Foodie Confidential

Loh Lik Peng looking to nurture young Singaporean chefs

Mr Loh enjoys Japanese food as he likes the freshness of the ingredients.
Mr Loh enjoys Japanese food as he likes the freshness of the ingredients.PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

From beef and Guinness pie to nasi padang, restaurateur and hotelier Loh Lik Peng's choice of favourites is varied

With so many restaurants in his portfolio, it is not surprising that restaurateur and hotelier Loh Lik Peng receives many proposals from chefs wanting to open eateries with him.

These days, he is on the lookout for young Singaporean chefs.

The 43-year-old says he wants to nurture a new generation of chefs by giving them opportunities to make a name for themselves in the food scene through his restaurants.

Relying on foreign chefs working here to train young chefs to become world-class is not realistic either, as "most of them are more interested in their own careers".

Local chefs head some of his restaurants. They include chef Johnston Teo, 24, of Sorrel in Boon Tat Street and chef Anthony Yeoh, 34, of French restaurant Cocotte in Dickson Road, at Mr Loh's Wanderlust hotel.

He says: "If you don't try and nurture talents in Singapore, in 10 years' time, we are going to be in the same state as we are now, where the majority of chefs are imported, and that would be a shame."

His company, Unlisted Collection, owns 14 restaurants here, including 5th Quarter, a meat-centric restaurant, which will open later this month in Hotel Vagabond in Syed Alwi Road. Others include Ember in Keong Saik Road and Esquina in Jiak Chuan Road.

WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

Nasi padang with dishes such as sambal sotong, paru (cow lungs) and tempeh.

Mr Loh also has his hands full with the opening of The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney last week. This is the latest addition to the more than 20 restaurants and hotels that he owns here and in Sydney, Shanghai and London.

He says the workload in the past year has been heavier than usual.

"It is tough and I am getting a bit tired," he says. "I may take a bit of a breather next year, as it has been a strain to find time to spend with my young family."

The former corporate litigator has a three-year-old son, Conor, with his violinist wife Min Lee, 32.

Mr Loh was born in Dublin, where his doctor parents studied and practised medicine. He came back to Singapore as a toddler and returned to attend boarding school when he was 12.

On what drives him to open new restaurants and hotels year after year, Mr Loh, who is the middle of three children, says it is the restlessness that runs in the family. His paediatrician father and optometrist mother, both 73, still run clinics in East Coast Road.

What are your fondest childhood memories of food?

It was happy times when my family went to Siglap for breakfast on weekends. We would go to a coffee shop for kway chap and wonton noodles.

There was a nasi padang shop nearby and a barbershop, which I visited before going to breakfast.

Another memory is of my mother giving me an egg to take to the char kway teow stall next to my parents' clinic, and that was added into our order.

Having spent your teenage years in Dublin, what Irish dishes do you like?

I love shepherd's pie, steak and kidney pie, beef and Guinness pie, and colcannon, a mashed potatoes and cabbage dish. I also like the seafood there, such as Dublin Bay prawns, langoustines and crabs.

What are your favourite Singapore dishes and where do you go to eat them?

I like chicken rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in Maxwell Road Food Centre. I love their chilli, and the chicken is plump and juicy.

I like the char kway teow in Zion Riverside Food Centre as the one there is slightly wet and sweet, which reminds me of the version I had in my childhood. I also like the nasi padang from Yanti Nasi Padang Restaurant in Keong Saik Road.

What is another of your favourite cuisines?

Japanese. I like the freshness of the ingredients. Besides sushi and sashimi, I also enjoy grilled meats and yakitori. I go to Bincho (his restaurant at Moh Guan Terrace) at least once a week. I like the crunchy pork collar and donburi.

What is the most memorable meal you have had overseas?

It was in Faviken restaurant in Sweden, in the middle of a forest. The 12-seat restaurant serves interesting Scandinavian dishes with pickled vegetables and foraged ingredients.

It is an atmospheric dining experience, with cured meats being hung in a barn where diners eat. For a bone marrow dish, they sawed a cow's thigh in front of diners.

Which restaurants do you frequent with your family?

My family likes going to Imperial Treasure in Paragon and Crystal Jade in Great World City. They are very family-friendly. I go to these restaurants at least once or twice a week.

Do you cook?

No, I do not have the time to cook these days and neither does my wife. I used to cook claypot rice and chicken curry with packets of rempah brought from home when I lived in the United Kingdom.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'Diverse palate '. Print Edition | Subscribe