Cover Photo Benjamin Sim

This unexpected meeting of two well-loved styles of cuisine at their best marks another momentous moment for modern age culinary collaborations

From four hands to eight hands and the many hands that provide help in between, collaboration meals between chefs from different restaurants have become par for the course in recent years. In upscale establishments, they encapsulate the new-generation modus for networking amongst potential restaurant awards nominees.

But a swish Michelin-starred restaurant collaborating with an age-old institution of cheap and cheerful late-night dim sum? That, like many things in this new, pandemic-driven age, is unprecedented.

Come this weekend, restaurant Nouri—they of the softly lit marbled dining room and precisely rendered “crossroads cuisine”—will team up with Jalan Besar stalwart Swee Choon Tim Sum—all bright lights and convivial cacophony—to offer a dim sum set like never before.

On the menu, available only for takeaway or delivery, are pau stuffed with sweetcorn and jalapeno chutney kissed with the earthy depth of black truffles from Manjimup in Western Australia; charcoal-dyed har gao (prawn dumplings) flavoured with Nouri’s popular Tahitian vanilla black pepper sauce; and “extra crispy” mee sua with a deeply savoury chilli and sweet potato mayo.

“Collaboration has been key to Nouri's practice since we opened three years ago. It has also been one of our defining features during this Circuit Breaker,” shares chef-owner Ivan Brehm, referring to partnerships with the likes of pasta maker Lee Yum Hwa of Benfatto95 and Jonathan Tam of Relae in Copenhagen for recent takeaway menus. “We were constantly looking at partnerships that are really out of the box and Swee Choon came up. And we thought, ‘why not?’”

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The working ways of these wildly different restaurants proved a challenge, further exacerbated by social distancing imperatives. In essence, Swee Choon would provide the various doughs that form the backbone of good dim sum, while Nouri worked to expand the boundaries of how they could be filled, presented and served.  

“I think our main challenge was communication,” says Swee Choon’s third-generation owner Ernest Ting. “Our chefs are from Malaysia, so they speak Mandarin or Cantonese (while Nouri communicates in English)," he explains, noting as well how his chefs depend heavily on their years of experience and "don’t use weighing scales to weigh the dim sum; they just go by feel". Ting also complemented Nouri's kitchen staff on their meticulous nature, remarking how they would weigh everything precisely. "So, when it came to the plating and packaging, Nouri took charge because we are not as meticulous," he tells. "For example, if we do the gold brush on the pau, it wouldn’t be so uniform and neat."

The restaurants’ differing operating hours also meant they worked during different time zones. “Dim sum chefs work from midnight till dawn, so by the time the food gets to Nouri and they are ready to communicate, our chefs are asleep,” Ting adds.

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Challenges aside, the collaboration is more than just about creating excitement in an industry that was forced to close its doors to the people it was built to welcome. “What I like most about collaborations like these is how seemingly disparate things can come together so well when people want to do something about it,” Brehm stresses. “We each have specific skillsets that the other doesn’t. But we’ve combined and created something that’s really unique, a product that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.”

The Nouri + Swee Choon collaboration menu is available for takeaway and delivery only from June 19 to 21, from $38 a set, which includes two pau, three har gao and a pair of mee suah kueh. Click here to order.

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