it will set a new bar for Thai cuisine here.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Thompson's cooking is "traditional", and why Nahm in Bangkok largely attracts a farang clientele.  Looking around Long Chim, the guests similarly appear to be mostly Caucasians.  I can tell you now that it isn't because Thompson is making concessions to the more sensitive palates of his fellow Australians.  The flavours here are bigger and bolder than virtually any other Thai eatery in Singapore, the lone exception to this being our disappointing som dtam.  Rather, as it was once explained to me. Thompson's food is an old-school version of Thai food that does not appeal to the young, more modern Thai palate.  Old school or not, what his team (Thompson does not cook here) are doing at Long Chim is top-notch, and at these prices (around $10 for entrees and $20 and upwards for shared mains), one could hardly do better.

LONG CHIM
#02-02, Casino Atrium 2
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
10 Bayfront Avenue
Singapore 018956
Tel: +65 6688 7299
BYO Policy: BYO not allowed.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.
Reservations highly recommended

2 comments:

  1. I love your unabashed reviews Julian :)

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  2. Thanks Victoria! Always glad to hear from you :)

    Sorry for the inordinately delayed response, been changing nappies, etc.

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