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Fiz review: What to expect at the latest contemporary Southeast Asian restaurant in Singapore

Spoiler: It’s like sitting down to a lavish wedding banquet.

Fiz review: What to expect at the latest contemporary Southeast Asian restaurant in Singapore

Fiz aims to chronicle and revive ancient Southeast Asian ingredients and food practices that might otherwise be lost to time. (Photo: Fiz)

The table at Fiz practically heaves under the weight of the food. Here, a slate bowl of neatly stacked urap. Beside it, a tangle of chayote shoots, dark and caramelly from the charcoal grill. Seared sea bream is smothered in sambal tumis. A plush gulai jammed with bamboo shoots, fiddlehead ferns, smoked tripe and beef tendon.

Here too are clay pots of rice: Jasmine-scented beras Adan, an heirloom grain from the farmers of Sabah’s Lun Bawang community. Red, polished beras Sia, issuing hot steam redolent of coconut milk, ginger and pandan leaves.

It is a assemblage that says, “Let the party begin”, even if we’ve already eaten our way through a lengthy procession of small dishes that include slivered blood clams blanketed in peanut sambal and orbs of minced quail flecked with the crunch of chicken cartilage.

Urchin (Photo: Fiz)

This is dinner at Fiz, the latest fine-dining restaurant to mushroom along Tanjong Pagar Road. In many ways, it abides by the usual tropes of upscale restaurants of its ilk with a narrative centred around reinterpreting culinary heritage. Its delivery, however, makes clear its aim to chronicle and revive ancient Southeast Asian ingredients and food practices that might otherwise be lost to time. “I think it’s important to preserve and elevate our cuisine to a different eye, so people can see that Southeast Asian food deserves to be up there with French or Japanese cuisine,” said chef-owner Hafizzul Hashim when I first met him last October. The 40-year-old Malaysian was then road-testing his restaurant concept with a private dining experience in an apartment along Balmoral Road.

Chef-owner Hafizzul Hashim (Photo: Fiz)

Raised in Lumut, Perak by his Malaysian father and British mother, Hafizzul spent much of his career making slick French-forward dishes at the likes of Michelin-starred Chez Bruce and Marco Pierre White’s Mirabelle in London. At Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s JG Tokyo, he found himself working with familiar ingredients like galangal and kaffir lime leaves in western preparations like vinaigrettes. “It prompted me to start thinking about my oldest vision of food, to dive into Southeast Asian cuisine and present a version that speaks to the diners of today,” he says.

That thought turned into a mission. His travels became research trips that spanned markets and food stalls from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap. He amassed a library peppered with ancient culinary manuscripts containing records of historical dishes served in royal and noble homes. He plumbed his personal experiences, turning to the food of his Malaysian grandmother and memories of eating his way through night markets or sun-drying fish caught on deep-sea jaunts with his father. These now form the backbone of Fiz’s eight-course menu (S$288) that is equal parts haute cuisine and warm, communal dining.

Botan Ebi (Photo: Fiz)

At that price, those memories bloom in the form of bite-sized snacks that include a saucer of jellied singgang fish broth wearing a crown of Murasaki uni, okra seeds and shiso flowers; or a mound of Amur caviar balanced on crisp rose-shaped kuih loyang with a necklace of miso-marinated petai puree.

Later on, deep-fried Pacific oysters come dotted with a puree of Chinese chives and Sriracha; gulai lemak cili padi, sweetened by the flesh of blue swimmer crabs, is escorted by deep-fried mantou. The latter is addictively good, but I am wise enough to refrain from asking for another bun to mop up the dredges of that delicious sauce. Because here comes a cup of chicken broth warmed by the charms of turmeric, cardamom, fingerroot and sand ginger.

Blue Swimmer Crab (Photo: Fiz)

Imagine you’ve taken part in an eating competition for a lark. You eat everything that’s put in front of you. You’re full and happy. But wait, a wedding banquet now awaits you at dinner. That’s how I feel when the cortege of main courses arrive, replete with two rice options.

(Photo: Fiz)

Yet, the eating continues. In every dish there is spiciness upon richness, each protein saturated in moreish nuance thanks to a sprinkling of tahi minyak (caramelised coconut crumbs) here, a dash of sour buah sentul there. Happily, this is food that packs up well for a hearty lunch the afternoon after and since everyone else is too polite to fight over who takes home the leftovers, I do. And then comes dessert. Fiz’s dessert trolley is befitting of a grand Malay wedding. I glance at the badak berendam, pandan-infused glutinous rice balls moated by a smoked coconut sauce and think, “this is not something I typically like eating”. Twenty seconds later, the saucer is empty.

Kuih Bahulu (Photo: Fiz)

Similarly, I take a bite of the jemput pisang and the rest of it magically disappears down my throat. The kuih muih are delicate and light, deftly balanced for sweetness, lush to the bite yet yielding on the tongue. “I am not a fan of kuih salat”, I think as I reach politely for the kuih sermuka jagung (like salat, but with corn in the layer of kaya). “Evidently, you are”, it whispers as I take another bite.

Fiz is located at 21 Tanjong Pagar Road.

Source: CNA/bt