Restaurant Born – located in the Jinriksha Building (also known as the Jackie Chan building), is perhaps one of the most awaited restaurant openings in 2022. Development of the concept took a while and was eventually shaped by the beautiful, naturally-lit space that the founders were able to secure in Tanjong Pagar.
Helmed by Chef Zor Tan, who originally hails from Malaysia, Restaurant Born is a highly personal affair with dishes named and inspired by various phases of his culinary career. In that sense, the name “Born” heralds a new chapter in Zor Tan’s journey where he sees anew with the eyes of a child – curious and ever open to possibility.
It is not very easy to put a nationality to the cuisine at Born. Perhaps the best description would be that it marries the elegance and subtlety of French gastronomy with a deep knowledge of Chinese ingredients and flavors. Dining here, one would find the preparation and presentation to be highly Western with flavors that are undeniably Asian. The flavors are bold yet familiar – each dish encapsulating a set of memories and representing the culinary expression of the chef.
The set menu at Restaurant Born is priced at S$368++ for dinner, with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks pairing available. At the moment, the restaurant is not open for lunch but a lunch menu is in the works.
The opening number consists of a multi-plate ‘Pickles & Snacks’ course embodying Chef Zor’s cuisine philosophy. A selection of pickles heads the course: Winter Melon with Purple Shiso Jus, Pickled Japanese Daikon Skin, and Jellyfish Pickled with Mountain Chilli.
The next series begins with Tomato / Smoked Plum / Basil in which Zor recalls his father bringing home fresh mango and guava. The young Zor would put sour plum powder on top of the fruit slices, inspiring these capsules.
Next is Chicken Skin Mille Feuille / Eggplant / Caviar, a tribute to his mum’s fried egg plant with pork belly.
Abalone / Burnt Chilli Pesto / Garlic Crisps round up this set. Growing up in a fishing village, Zor loved eating cockles with chili. Here he ‘elevates’ the experience and serves abalone with chili.
The third series opens with Fish Bacon / Sweet and Sour Sauce / Homemade Chilli Oil, inspired by memories eating
Mei Ren Yu (美⼈鱼), crispy fried smelt fish that is a common side dish for ‘economic rice’.
The Taro Puff / Salted Egg Custard / “Bottarga” round up the snacks. It’s based on his mum’s taro gula melaka puff. These snacks comment on life’s vicissitudes (酸甜苦辣) and how he has ‘progressed’ to being able to afford the consumption of premium seafood.
1st Course – First Kitchen Job
The first course, aptly called “First Kitchen Job: is an ode to Chef Zor’s first F&B role in a Japanese restaurant in Singapore. Prior to that, he was actually working in the semiconductors industry. The flavors recall the familiar combination of soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger. Kobujime is applied to age the buri in kombu, before mixing it with a house-blend of sesame dressing and pickled mustard seeds. The dish is paired with daikon that is seasoned with a fermented ginger dressing. A galangal snow with light spice and bitter notes further adds to the varying flavor profile of this dish.
2nd Course – Spain and Home
“Spain and Home” is the name of the second course. Essentially, a fried “bao” with aged beef and oyster, the dish took root at Restaurant Diver Xo in Spain where Zor witnessed the Spanish chef make ‘bao’. The glutinous rice balls were perfectly chewy and soft with the vintage Wagyu beef tartare providing for a savory surprise within. I especially loved the oyster emulsion as well – I would suggest putting as much of it as possible on the “bao”.
3rd Course – Favorite Root Vegetable
Chef Zor’s time at Restaurant Andre introduced him to the Jerusalem artichoke which became one of his favorite vegetables and the focus for the third course, Jerusalem Artichoke / Lily Bulbs / Caviar – a course he calls “Favorite Root Vegetable”. It is a dish with a sweet and savory profile, where artichoke is paired with the milkiness and sweetness of white chocolate and contrasted with savory caviar. The raw Chinese lily bulb adds a water-chestnut-like texture and flavor to a creation at once complementary, contrasting and unexpected.
4th Course – Legend
With the 4th course – Chicken Liver /Smoked Oil / Forest Mushroom called “Legend”, Zor pays tribute to his mentor, Chef Andre Chiang. Here, Zor presents his own interpretation of the iconic Foie Gras Parfait that Chef Andre is known for – a rebirth that brings into focus the elements of birth, relationship, and progress. Chicken liver – an under-appreciated ingredient – is elevated into an indulgent flan. Chicken liver usually tastes a lot sharper but Chef Zor manages to make it a wonderfully creamy affair that’s more consistent with foie gras.
5th Course – Working With Sichuan Chefs
Zor’s time in Macau, where he grew to love the classic Sichuan dish ‘duo jiao yu tou’ ( 剁椒鱼头 ), make memories and the central theme of the next course. Monkfish / Fermented Capsicum / Chicken Fat was served on the a-la-carte menu there and now he introduces the same in Singapore. The dish presents a variation of textures and flavors consisting of a seasonal
white fish delicately steamed, served with fermented imperial chili, topped with a textural ‘Yu Mu Er’ (玉木耳) – jade fungus from Yunnan – a velvety emulsified chicken fat accented with Sichuan peppercorn and finished with a smoky charcoal oil.
6th Course – To Grace
With the 6th course, Fish Maw / Chinese Cabbage / Smoked Eel, Zor weaves into a dish multiple meanings – birth, relationship, progress, and legacy. After the birth of their first child, Zor’s wife was fed a confinement dish consisting of collagen-rich fish maw, which served to nourish and hasten the recovery of new mothers. Inspired, Zor applied a classic French chou farci technique to wrap smoked eel and cabbage in fresh barramundi fish maw, then the parcel is further wrapped in cabbage and another layer of caul fat before pan-searing. Zor then tops it with julienned raw cabbage stems and fried fish maw for contrast in texture.
7th Course – Life Gets Better
Alaskan King Crab / Glutinous Rice / Crab Bisque is the 7th course. One can expect a combination of textures here, from glutinous rice balls known as ‘tang yuan’ (汤圆) – reminders of family reunions as a child in Perak, and the mud crabs his father would catch for the celebration. This was my first time to taste a savory version of ‘tang yuan’ and here, Zor’s intention is to use these dumplings made with rice flour replace the traditional rice course. The accompanying Alaskan crab meat is steamed whole, shelled, then brushed with fermented yellow soybean paste. Crab miso fill the glutinous rice balls while beetroot and spinach juice form the coloring – all finished with crab roe sauce, crab bisque and butter and a small dollop of egg white caviar.
8th Course – Circle of Life
The 8th dish, Pigeon / Grains / Corn, is an exemplar of the ‘celebration of food web’ in the Circle of Life; along with a nod to birth in the creation of a new dish. Depicting a pigeon in the corn field, the dish showcases a confit and bincho-grilled pigeon breast and leg served alongside chicken stock cooked barley, pearl corn, sunflower seeds, shallots and tomatoes that have been baked until dehydrated. The grains are overlaid with a layer of thinly sliced pearl corn and garnished with Cosmos petals. The true star of this dish is the leg – extremely crunchy and succulent at the same time with the garlic bread crumbs.
Our pre-dessert consisted of Double Boiled Bird’s Nest served with osmanthus syrup, osmanthus sorbet and topped with chrysanthemum petals. Zor created the palate cleansar with the “Gui Hua Jiu Niang Tang Yuan” traditional dessert in mind.
9th Course – Dessert
Growing up and attending Chinese celebratory dinners at restaurants, rice was often the last dish of the feast. This thought led Zor to create Toasted Rice / Chestnut / Sable, a dessert with milk ice cream, toasted rice cream, puffed rice, caramel, black garlic, sable, French chestnut puree and Chinese candied chestnuts. The combination of ingredients speaks of Zor’s roots with its cross-cultural bridging of technique and influence as well as the high-level craft needed to execute it. This intensely gooey number is Zor’s playful interpretation of the Mont Blanc dessert.
We finish the dinner with another reminder of the vicissitudes of life – or literally sour, sweet, bitter and spicy (酸甜苦辣). Specifically, this consisted of Sea Buckthorn Jelly, Lotus Puff Pastry, Bittergourd Bon Bon and Spice Beef Fat Financier. Of the four, I particularly loved the financier. Restaurant Born does its pastries excellently.
What I love about the food at Restaurant Born is precisely that it isn’t predictable. The highly personal touch adds character to the dishes, with the creativity and thought highly discernable. The set menu at Restaurant Born is meant to be seasonal – with this debut menu lasting the longest well into the 1st quarter of 2023. I am already quite excited to see what the next chapter holds.
1 Neil Road
+65 6223 3292
Tuesday to Saturday, 6PM to 11PM