Inspired by the sea and the region, Laut is a culinary experience of Southeast Asian culture and heritage founded by Frank, an experienced restaurateur, and Leon, formerly of Native bar. Together, the childhood friends drive the ethos of sustainability and the use of regional produce to create an innovative food and beverage programme at one of the Singapore’s most eclectic and trending dining hotspots in the buzzing Telok Ayer district.
With a pedigree such as Native Bar behind him, you can be assured owner/head bartender Leon’s local-centric cocktail programme is built on the shoulders of giants. One of the first cocktails I tried at Laut and probably my favourite, the Pineapple ($21) evokes echoes of the bar that made this style all the rage nowadays, but now more than ever with Leon’s own experience and personality stamped on it.
Sweetly tropical on first sip, but with layers of complex flavour unravelling upon your tongue, the base of dark rum and fermented Sarawak pineapples gives way to the subtle smokiness of aged Malaysian molasses and the delightful tingle of Borneo peppers.
There’s a restrained sensibility behind this cocktail, yet head bartender @leontbk somehow simultaneously manages to make the melting pot of culturally diverse ingredients in this libation sing. With gula Melaka arrack at its core, the Soy ($21) derives it name from the use of clarified soy milk in the process of making the cocktail, through which most of the colour and cloudiness of the cocktail is removed, resulting in a crystal clear drink that’s smooth, mellow and touched with floral notes of chrysanthemum, the tart sweetness of tamarind and just the faintest hint of spiced mango.
The June Plum ($21) is an ebullient elixir that’s refreshingly tart, where the acidity of kaffir lime and kedongdong plums masks the potency of the underlying gin. Like an ivory island in the middle of a silver lake sits a quenelle of hawthorn sorbet, a clever companion which you can mix in to add sweetness according to your tastes.
Compendium’s (@compendium.sg) signature chendol gin is probably the least exotic ingredient on the list of the Soursop ($21), where pandan, chocolate mint, soursop, cacao husk vinegar and goji berries all vie for your tastebuds’ attention, but ultimately, this adult version of the After Eight Mint Chocolate Thins is harmoniously greater than the sum of its parts.
You might not see any semblance to the Oyster Eggs’ ($11) source of inspiration, but this successful left field riff on the beloved hawker favourite “orh luak”(or oyster omelette) will definitely taste familiar.
Succulent poached Pulau Ubin oysters from @seafarmersubin languish on a bed of steamed egg custard, amidst gleaming pearls of glutinous rice balls and crunchy sea grapes. A chilli oil brings everything together, and when all the ingredients are eaten in a single mouthful, is quite the textural and flavour equivalent of one of my favourite local foods sans the greasiness.
A whip-smart combination of 2 local dishes – the Rojak Kueh Pie Tee ($12) contains the key elements of a rojak such as toasted jicama, crunchy peanut, along with a punchy tamarind chutney, inside a bite-sized, crisp kueh pie tee shell. Uncomplicated, yet intriguing and absolutely delicious with any of Laut’s South-east Asian skewed cocktails.
Whether you’re camp black or white Carrot Cake ($15), you’ll like Laut’s rendition of both on the same plate. The former comes marinated in kecap manis, and the latter, crisp and studded with chye poh(salted turnips), carrots and baked eggs. Both seek to emulate the flavour of the conventional hawker version, but eschew the soft and fluffy chopped up chunks we know in favour of rectangular blocks with a firmer, crisp texture. They’re served with a slather of very addictive and spicy sambal that is worthy of being sold as a condiment in its own right.
Highlighting local ingredients across practically all their dishes, Laut’s simply titled “Frogs” ($18) is a prime example and sees Frenched local frog legs from Jurong Frog Farm coated in an oatmeal and cereal crumb blend. Inspired by the “tze char” dish cereal prawn, yet so much better, the frog lollipops encased in crunchy cereal batter are mouthwateringly tender and extremely flavourful from the curry leaf butter-infused mound of cereal “sand” and fragrant curry leaves.
Have the best both worlds – black pepper crab and chilli crab – with Battered Crab ($18) drizzled in a Borneo pepper honey glaze. Dunk that into the creamy chilli crab dip and et voila, instant chilli crab! Pairs swimmingly with an ice cold beer.
Savagely good, the Squid Gado ($25) elevates a humble hawker dish that’s not often in the spotlight to heights heretofore untold. The seared whole squid was categorically stunning – charred, sublimely tender, verging on melt-in-your-mouth. Bringing everything together was the silken gado gado peanut sauce that was rich, spicy, chockful of peanuts and a textural delight, especially with bits of squishy lontong rice cubes mixed in and crunchy fish crackers on top that act as excellent ad-hoc scoops for all that saucy goodness.
One of the hallmarks of @laut.singapore is how they take familiar ingredients and present them in unexpected ways. The simply named Otah ($29) is anything but. If the fish is its sheath, than surely the otah stuffed within is its blade – pointedly sharp on flavour from a blend of mackerel, squid and aromatic rempah. The bold and spicy otah is complemented by the clean, meaty taste of the grilled barramundi.
Even the garnishes are great and only serve to further enhance the hero of the dish. The fish is topped with vibrant achar and on the side are pickled onions – the mildly acidic tang and firm crunch of both contrast fantastically with the seafood. Not forgetting the superlative sambal which of course you should liberally apply onto every inch of the fish.
What sorcery is this? Which mad genius would have thought of conjuring this unholy fusion between thunder tea rice, risotto and an assortment of seemingly conflicting ingredients, much less have it work? In the Prawn Raja ($29), jasmine rice is simmered with a house-made Vietnamese basil and Thai coriander butter until it’s been reduced to a beautifully rich and creamy texture, and it’s peppered with petai beans and chunks of century egg, which lend their distinctive funk and umami to the faux risotto. The king prawns are huge, and grilled to charred, sweet perfection. A strong contender for a signature dish if I ever saw one.
Pisang Laut ($11) – In an obvious reference to the restaurant’s name(Laut means ‘sea’ in Malay), these sea-shell shaped South East Asian madeleines are quite the addictive one-biters. Crisp on the outside fried tapioca explodes with a melty banana puree within, evoking memories of fresh-out-of-the-fryer goreng pisang.
Living up to its moniker, the calamansi curd in the Tart Limau ($11) is mouth puckeringly sour even when tempered with palm sugar. The tart shells are homemade by restaurant partner and head bartender Leon Tan’s mum and transported to the restaurant. Thin, butter and crumbly, the tart is the perfect container for the curd and coconut meringue sitting in each petite portion.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Banana ($21) is that its flavour is derived not from the fruit but from the peels. This is part of Laut’s philosophy on sustainability and minimising waste, in addition to their focus on using hyperlocal ingredients. Aged Malaysian molasses, candlenut and coconut palm sugar combine with rum to create a rich, full-bodied cocktail driven by the sweet and robust taste of banana with a hint of smoky nuttiness. To me, this is a natural accompaniment to the restaurant’s local desserts.
From start to end, this was a tour de force of the limitless potential of mod-South East Asian cuisine when done right. I for one, will definitely be a returning customer!
*** This was a hosted tasting. ***