Scandinavian restaurant and bar HEMLIG looks to reveal the secrets of Nordic ingredients and flavours in its food and cocktails.
[HEMLIG is officially closed.]
What exactly is Scandinavian cuisine? For many years the only exposure to Nordic flavours for most Singaporeans were the meatballs and poached salmon dished out at IKEA, in the casual cafeterias the Swedish furniture giant operates in its superstores. Only much later was there Swedish cafeteria and bistro FIKA on Beach Road, followed by the very short-lived FISK Seafoodbar & Market once located at Novotel Singapore on Stevens.
And aside from gravlax – found on open-faced sandwiches or in salads at some hotel buffet spreads – that’s pretty much it.
But things are changing. There’s a new Viking incursion in town, and its name is HEMLIG.
Helmed by Knut Randhem, newly-opened Scandinavian bar and restaurant HEMLIG on Neil Road – a stretch that’s seeing a vibrant revitalisation – seeking to introduce Nordic flavours to Singapore in a new way.
If Randhem’s name sounds familiar, that’s probably because he previously was head bartender at CE LA VI and Butcher Boy, and later broke out to start casual cocktail and hotdog joint Fung Kee Hot Dogs. Along the way he’d organise Scandinavian themed parties, hosting Swedish midsummer soirees and even Singapore’s first-ever Kräftskiva.
Hemlig means secret in Swedish. But far from being a speakeasy, Randhem’s new venture is simply his way of revealing a personal secret – that the Swedish native, despite his reputation in Singapore as a top bartender, is actually trained as a chef. With HEMLIG he looks to revisit recipes he inherited from his grandmother, and share those flavours with anyone looking for an authentic taste of Scandinavia.
The menu here may be on the smaller side, but that’s probably – let’s admit it – Scandinavian cuisine is rather limited anyway. But dishes look exactly as what you’d get if a Scandinavian matriarch would serve up at dinner if they invited you to their home. It starts with simple entrees such as Gravlax, with house cured salmon served up simply with dill, mustard, and lemon, or Skagen, a familiar Swedish starter featuring small, sweet North Atlantic shrimp with sour cream and mayonnaise atop toasted rye bread.
And more rye bread – it’s a Scandinavian staple, after all – with Gubbröra; this is pickled herring mixed up with hard-boiled eggs and potatoes into a creamy mess barely held up by the bread. The pickling gives it a pleasant sweet and sour tang to the bite, and thankfully this is a far cry from the extremely pungent examples I was once subjected to at inexplicably popular Copenhagen pickled herring buffet restaurant Færgekro.
But if you’re in any way squeamish, go instead for Janzon’s Temptation. This is a baked casserole of shredded potatoes and sauteed onions, flavoured with just enough anchovies for a savoury hit.
The Homemade Meatballs here are a must. Randhem’s version is made from scratch, and he adds potatoes to the usual beef and pork mix to make it even more fall-apart tender. Make sure you mop up every bit of the unctuous jus as well!
Yet the most surprising dish of all at HEMLIG wasn’t Scandinavian. Or at least, not exclusively. Their 24 Hours Beef Short Rib sees 120 days grass-fed beef short rib sous-vide into tender surrender, and then slow cooked and roasted to perfection. HEMLIG’s short rib, I daresay, beats out even those at most specialty steak houses.
Like its food menu, the cocktail selection at HEMLIG – each of which named after a bridge in Scandinavia – is carefully composed to showcase Nordic flavours and ingredients. As expected there are a couple based on aquavit. There’s Kanon 37 with aquavit, lemon, bitters, and topped up with bubbles – a Scandinavian take on the French 75, if you will – as well as Svinesund, an extremely well-balanced and elegant twist on the Negroni made using aged aquavit in place of gin. For something even punchier, the Ölandsbron is an Old Fashioned made with Mackmyra Svensk Rök, a peated whisky from the Swedish distillery.
Lingonberry and elderflower are, of course, very Nordic, and they feature in Tjörn, their version of a Margarita. Then there’s Storeseisundet, essentially a Daiquiri made with cloudberries, a unique and rare berry that grows above a specific latitude and harvested only once a year.
“HEMLIG showcases classic Scandinavian food and drinks served in a modern setting where we let the quality of the ingredients shine through,” declares Randhem. “Our purpose is to provide a ‘secret’, home away from home, and authentic Scandinavian dining experience, so people don’t think we are just known for easy-to-put-together furniture and meatballs,” he adds.
I guess Randhem’s secret is now officially out.
Address 57 Neil Road, Singapore 088893 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 6pm to 12am Wednesday to Saturday; closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday
Tel (65) 8845 4044