With a new partner in The Lo & Behold Group, the 63-year-old veteran heritage food champ might just have found the place to take him and his food to celebrated new heights

The last time we spoke to chef Damian D’Silva, he was contemplating new partnerships that would propel him into the industry big leagues. Six months on and he’s found a new partner in The Lo & Behold Group, which owns Straits Clan where his upcoming restaurant Kin is located, taking over the venue’s former Dining Room.

The private members’ club seems the perfect setting for what D’Silva has to offer. In the short space of a year since its inception, Straits Clan has thoughtfully shaped itself as a haven for Singapore’s rich cultural heritage, parsed in modern ways through a roster of talks and events that resonate with today’s creative thinkers.

D’Silva, widely regarded as a steward of Singapore’s heritage recipes, is part of the last generation of cooks who grew up with Singapore’s nascent culinary culture in the 1960s. In those days, our racial melting pot was still discovering its own identities through food. No one quibbled about the specifics of Hainanese chicken rice or Malay nasi lemak since they were too busy building a life in a developing land.

In that respect, Singaporean food of the time was neither constrained by culture nor race; it was a pastiche of recipes brought from ancestral lands near and far, recreated with ingredients available to hand.

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D’Silva’s cuisine reflects this collective diversity. It is the food of his Eurasian grandfather, his Peranakan mother, his British neighbours, his Malay aunty Zainab (a close family friend), and of his favourite Chinese and Indian push-cart hawkers that plied the streets near his childhood home in Opera Estate. Fittingly, Kin’s menu is described as “a retrospective look at the origins of Singaporean cuisine, showcasing time-honoured cooking methods, recipes and ingredients that have been left behind”.

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A wider net

It has been 17 years since D’Silva opened his first restaurant, Soul Kitchen, along Purvis Street in 2002. In that time, his loyal fans have become as familiar with dishes like his grandfather’s curry debal and his mother’s lor bak, as they are with the food of their own families. At Kin, D’Silva hopes to show that not only does he harbour a treasure trove of forgotten local recipes that they’ve yet to sample, but also that these dishes—served in an upscale setting—can take his longstanding career to celebrated heights.  

Celebrating heritage food

While the dishes at Kin are still hearty and served family-style, they have an elegant quality to them, thanks to more refined presentations and lighter flavours. The latter tweak is particularly surprising for long-time fans of his unapologetically robust fare. Gone is the deeply savoury punch of the small-batch taucheo (fermented soybean paste) that anchored his steamed fish. In its place is a subtle hint of it, like the spirit of a loved one lost that leaves you wistful for its recapture.  

In keeping with the celebration of heritage food, there is a wider array of dishes that include the likes of ji bao gai (paper-wrapped chicken) and beef cheek gulai (a silky Indonesian-style curry) that are new to his repertoire. Perhaps to show off his expansive range, some familiar favourites, such as babi masak assam, now come in a different guise. Don’t expect the tender cubes of pork lacquered in the syrupy gleam of reduced tamarind paste which he’d served for the past two decades. At Kin, you’ll get a more Chinese version of the Peranakan classic, with pork braised in a soupier gravy and dappled with slivers of giam chye (salted vegetables).

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Official opening in November

Kin is literally a work in progress. Over the last few weeks, it’s been serving a preview menu as a means for garnering feedback and to introduce itself to the club’s members, who will soon have to share their dining room with the community. Calling D’Silva’s work a “national treasure”, a spokesperson for Straits Clan said that opening a limited number of seats to a wider audience is in the spirit of celebrating and spreading awareness of our local heritage. The space is closed for minor renovations (since October 13) and will officially open on November 4.