As chef de cuisine for The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong's The Lounge & Bar, Singaporean native Kael Lim's workplace might be sky-high, but his cooking is grounded and humble, drawing from his favourite childhood eats from the Lion City to create dishes that have garnered regular fans of his.
Having worked at Singapore's The Ritz-Carlton Millennia, W Hotel and Shangri-La, Lim moved to Hong Kong in November 2020 and has not been able to return home since, given the continuous "popping" of the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble. To cope, he's woven the flavours of his hometown into his menu at The Ritz-Carlton, including Australian Kinkawooka mussels in a rich laksa broth, and his signature black pepper crab with fried mantou buns which he's constantly tweaking for the perfect, most comforting version.
Keep reading for Lim's picks of his favourite culinary haunts in Singapore, and find out why he believes chicken rice must always be wrapped in paper.
Read the rest of the A Taste of Home series
What do you miss most in terms of food and drink when you are away from Singapore?
I think it's more of the the the hawker style of food. At every hawker centre, each individual store has their own speciality. I like to go to Lau Pa Sat. It's a bit touristy, so when I have any foreign friends that were to visit to Singapore, I'll bring them to Lau Pa Sat or Newton Food Centre. All these foods are quite inexpensive and there are different kinds of flavours: you've got Malay, Indian, Chinese and Eurasian. I think it's easy and quite fun, actually.
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
I would actually go for Hokkien mee as I grew up eating it. I go to a stall in Geylang, it's called Swee Gwun. Before I came to Hong Kong I used to have a motorbike, you see, so I would ride around very fast, so if I have a craving or anything, I would ride there. This stall closes at night, and once they run out, they're done. The flavour is something I cannot get anywhere else in Singapore.
Do you have any favourite restaurants in Singapore, for fine dining and for more casual experiences?
For casual, I would go for Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. [They make] the white pepper variety [of bak kut teh] and it's very consistent. The soup is refillable; I would always order the pork rib soup and get the most premium part, then I would refill it three or four times [laughs]. By the end of the meal I would be perspiring.
I wouldn't go for traditional fine dining. I'd rather visit a place I worked before: Skirt in W Hotel. It's one of the best steakhouses in Singapore where they use a wood-fired Parrilla grill. It's named after a secondary cut of beef from the diaphragm. If you don't cook it properly, it will become tough. They grill it with different types of wood at very high heat—apple wood, cherry wood—and I will always appreciate a good steak. I'm not a fan of ribeye but I would prefer those types of meat with a good flavour.