At this “modern zi char” eatery that opened in June, even the inspiration behind the food has local flavour. Take the Ang Ji Kao Stout-braised Beef Cheeks paired with peanut sauce, for instance — head chef Nixon Low came up with the combination after watching coffeeshop uncles snack on peanuts with their stout.
“We want to preserve that Singaporean flavour that everyone knows and loves,” he says of his style of cooking at Jiakpalang. The affable 31-year-old, whose resume includes stints in the kitchens of Restaurant Andre and Saint Pierre, was formerly head chef at modern European restaurant Portico. But he’s no stranger to Singapore soul food — his parents used to run a wanton mee stall, and he grew up in a Joo Chiat shophouse from which his grandparents sold charcoal. Incidentally, the name of this casual eatery is inspired by the Hokkien term “chapalang”, which means “random mixture of items.”
THE LOOK: So simple, that it’s hard to spot the restaurant behind the bold signage of its neighbours in this retail-cum-office building. Look for the fluorescent kopitiam-style sign and an open-air deck to the left of the building — the latter is part of Jiakpalang and is where patrons can have drinks and play games (like darts) in the evenings. Inside, the somewhat bare 80-seat space is fronted by a bar that opens up to a dining room furnished with red metal chairs reminiscent of the plastic ones seen in coffeeshops. On one side, a feature wall is painted with a HDB block from which tiny 3D clothes poles protrude.
ON THE MENU: It’s Low’s food and not the decor that’s the real standout here, in particular the dinner menu (lunch is a bunch of healthy and affordable rice bowls). On it: A mix of fun fusion dishes and some seriously good ones, like his version of Har Cheong Gai, done roulade-style.
Har Cheong Gai, $13 (see main pic; 8 DAYS PICK!)
Made with chicken thigh meat that’s marinated with shrimp paste for six hours, then steamed for half an hour before being battered and fried, it’s shatteringly crisp on the outside and fabulously moist within. It is then rolled up to form a roulade. This is so good, it trumps the version at our favourite zi char stall.
Assam Pulau Ubin Seabass, $15
Another must-try. This is delivered almost daily from a Pulau Ubin fish supplier. The firm and flaky fish is lightly seared then served in a pool of punchy, tangy assam sauce — a recipe the chef “stole” from his mother — punctuated with cubes of sweet, compressed pineapple.
Milo Dinosaur, $8 (8 DAYS PICK!)
A bowl of divine, melt-in-the-mouth Milo-flavoured panna cotta scattered with Milo crumbs and chewy “dinosaur eggs” (we won’t spoil the surprise for you by telling you what they are).
Bottom Line: Don’t mistake Jiakpalang’s homely environment for a lack of polish when it comes to the food. There are some stellar dishes here, and Low’s cooking is a lovely balance of fun and flair. Bonus: Prices are surprisingly — dare we say it — cheap.
#01-06 Fragrance Empire Building, 456 Alexandra Rd. Tel: 6266-8511. Open weekdays 11.30am-3pm (lunch); 3pm-6pm (tea); 6pm-10pm (dinner). Last orders 2.30pm & 9pm. www.facebook.com/jiakpalang