With one Michelin star under his belt, or apron, Barry Quek is one of a new generation of Asian chefs trained in European cuisine who are reclaiming the tropes of Singaporean fusion food. By honouring the various cultures that coexist in his homeland, incorporating new ingredients and embracing the curiosity of crossover, Quek’s reinterpretations of traditional fare celebrate his Lion City heritage in exciting, emotional and unexpected ways.
An elegant play on the humble rattan as a reflection of his regionally inspired cuisine is unmissable upon stepping into Whey, his smart restaurant in Central. The woven expanses of rattan represent the craft, the human touch and the vernacular – all qualities that resonate with his dining concept. Domed rattan along the ceiling is juxtaposed with brass accents, and oak veneers compliment the overall tonality while bringing a sense of intimacy to the space.
“The idea for this restaurant is to pay homage to my Hokkien roots,” says Quek. “Growing up, I really enjoyed eating my mom’s homemade food. Both the ambience and the food I prepare here are reflections of my own upbringing.”
Echoing the interior design conviction of realising new, meaningful encounters with old, modest materials, the recently launched spring menu is the real star of this gastronomic show. Its prologue, Ang Mo Kio, which is Hokkien for tomatoes, is presented as a tomato tartlet. Inside a thin, crispy shell are layers of semi-dried tomatoes and fermented tomato jelly, a whole, softly pickled cherry tomato, and basil oil. The tart is then garnished with a variety of herbs and edible flowers, such as oregano and ginger flower powder.
The restaurant also considers sustainability, and this eco-aware ethos is perfectly exemplified by its name. The liquid leftovers after milk has curdled is called whey and is frequently thrown away. Chef Quek, however, sees it as just the component to modify and enhance dishes and cocktails. Food waste is reduced by using every possible ingredient in inventive creations and unheard-of combinations.
Enter Spring Peas and Mackerel. Plated in a wooden bowl and surrounded by fresh and raw vegetable garnishes, this dish showcases fresh spring peas and unripe strawberries. These are paired with slightly torched mackerel, whose salty, flaky meat further amplifies the delicate sweetness of the produce and the accompanying creamy whey sauce. A drizzle of leek oil brings it all together with a subtle earthy undertone.
Most notable for the smoke wafting from the dry ice used in its presentation, Di Har is stacked to let diners experience textures in each bite, from the calamansi jelly and mousse base to the shrimps and caviar on top. It is followed by a creamy soup of White Asparagus, which is given a jolt of texture from the chewy bamboo clams and the roasted candlenuts.
Asked how Whey stands out from its competitors, Quek confidently claims that Whey’s Brioche makes his kitchen distinctive. He says: “When eaten together with the rich, silky buah keluak emulsion, the combination is a one-of-a-kind experience that keeps diners coming back for more.”
Served on a no-fuss white porcelain plate, Threadfin Fish is grilled over charcoal until the skin is crispy. A velvety layer of potato mousse, spring-onion oil, coconut XO sauce and sambal chilli acts as a surprise number underneath.
Ji Fan, Whey’s interpretation of Hainanese chicken rice, is a new main addition inspired by his grandmother’s Chinese roots. A refined version of a Singaporean staple, Dry Curry Laksa Mee is elevated by baby shrimp and grilled abalone, with each noodle strand soaking up the rich, aromatic laksa sauce.
Peanut Ice Cream reimagines essential components of achar salad to produce an unconventional flavour combination from fresh and fermented pineapple, peanut praline bits and chillies.
Through these edible cultural elements, its modern glass-panel partitions and Scandinavian blinds, Whey captures the sophisticated confluence of East and West. It is this well-executed convergence that not only bestows its unique flair but also cleverly represents the diverse cultural makeup of the Central neighbourhood.
Location: Whey, UG/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central. Tel: +852 2693 3198.
Photos: Whey, Video: Jack Fontanilla