A Taste Of Home: Nicholas Chew on His Favourite Singaporean Flavours, Dishes and Destinations
Chef Nicholas Chew is no stranger to the culinary world. He began his career in food at the age of 19, working under the watchful eyes of master chefs at Japanese restaurants in Japan and Singapore before moving to Hong Kong where he continued to expand his culinary repertoire, working with renowned chefs including the late Michel del Burgo at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Shane Osborn. He also helped to open and head French restaurant Serge et le Phoque in 2013, which was awarded one Michelin star before it closed in 2018, before taking the helm at art-centric restaurant Bibo.
Today, the adventurous chef is busy with his latest project, Guerilla Lab, a private and corporate events and catering business, which he started just over a year ago with fellow chef John Yip. Armed with impressive culinary credentials, cultural expertise and blazing passion, the duo create distinctive dining experiences.
But Chew hasn’t abandoned his roots. It was growing up in Singapore that he was first exposed to the culinary world—and the country and its cuisine still hold an important place in his heart. Pre-Covid, the chef would return two or three times a year, revisiting his favourite local haunts and savouring the dishes he misses most. Here, he recalls the familiar flavours of local Singaporean food, sharing the dishes that remind him of his childhood and his home.
What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from Singapore or haven’t been back for a while?
I miss being able to enjoy the simple hawker food centres, especially East Coast Lagoon Food Village by the beach, as hawker food is just never the same anywhere else.
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
Depending on the trip, I would usually go to Hjh Maimunah Restaurant in Geylang for nasi padang first. The restaurant is my go-to for a fix of a rich and flavourful array of dishes. It reminds me of growing up with a mix of Peranakan food at home.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Singapore—for fine dining or special occasions and for more casual experiences?
It’s hard to choose favourites, but Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands is a restaurant that stands out because of my own culinary journey. Meeting Chef Tetsuya Wakuda definitely gave me a different perspective on Japanese food.
If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Singapore?
I would place bets on bringing them down to either Newton Food Centre or Lau Pa Sat—both typical tourist ‘makan’ destinations to get “everything Singapore” under one roof.
What are your favourite Singaporean heritage dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?
As I grew up in Katong, on the east coast of Singapore, my favourite haunts are in that neighbourhood and include spots for laksa, popiah, tau pok and otah, to name a few.
Do you have a favourite bar or café in Singapore?
I’m not really a café person, but visiting Ya Kun Kaya Toast or Killiney Kopitiam for a breakfast of kaya toast, half boiled eggs and black coffee does it for me. Then there is Atlas, a cool bar to just chill, unwind and enjoy great company in.
Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?
I will limit the list, but my top three would be Al Mahboob Rojak in Tampines, As-Shifaa Cafe in Lucky Plaza and, most importantly, excellent family meals at home. I always prioritise local food when I make trips back—the spices in all the local fare just hit the spot in a way that they never quite do when you go for the same type of food here in Hong Kong.
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Singapore?
Bengawan Solo’s pandan cakes and kuehs are always hand-carried with me on my return trip back to Hong Kong. There was even a point when I contemplated franchising it here! Of course, my mother-in-law’s cooked and packed sambal cow’s lung is also an essential.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in Hong Kong?