SINGAPORE — As a dining destination, 1 Seletar Aerospace Heights is hardly the type of address that inspires gastronomical creativity. From the outside, the building exudes a brutalist spirit, helped along by its embrace of massive concrete slabs that envelope the structure’s exterior. Inside, the space is occupied and owned by Wah Son Engineering and intentionally designed to engulf anyone who steps through its door—its cavernous belly purposefully carved to fit the tallest of cranes used in the manufacturing of high-quality and high-complexity toolings for the aerospace industry. That it won the 2016 President’s Design Award, then, comes as no surprise.
It is in the foyer of Wah Son Engineering that Chef Shen has chosen to set up Ownself Make Chef Public Dinner—a private-ish, exclusive, highly sought after, by-reservations only dinner affair held on the first three Saturdays of the month.
Here, I don’t use the term ‘exclusively’ lightly. The 24-seater, 3-hour dinner comes complete with a personal tour of the garden where Chef Shen grows a gamut of vegetables and herbs used in the menu. It doesn’t get more organic than Chef Shen handing you some extra-refreshing mint leaves plucked straight from the stem to freshen up your palettes in preparation for a night of culinary merriment.
The night I went, the menu I chose was the “EXTRA” BBQ Mai Tu Liao featuring an 8-course dinner of every type of protein your heart desires—except for Lamb. Chef Shen tells me that she’s received feedback on her lamb dishes, with some remarking that ‘they don’t eat lamb’.
Unfortunately for such, ahem, fussy diners, the menu at this public dinner does not accommodate specific dietary requirements due to the nature of the operation. Not that Chef Shen leaves you high and dry, wondering if the menu has items and allergen that you can’t consume. The full menu is available on the website for your thorough perusal. In short, pay and come in as informed consumers, please.
The 8-course BBQ Mai Tu Liao (S$128 per pax) dinner starts with slices of tender Tea-smoked Duck served on a simple but amply dressed bed of Fameflower leaves from the garden outside. The drizzle of ginger, soy, and aged balsamic goes a long way in brightening the presentation and when paired with the firm but saccharine cherry tomato, makes for an excellent opener for a meat-heavy menu. Brace yourself, I say.
This is followed by a Spatchcocked Laksa Quail that is quite impossible to eat with cutlery. Dispense with formalities and go at it with your fingers. The bird has been boldly seasoned with a Laksa Rempah that creeps up on you and is incredibly yummy. There are also smoked quail eggs on the side, which I appreciated and made me consider having a few of these around at home for snacking.
It’s not a Chef Shen dinner without her famed twice-steamed Nasi Lemak, here, served with two huge and impeccably grilled prawns and a conservative but efficient dollop of lard belachan. A spoonful of this brought me straight back to OG Nasi Lemak at Newton Centre, where Chef Shen doles out plate after plate of flavourful Nasi Lemak to adoring fans. Plus, who doesn’t love prawns, am I right?
The following two courses focused on Pork cooked two ways. The first, Biryani with Pork Ribs, was less impressive due to the Biryani spice being too mild for Kurobuta Pork with this much personality and sass. Of course, the most obvious way to combat this would be to amp up the biryani spice, but even this has its drawbacks. I reckon any bolder, and the pork will crumble under the weight of all these intense flavours. Kurobuta is a diva and does not make for good company with anything else as flavourful.
Luckily the Double Rib Kurobuta Pork Chop fared much better, served with a beautifully buttery and silky pomme puree that made me swoon. This should have been the pork and cut used in the previous course. Even after a 48 hours marination with Chef Shen’s Secret Sauce, the meat retains sufficient bite, which also makes me happy. I liked this more.
What’s a meat-centric 8-course elegance without some Wagyu meats thrown in for good measure? The Slow Cooked Wagyu Rendang, of course, is undoubtedly beautiful and so lovingly marinated until the dry rub and meat becomes one. It’s fatty where it should be and lean everywhere else, but always, always juicy. It comes with a side of Lacto-fermented vegetables, which are acidic without relying on the sharp flavour of vinegar.
Silence falls upon the dining hall as everyone tucked into a bowl of Grilled A4 Wagyu noodles, served with a beef broth, light as air, perfectly al-dente home-made oyster pasta and delicate slivers of truffle. At this point, all you hear is the sound of spoon against bowl permeating the air—movement one of Chef Shen’s modern symphony of flavours. This bowl makes for a grand denouement to a savoury-intense menu, the lightness of the broth a welcome palate cleanser before desserts. Did someone say Amoy Street Fish soup? Please. We don’t even know her.
And then, dessert. A poetic presentation of everything a dessert should be and aspire to. It’s simply called ‘Banana Dessert’, which does absolutely no justice to this plate of perfection. With its toothsome sweetness coaxed out to the fore through force of fire and heat, Grilled banana sits encased within a crumbly lard butter tart with hints of salt that made me giddy with excitement. It comes served with a Gula Melaka Ice Cream which, upon scanning the room, several diners left untouched. Why? Were you not loved as a child?
I came for the promise of Chef Shen’s culinary brilliance but stayed just for this dessert. Bravo. Foolish is the person who isn’t licking this clean. Even more ludicrous are the diners who didn’t meticulously pick up the crumbs from the tables and shoving them back greedily into your mouth. Shame on all of you. This Banana Dessert deserves better. It deserves me.
Dinner starts promptly at seven, with every course introduced by the affable Chef Shen. In between, service was fast and quick, and the servers, attentive to a fault. I particularly enjoyed watching the stiff-upper-lip atmosphere of dinner considerably lightened with a few glasses of wine (additional payment, of course, or you can BYOB) and the cheery disposition of one Chef Shen who doesn’t ever take herself too seriously. Except when it comes to the food, of course.
1 Seletar Aerospace Heights, S797547
Dates are released three months in advance