Contemporary Asian gastrobar laut Singapore offers a particularly unique modern gastronomic insight into our region’s history and culture through its food and drink.
One of Singapore’s newest gastrobars, laut Singapore, was born during the recent circuit breaker period. Caught by the government ban on dining-in to combat the coronavirus spread and forced to a delivery model that isn’t the best way to portray the quality and concept of its food and drink, it certainly wasn’t the prettiest of introductions.
To be fair it’s really difficult for the Southeast Asian-inspired gastrobar to communicate what it was trying to do with food packed into paper boxes, and cocktails in near nondescript bottles. laut Singapore would end up on our list as one of the first places we told ourselves to visit when F&B venues were allowed to open up for dining in once again.
And we’re glad we did.
laut, as one can probably tell from the name, is inspired by the sea. To be more exact, it looks to explore the food and culture of Southeast Asia’s Orang Laut – literally “sea people”, the indigenous, sometimes nomadic wayfarers (and pirates) that inhibited this archipelagic region over the centuries – in a modern gastrobar setting.
That exploration starts when you first step into its ground-floor shophouse space in one of Singapore’s most vibrant F&B enclaves that is Stanley Street. Amidst the contemporary decor are little flourishes inspired by kelongs (local fishing farms) or Sarawak-style longhouses that subtly hint at tradition. Its dim lighting is low enough to betray its roots as a cocktail bar, yet sufficient enough so you can recognise the morsels you’re about to put in your mouth. It’s cosy too, and possesses a classily vibrant vibe with the low hum of conversation from other revellers in the background.
The Orang Laut were a seafaring people, and as such, much of their food revolved around seafood. And so it is with laut’s tightly curated food menu. In fact, laut is pescatarian heaven.
A great place to start is the Oyster Eggs – think oyster omelette meets Japanese chawanmushi reinvented as an oyster shot – featuring oysters farmed in Singapore waters off Pulau Ubin. Or the exceedingly-fresh Tuna, made with tuna caught in Indonesian waters done tataki-style but smothered in a piquant-sweet Thai mango salad dressing that will perk up your appetite.
Then there’s the Soft Shell Crab, the battered crunchy crustaceans tossed in a pepper-encrusted glaze reminiscent of the local favourite black pepper crab. Or Otah, a well-toasted sandwich with the spiced fish paste and some really delectable Nonya-style achar as filling.
For slightly larger appetites, the Squid Gado Gado can appease. This is dish is exactly as what you expect, the traditional Malay peanut sauce-dressed salad topped off with seared whole squid. The laut Curry too, a seafood bounty of shellfish and fish of the day drenched in a lightly spiced curry. You’ll need to have an adventurous palate for one of its signatures though – the Prawn Raja comes as a perfectly-grilled king prawn atop what is best described as a petai and century egg risotto. As you can imagine, petai (also known as stink bean) and century egg are some of the more divisive food ingredients found in this part of the world; we loved how they provide culinary fun and texture to this dish, but this is not the date food you may be looking for.
The sole meat dish on laut’s menu is Frogs, an amphibian take on the (far more familiar) zichar favourite that is cereal prawns. The lone vegetarian dish? A very moreish Burnt Eggplant Dip.
Then there are laut’s cocktails. laut co-owner and bartender Leon Tan was formerly head bartender of award-winning Singapore cocktail bar Native, and Laut’s cocktails contain fleeting vestiges of his former workplace.
Leon leans heavily on house ferments and other such experimental cocktail techniques in his tipples. The gin-based Grass, for example, employs a grass kombucha, along with pickle brine that’s topped with rice foam. Citrusy sweet Kumquat on the other hand uses a house-made root tincture that adds an interesting dimension to the drink.
We also did enjoy Sugarcane, which tastes like an alcoholic version of the “cooling” sugarcane and chestnut drink you can buy from Chinese medicinal halls. Those with a sweeter tooth would enjoy Pineapple, this very tropical sip made with fermented Sarawak pineapples with a touch of pepper to perk it up.
Our favourite of the bunch though was June Plum, which uses local kedonggong plums to add a sharp citrus note to the gin-based cocktail. It even comes with a scoop of hawthorn sorbet that you can stir and melt into the drink for added sweetness and creaminess if you so desire.
And if you’re not into cocktails, laut collaborates with local craft breweries to create special brews with similarly indigenous ingredients.
laut Singapore, in a betel nutshell, offers a particularly unique modern gastronomic insight into our region’s history and culture. But more importantly, you can not bother about the indigenous and regional ingredients used – kedongdong? petai? – or the modern techniques employed to turn them into dishes and cocktails, and still appreciate laut’s menu for these stunningly tasty offerings that issue forth from its kitchen and bar.