In light of COVID-19, we encourage diners to take precautions when going out. You can also support your favourite restaurants by getting takeaway and delivery.
Despite his youthful appearance, Chef Barry Quek knows a thing or two about the art of fine cuisine. The Singaporean native honed his culinary skills at acclaimed kitchens around the world, starting at Michelin-starred Joël Robuchon and Les Amis in Singapore, then at In De Wulf in Belgium, followed by Attica in Melbourne, Australia, and Portland restaurant in London. His “homeward bound” desire landed him not quite in the Lion City, but back in Asia, with the opening of Beet in Hong Kong in 2017.
In a sense, Whey encompasses all of Chef Quek’s European culinary training and interweaves that with the Singaporean flavours of his childhood. The result is a sleek menu executed with the rigorous precision of fine dining paired with the earthy authenticity of traditional Southeast Asian flavours. The name “Whey” celebrates the ethos of using every ingredient to its fullest potential. Considered a by-product of cheese and yoghurt making, whey can be reused to add new flavour – all that’s needed is a little creativity.
And that creativity is exactly what one can find in Chef Quek’s dishes, with fruit leftovers made into pickles or infused into alcohol and odd cuts of meat simmered into rich sauces. As part of ZS Hospitality Group, whose portfolio includes Hansik Goo, Ying Jee Club, Miss Lee and Joint Asian Market (J.A.M.), Whey fits right in with the concept of traditional Asian flavours, reinterpreted.
To reflect the merging of European and Asian flavours, Oslo-based Snøhetta has created a space filled with both the sleek lines of Scandinavian design and Peranakan architectural elements. Rich, earthy reds and deep, tropical greens contrast against pale rattan screens and wishbone wooden chairs. The main dining room seats 22 guests, while a private dining room at the back can easily accommodate 10 more.
Whey is literally a labour of love between Chef Quek and his very affable girlfriend, Christina, who greets guests at front of house. The two met in Europe while working at the same restaurant and took a leap of faith to headline a new venture in Hong Kong. Christina, a fellow Vancouverite, is bubbly and knowledgable about the inner workings of each dish, and her easy-going manner instantly makes guests feel at home.
There are two tasting menus on offer: the full 11-course extravaganza ($1,190/person) and an abbreviated version ($890/person). There are also options for wine pairings for an additional sum. We settled down after a walk through the space and a peek at Chef Quek’s wall of pickled goodies. Can you guess which animal the skull at the prep table once belonged to? Hint: oink, oink!
Not in the mood to booze, we decided on the reliable choice of mango lassi ($98) to start our meal. This drink reminds us of leisurely breakfasts at hotel resorts, and we simply couldn’t resist the opportunity. The creamy blend of homemade yoghurt and extremely aromatic fresh mango is not overly sweet and has a refreshingly tangy undertone.
A trio of amuse-bouche arrived next. The achar vegetable roll, modelled after a popular vegetable salad, was packed with juicy, crisp green papaya, cucumber and golden beetroot tossed in a sweet and spicy pickling juice. This was our favourite of the amuse-bouche, with the tangy pickling juice really amplifying the flavours of each vegetable. The pie tee, a play on the Peranakan snack kuih pie tee, was a thin, crispy shell filled with blue ginger yoghurt, grated Parmesan and diced sea bream. Finally, the chicken liver parfait sat on a wafer of crispy chicken skin and was dotted with homemade grape jam. Although small in size, the earthy aroma of the liver permeated the tiny wafer.
Accompanied by a fuchsia bouquet of exotic torch ginger flowers, the cherry tomatoes dish emphasises the delicate balance of contrasting flavours. Lightly pickled cherry tomatoes and sun-dried cape gooseberries are drenched in a ginger flower consommé that’s packed with sun-ripened deliciousness. Each bite tasted like sunshine, with the ginger flower giving off a “husky” taste, a very unique flavour best described as a cross between Vietnamese mint and lemongrass. We especially enjoyed the sweet, juicy pops of gooseberries, which taste almost like candy. Local produce is used whenever possible at Whey, with the majority of vegetables coming from Zen Organic Farm in New Territories.
The spring peas dish blankets caramelised whey over sweet petit pois, topped with oyster from Fukuoka and a quenelle of caviar and herbs. The sweet, juicy oyster highlights the sweetness of the small peas, and the briny caviar and zestiness of the preserved lemon are a nice balance to the creamy, rich whey.
Comfort in a bowl, eating the flower clam with sliced bamboo shoot and juicy morsels of clams simmered in an incredibly umami clam broth was like being wrapped up in a cosy duvet. We didn’t get too relaxed though – the shredded basil and scallion on top livened up the broth with zingy flavour contrast. We could have easily sipped another bowl or two of this!
If there is ever a bread deserving a course all of its own, it’s Whey’s. Homemade sourdough, using a starter four years in the making, is accompanied by a chocolate-like buah keluak brioche. We’re not huge fans of sourdough, but the chewy interior and intensely flavourful crust was simply irresistible, especially when smothered in the creamy cultured butter.
The buah keluak nut, a popular ingredient in Peranakan cuisine, comes with a slice of danger. The nut is actually toxic and must be buried in volcanic ash for months before it can be considered safe for consumption. We first encountered this ingredient when dining at The Blue Ginger in Singapore, and we would describe the flavour as having an inkling of liquorice rounded out to a buttery, cocoa-like finish. The sweet, earthy aroma of the buah keluak brioche is further accentuated by a buah keluak emulsion, a spread made from the pulverised nut and caramelised onion.
The irresistibly moreish sourdough was also perfect for mopping up the creamy sauce of the next course: seared scallop. Pan-seared Hokkaido scallop and crunchy pickled carrot dice are covered in a creamy quilt of jackfruit emulsion topped with homemade prawn floss. The robust aroma of the jackfruit adds depth to the shellfish.
The highlight of our meal was the grilled kinmedai, served alongside a folded stalk of leek layered with petai beans and pickled shallot and dressed in a sweet and tangy asam sauce dotted with tender cuttlefish dice. The local kinmedai was buttery and perfectly charcoal-grilled, and although asam sauce is a traditional Southeast Asian flavour, we felt this dish is more attuned to the characteristics of French cuisine. The petai beans, often referred to as stink beans owing to their pungent smell, are very subdued and work well with the sweetness of the pickled banana shallot.
Chef Quek’s favourite dish on the menu is the bak kut teh, using pork ribs from Ying Ming Farm in New Territories. Traditionally a soup-like dish, Chef Quek’s version is reimagined with a perfectly honed rectangle of juicy pork teased from the bone, accompanied by oven-roasted cabbage and slices of pork heart. The sauce has hints of white pepper, and black garlic purée adds more sweetness. The pork was flavourful and oh so indulgent, although it didn’t resonate an overwhelming sense of the flavour profile of the traditional dish.
The Kagoshima A3 Wagyu striploin (+$239) was perfectly seared, served with salt-baked jicama and kaffir lime purée. The accompanying peanut sauce, when combined with the rich meat, reminded us of satay. The kaffir lime purée uplifts the palate from the richness of the sauce and beef. A tiny skewer of beef tongue and pink guava is served alongside, with the sweet fruit acting as a palate cleanser to the richly marbled meat.
We enjoyed the herby salad that came with the meat dishes; both were very rich and needed a refreshing element for balance.
Feeling quite guilty from our calorie splurge with the heavy meats, we chastened ourselves to behave with the curry laksa rice crowned with hand-picked flower crab and garlic flakes. We were pleasantly surprised to realise that no atonement was needed – the “rice” is made from konjac and is nearly calorie free. The chewy and crunchy texture of the konjac somehow extended the enjoyment of the laksa as we chewed, and the delicate flower crab offered sweet, subtle flavour contrast. This dish draws inspiration from front-of-house Christina (she prefers laksa with rice as she believes it soaks up more of the flavours).
The soursop sorbet, served in a cracked coconut alongside coconut meat, calamansi, coconut crumbs and coconut powder, is both creamy and tangy. Often referred to as custard apple, this fruit is described as tasting like a mix between strawberry and apple, with a hint of citrus.
We caved at ordering the brown butter ice cream instead of trying the Mao Shan Wang durian flavour, which sounds exotic with its Cristal caviar and milk crisp. We don’t usually enjoy durian, although the contrast between sweet ice cream and briny caviar does sound tempting. The brown butter ice cream did not disappoint with its candied walnuts and fresh mango dice.
The petits fours included coconut and red bean parfait wrapped in butterfly pea crêpe, pandan cheesecake and the tongue-in-cheek garam masala crack pie. The parfait was our favourite, a play on the popular Singaporean ice-cream sandwich.
In a marketplace saturated with fine-dining options, Whey stands out with its Southeast Asian influences. It is indeed fine dining, but reimagined thoughtfully with a Singaporean twist. The techniques and execution are flawless, and the unique ingredients and flavour profiles are a breath of fresh air in a congested dining scene packed with French haute-cuisine and Japanese omakase options.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
For more reviews like this, like Foodie on Facebook