(THE NEW PAPER) - Sometimes, when a chef leaves a restaurant, it is game over.
But other times, it actually helps a restaurant come into its own.
And that is the case with Dining Place, formerly Dining Room by Chef Heman.
His departure seems to be a good thing for it because while respected and talented, chef Heman Tan did not manage to make an impact.
Now, the menu and the concept of Dining Place has changed. It is less "restaurant-y" and more zi char - and it works.
While the luxe options are still available - lobster, crab and expensive fish - the more humble dishes fare wonderfully.
In Orchard Road, a price-sensitive and unpretentious restaurant is a welcome option, especially when you are in the mood for Malaysian-style zi char. The Signature KL Hokkien Noodles (from $12) is a dish I associate more with coffee shops, but eating it in an air-conditioned environment works for me. It is messy, ugly and - for me - yet so beautiful.
I love the strong flavours, slippery noodles and that almost-salty black sauce. Ask for additional deep fried pork lard - because pork lard makes everything better. I am returning for this.
At Dining Place, you can ask for off-menu items too, like kailan. It is done two ways - the leaves shredded and fried, the stems stir-fried - and both are good.
The Deluxe Seafood Hor Fun (from $12) is less successful. There are many versions of this, in all sorts of environments, and many are superior. Still, it is competent, just not spectacular.
The cheeky name of the Iron Cock (from $18) may raise eyebrows, but it is a literal translation from its Cantonese name.
It is a heritage dish from Malaysia, popular in Kuala Lumpur, with drumlets coated in a sweet sauce. While I can't detect if it is cockerel or hen that is used, the dish is delicious.
Also off-menu is the dish of Fragrant Prawns, which serves up prawns in a dry paste of oyster sauce and tomato sauce. The sauce is great with rice, but it does not move me.
With the off-menu dishes, check the prices with the server first in case you get a shock when the bill arrives.