Singapore has a vibrant food scene, with 29 restaurants winning Michelin stars, and Chef Janice Wong is pushing the boundaries further with her 2am: dessertbar restaurant and edible art work. Rupert Parker gets a taste.
I first got wind of something extraordinary happening in Singapore when I visited the Madrid Fusion Gastro Festival a few years ago. A number of Singaporean chefs had flown over specially and treated us to an evening of gourmet delights. I was impressed by Janice Wong who opened her restaurant, 2am: dessertbar in 2007, serving just desserts.
She told me then that Singaporeans like to finish off an evening on the town with something sweet so she cornered a gap in the market. It obviously works as, since then she’s now got three outlets in Singapore and has opened branches in Hong Kong and Tokyo. She’s also been named Best Asian Pastry Chef in 2013 and 2014.
At Madrid Fusion this year, she made a return visit to talk about her edible artworks and invite the entire auditorium up on stage to tear off a piece and taste it. She’s been making edible art since 2011 when she created seven installations which included marshmallow ceilings and gumdrop covered walls.
In 2015, she covered a space of 30 square metres in one of Singapore’s shopping malls with 2,000 pieces of glow-in-the-dark fondant flowers, chocolates, gummies, marshmallows and cake pops. Since then she’s been invited to create installations in Australia, Hawaii and California and she now stages workshops where people get to make their own creations.
It all sounds interesting, so imagine my delight when I’m invited to an event at Picture Marylebone in London. She’s flown over specially to supervise and we all take our seats in the improvised class room. Each table is fitted with paint board, paintbrushes and bowls of edible colours and there’s an apron to keep the mess off your clothes. Janice has created her own large picture the night before and she demonstrates her technique by melting bits with a heat gun and adding the finishing touches.
Faced with a blank canvas, I’m at a bit of a loss, particularly since I’ve only got blue, brown and white to play with. For inspiration I dip my fingers into the different colours and taste the minty blue, chocolate brown and marshmallow white. Other people are taking the figurative route and I see rather a sophisticated butterfly to my left. Someone else has created a pure Jackson Pollock, but I decide to create my own style.
Janice is moving among the tables, fortunately not giving marks, but handing out other colours. I get some pink to finish off my masterpiece and by now it’s completely dry. I’m rather ashamed of my work, wishing I’d planned what I was going to paint before I committed the colours to the canvas. I quickly hide it in a specially designed presentation box, almost a frame, before anyone else can comment.
It’s now time for an excellent lunch created by the chefs at Picture, really modern British but inspired Singaporean cuisine. There’s a delicious squid and brown crab ravioli with brown shrimps in a roast chicken and sesame broth to start. That’s followed by light smoked pork, sweet and sour plum, pickled mushrooms and fermented cabbage. Of course everyone is waiting for Janice’s dessert and it doesn’t disappoint.
She’s created what she calls “Breakfast in Singapore” – a base of Pandan Kaya ice cream (coconut flavoured with screw pine leaves) is topped with pistachio crumble, coconut foam and a dill paste. It succeeds brilliantly with the herb adding a savoury touch to a dessert which is mercifully not too sweet. I can now understand why her restaurants have been so successful. I wish I could say the same for my edible artwork – when I get home, my partner is not impressed, and adds “could do better” to my report sheet.
2am: dessertbar, 21a Lorong Liput is the original restaurant still going strong.
Paragon, 290 Orchard Road which specialises in chocolate and mochis.
Janice Wong Singapore, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road.
The first edition of the Michelin Guide Singapore came out in 2016.
Your Singapore has information about the country.
Cobo House by 2am: dessertbar also serves savoury dishes which Janice has created.