Chef Damian D'Silva back with more heritage food at new restaurant Folklore

Chef Damian D'Silva will serve hearty offerings from Singapore's dominant ethnic groups.
Chef Damian D'Silva will serve hearty offerings from Singapore's dominant ethnic groups.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Local chef Damian D'Silva's latest venture is Folklore restaurant at Destination Singapore Beach Road hotel

A series of restaurant and stall closures over the years has not deterred Singaporean chef Damian D'Silva from making yet another comeback in the local dining scene.

The 61-year-old known for turning out soulful and heritage Eurasian and Peranakan food is now the executive chef of Folklore at three-month-old hotel Destination Singapore Beach Road. The restaurant opens today.

Expect wholesome and hearty offerings from Singapore's five dominant ethnic groups - Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and Peranakan.

Tuck into dishes such as sambal buah keluak fried rice ($22), masak nanas ($22), a prawn and pineapple curry; hati babi bungkus ($18), minced pork and liver wrapped in caul fat; and ayam pelencheng ($15), a Malay dish of grilled chicken marinated with seven spices.

In the next two months, there will be local favourites ($20 a serving) such as nasi lemak and Malaysian curry mee.

There is also a special Chineseinspired menu ($40, good for three to four people with a few other dishes from the main menu) which includes braised duck; seh bak - a Eurasian dish with pig offal and squid simmered in a soya sauce and spice broth; and loh kai yik, a heritage Cantonese dish of pork belly, pig offal and chicken wings cooked with fermented beancurd.

He plans to change about 30 per cent of the offerings on the main menu every six months, and will also retail various types of sambal, including chilli cuka and sambal tumis, from next month.

The chef's most recent venture, prior to Folklore, was an eponymous stall at Timbre+ in Ayer Rajah Crescent, which closed in September after six months.

On the stall's closure, D'Silva, who is of Eurasian and Peranakan parentage, says: "The first thing that slapped me in the face there was the heat - it was just too hot.

"My customers would come to me within 15 minutes and say they'd have to leave because they couldn't take the heat.

"The music was also too loud for those who wanted to hold a conversation over their meal."

His ventures through the years have included Western and Peranakan restaurant Soul Kitchen in Purvis Street, which closed in 2005 after about 21/2 years; hawker stall Big D's Grill, which opened in 2008 and closed in 2010; and Immigrants, a gastrobar in Joo Chiat which served its last meal in 2015 after three years. In between, he worked as a private chef.

Ask the former aviation industry engineer why he decided to re- enter the restaurant scene, he is candid with his response.

"No money lah, wrong investments," he says with a laugh, but only half-jokingly.

He admits the business side of things has never been his forte.

"Well, you can't throw a party at your home every week, can you? Over the years, a lot of my customers have urged me to open a restaurant. So, here I am."

Yet, the sparkle in his eye indicates there may be a little more to his comeback.

"I like the buzz. I love it when it's a full house and knowing that you're in control when everyone else is panicking. It's about making sure things go smoothly.

"But I also honestly feel that all the information I have (about Singapore heritage cuisine) has not been passed on to enough people. I think it's really sad that despite our rich culinary history, nothing is passed on. I am open to teaching anyone who wants to learn."

Indeed, he is not secretive about his recipes or cooking methods.

For instance, he says, adding a tablespoon of 1972 Chateau de Laubade, an Armagnac, or some good quality brandy to itek tim (duck with salted vegetables), as well as lime juice and chilli, will bring new depth to the dish.

His new position at the hotel, which is operated by Park Hotel Group, came about through a private dinner party he cooked in October.

It wowed the diners, including Park Hotel Group's executive director Tan Shin Hui.

Ms Tan, 33, says: "My first impression was that his cuisine, Singapore heritage cuisine, was unique. There were many dishes I had not tried before despite being a Singaporean. It struck a chord with me and it was memorable."

Stand-out dishes for her that night included his chilled tofu with century egg; Singgang, a tangy Eurasian wolf herring dish; and kueh kosui, all of which are available at Folklore.

She met chef D'Silva a month later. They came to an agreement that Folklore would be as much about good food as about championing Singapore heritage food.

On why she thinks this casual, approachable restaurant concept will work, she says: "Gone are the days where we try to be everything to everyone.

"We believe people want dining to be different, to have a bit more soul and for the experience to go beyond just good food."

•Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

•Folklore is located at Level 2 Destination Singapore Beach Road, 700 Beach Road. It is open daily from noon to 2.30pm (last order 2.15pm) and from 6 to 9.30pm (last order 9.15pm). Call 6679-2900 or 9021-9700 or e-mail reserve@folklore.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Back with more heritage food'. Print Edition | Subscribe