Contemporary mod-Asian Allium will surprise you with its culinary sophistication and unorthodox twists to local and regional cuisines.
Blink and you might just miss it – the turn into the residential mall that is Kensington Square amidst a cluster of private houses in a very quiet residential district off Upper Paya Lebar Road. There’s no good reason to visit these parts if not for Allium, the new culinary base for Chef Dillon Ng and his wife, Pastry Chef Lusiana Hendrika.
But a trip here will pay delicious dividends.
Chef Dillon is best known for his bistro Gastrosmiths, first located at Marrison Bugis along Beach Road, and later i12 Katong. Before that was cafe The Humble Loaf in Katong Shopping Centre. Over that time he’s built a reputation for quirky takes on familiar local and other Asian dishes. Some may remember his “Not So Humble Eggs”at Gastrosmiths, for example. And even before the craze that was salted caramel anything, Chef Dillon had offered at The Humble Loaf a most delicious latte that used caramel and… shoyu.
He gave Gastrosmiths up at the end of last year with the intent to go into private dining. But a customer – and now business partner – convinced him to open up a restaurant instead, and Allium was the result. The intimate 16-seater was small enough for the quiet but hugely talented chef to fully express his culinary chops, yet big enough to allow him to reach a wider following.
In essence Allium offers a contemporary mod-Asian cuisine that showcases ethically- and sustainably-sourced produce, fusing modern cookery with local and regional inspiration while pursuing an eco-conscious, less waste philosophy. Their prix fixe menus are seasonal and change often. Earlier menus paid tribute to an Indonesian-style padang spread, and another a Japanese-inspired one.
On our visit, the theme of Allium’s nine-course prix fixe dinner menu was sustainable seafood and locally cultivated vegetables. Our first dish Drunken Scallops featured marinated and lightly-poached sustainably farmed Canadian scallops served on a base jus made with Taiwanese rice wine. The natural sweetness of the scallops – enhanced by the wine and beautifully balanced with the sharpness of thinly sliced myoga ginger – made for a delightful mouthful.
Another example of the focus on hyperlocal produce is the hand-chopped Grilled Fishcake that’s made with local fish, Angka prawns and squid. Paired with a zesty winged bean salad with greens sourced from Singapore farm Sustenir Agriculture, it’s a tribute to freshness as well.
The lone fried dish on the menu Wild Red Prawn & “Hae Bi Hiam” comes as two red prawns, one wrapped in popiah skin, and the other in a spring roll pastry, accompanied by a sauce that embodied the savoury notes of hae bi (dried shrimp). Each “prawn roll” provided a slightly different texture, but what stole the show in this dish was the lovely succulence of the fresh prawns.
Even the rather plain-sounding Oyster Sauce Vegetables impressed. The description may invoke images of ordinary stir-fried vegetables tossed with bottled oyster sauce, but Allium’s version could not be more different. Seasonal vegetables were charred in a cast-iron pan for wok hei and served with a house-made oyster sauce. Yes, you’d think Chef Dillon to be just a little mad for bothering to make oyster sauce from scratch. His version uses dried oysters from Korea, dried scallops from Hokkaido, Japanese sun-dried radish and Indonesian gula aren, but the end result is one that will have you licking the plate of every last drop of the resultant gravy.
And then there’s dessert, the domain of Chef Lusiana (or Lulu, to those who know her). Consider A Cup of “Milo”, where she recreates the flavours of the famous malted beverage into a pudding using French chocolate, barley malt and cocoa nibs. Or Min Chiang Kueh, a clever twist on our local peanut pancake and Indonesian martabak manis. They are worth every calorie. Dessert tends to be an afterthought in a multi-course dinner. At Allium, the sweet treats are the perfect ending that threaten to outshine what came before in an already satisfactory meal.
Insider tip: Chef Lulu has a cult following for her Kaya and Gula Aren Choux Buns, which are available for takeaway only. Make sure you pre-order online before your visit.
Allium’s drinks list is compact but works. Its small range of wines and Japanese sake is built for pairing; we like the refined Ginrei Gassan Junmai Daiginjo from Yamagata which worked perfectly with the seafood. The Domaine Gueguen Chablis Premier Cru Vaucoupin 2013 would excel here too.
There are neighbourhood gastronomic gems, and then there’s Allium. We’re not certain if the residents living in the area realise that the half-empty heartland mall in their neck of the woods is now home to a couple of culinary geniuses plying their trade. They may just wonder why those living in other parts of Singapore are making a pilgrimage to dine in this hole-in-the-wall.
*Do note that bookings are a must as Allium procures ingredients solely based on the number of confirmed reservations.
Address 2 Jalan Lokam, #01-11 Kensington Square, Singapore 537846 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 6-10pm on Thursdays; 12-2.30pm and 6-10pm on Fridays; 11am-2.30pm and 6-10pm on Saturdays and Sundays; closed on Mondays to Wednesdays