Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

Shashi Nathan: Lawyer behind the bar

Criminal lawyer Shashi Nathan collects whiskies and makes cocktails to relieve stress

The name Shashi Nathan may not strike a bell with many people, but they quite possibly will remember many of the high-profile cases he has been involved in.

In his 23-year career, the prominent criminal lawyer has defended in court, among many others, Iskandar Rahmat in the Kovan double murder case, Formula One track intruder Yogvitam Pravin Dhokia, and pimp Tang Boon Thiew in the underaged prostitute case that involved many well-known Singaporeans.

To relieve the stress from his high-pressure job, he indulges in his two great loves - food and whisky.

He cooks for friends about once a month, something he enjoys a lot.

"I like having people around and food is a natural component. I find cooking very therapeutic," he says.

"If you tell me I have to cook for a party, I look forward to it. I'd wake up early and go to the market. I find it a good break from the day-to-day stress of meeting clients and going to court."

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR
    LAST MEAL BE?

  • A simple banana leaf rice with
    fish curry and chicken. And I’d wash it down with my favourite single-malt Scottish whisky, the Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve.

He also has a keen interest in whiskies and has collected about 400 bottles over 20 years. One of his favourite drinking places is Bitters & Love in Telok Ayer Street and you may find him taking over bartending duties on some nights.

"I used to come as a guest and got to know the owners, who let me play around behind the bar. About once a week, especially if I'm there with friends, I would make a few drinks for fun. It's more for stress relief."

The 48-year-old has been married for 11 years to Mrs Geraldine Nathan, 40, a magazine editor. They have no children.

What drinks do you make at Bitters & Love?

I know only about 10 drinks. I like an Old Fashioned, but I wanted to do a twist on it, so I created two drinks based on it. The first is a smoky Old Fashioned where I replace the usual bourbon with a smoky whisky such as a Laphroaig cask strength 10-year-old or a 12-year-old Lagavulin.

The other is a Havana Old Fashioned, where I use dark rum instead of bourbon and burn some cinnamon sticks to smoke the glass before pouring in the rum.

How did you learn to cook?

When I was about 18 years old, I learnt cooking from my mum, who cooked all sorts of dishes such as curries and briyani.

How often and what do you cook?

I cook for friends about once a month. My signature dish is something my mum learnt from my paternal grandmother. It's a Kerala dish of pork vindaloo made with pork belly. It's hot and slightly sour from tamarind.

A friend in Spain gave me a large paella pan and I've used it a few times to make a chorizo and chicken paella. I add sherry to the rice. It's a wonderful party dish because it feeds so many people.

Do you have a favourite cuisine?

I don't because it depends on my mood. I may suddenly have a craving for Peking duck or kebab.

What are your favourite restaurants here?

For Italian, I used to go to Fratini's la Trattoria in Greenwood Avenue where Gabriel Fratini, the chef- owner, was very friendly. There was no menu, you ate whatever he cooked. It reminded me of the papa and mama restaurants in Italy. He has recently sold the restaurant though.

If I want pasta, I go to Ristorante Da Valentino at The Grandstand because the owner's mother is arguably the best pasta-maker in Singapore.

For Japanese, I go to Akashi in Orchard Parade hotel at least twice a month because we know the staff there. I like Yoyogi at The Grandstand, too, for its beef rice bowl.

For French, I'd go to Brasserie Gavroche in Tras Street. It's very authentic and has excellent food with no frills.

When it comes to Chinese, I'd go to any restaurant that serves crispy duck or Peking duck - such as Wah Lok, Hua Ting or Golden Peony.

And for Indian food, you'd find me often at Samy's Curry Restaurant in Dempsey Road. I wouldn't say it's the best Indian food in Singapore, but I know the owner and it's where all the lawyers hang out.

How about for hawker food?

My favourite for nasi padang is Warung M. Nasir in Killiney Road. I've know Nasir and his wife Mona for many years and his mother brought the recipes over from Indonesia. Their food is more Padang-style compared with other places here which serve a mishmash of Malay, Indonesian and Indian. He does a chicken, mutton or beef rendang, a nice ayam panggang and a proper begedil, which is made with a little beef stock.

I visit clients in Changi Prison about once a week and I stop by Changi Village with the other lawyers for nasi lemak from International Nasi Lemak. I like the deep-fried chicken, the rice is fragrant and the sambal is not too hot and a little sweet.

I went on a prata run this year to try all the prata places people talk about. I went to places such as Casuarina Thomson Prata and Mr Prata, and stalls in Adam Road, Holland Village and Sixth Avenue.

Which among them serves the best prata?

Sin Ming Roti Prata in Sin Ming Drive. The prata is very light, not oily and is served with a tangy fish curry.

What is your most memorable meal?

It was in a small village in the north of Israel, in the middle of the desert where the Druze people live. My group was invited by the village headman to join them for lunch.

They lifted an earthern pot buried in the ground and it was their version of a briyani, though not as spicy. It contained rice and lamb slow-baked underground from the heated sand. It tasted wonderful.

If you could choose anyone in the world to have a meal with, who would that be?

David Marshall, Singapore's first Chief Minister, because I've heard that he had a brilliant mind, a lot of passion and spoke for what he believed in - qualities I hold dear.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Lawyer behind the bar'. Print Edition | Subscribe