At local “fusion” restaurant Morsels, things might get a little confusing when you read the menu.
It’s not filled with jargon, neither is it half written in French. It also isn’t deliberately vague like some fine-dining spots out there (we’ve all seen those minimalist menus that read something like: duck, kombu, celeriac, amaro).
In fact, the menu at Morsels is pretty self-explanatory. “Baby squid jelly” comes with “fermented celery” and a “homemade fish floss”; while “Toriyama Wagyu Chuck Roll” has “petai ume sambal, whipped potato, [and] cincalok emulsion”. There aren’t any attempts to obfuscate, but you might still struggle to understand what you might be getting.
There’s bound to be some confusion, because half of these are components or combinations that you probably have not tried before. What does fermented celery taste like? What on earth is a petai-ume sambal? How does one make a cincalok emulsion, and how does it pair with beef? It might be doubly frustrating (especially if you’re somewhat of an annoying know-it-all like me) that you recognize most of these ingredients, but might have trouble imagining them in the context that Loh has placed them in.
But you taste the food and you understand. Loh’s obsessed with fermentation and pickling — cue a countertop filled with jars of lightly fizzing ferments, almost like a mad scientist’s lab — and it shows up in the food through dizzying layers of umami, relatively restrained acidity, and some occasional funk. There’s an almost laissez-faire approach to the cooking, and it feels like Loh cooks whatever she wants — and it works.
Go with an open mind, and you will be rewarded with stuff like a rendang beef tartare, a textural wonder of beef — lightly spiced with rendang spices — sitting on a cracker composed of puffed pulot hitam (black glutinous rice), and showered in grated, cured egg yolk.
You also almost always get fresh oysters on the half shell, although of varying provenances depending on the season. Forget the mignonette though. At Morsels, acidity and contrast comes in the form of housemade condiments like peach kosho; grapefruit shrub; and fermented celeriac.
Like the rendang tartare, dishes often start off with some kind of local, Singaporean inspiration, but go off on a wild tangent to pick up influences from Japanese and European influences. “Daikon cake” comes to your table looking like cubes of agedashi tofu, but it’s a slightly chewy (or, as the Japanese would say, mochi mochi) Chinese-style radish cake, lightly battered, fried, and served with an umami tare and furikake.
You might get mild, creamy burrata sitting in tomato water, with fermented tomatoes, spicy raw bok choi. Questions inevitably arise when you see the black-colored crackers sitting on the dish — they’re inspired by cong you bing (Chinese spring onion pancakes) and made with spring onion ash.
Sometimes, the dishes draw cues from local favourites — like tender, slow-cooked beef tongue in a padron pepper-yogurt sauce, topped with a crispy noodle nest reminiscent of sheng mian (crispy noodles in gravy); and a house-aged duck breast with stir-fried rice cakes, homemade chye poh (preserved radish), and Chinese chives.
Get the Toriyama Wagyu chuck roll, and you’ll find out what petai-ume sambal is — petai (also known as stink beans), fermented until some of its acrid funk is tamed, with intensely salty-sour ume (Japanese preserved plums), all made into a spicy sambal that helps cut through the richness of the beef.
Even dessert isn’t spared the trip to funky town. There’s homemade jackfruit-banana cake, given a slightly savoury edge with barley miso, and subtly smoky santarem chocolate sauce.
#01-04, 25 Dempsey Road, Singapore 249670. Tel: +65 6266 3822. Website here