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Peranakan, or Nyonya, food is not easily found in Hong Kong. It is also hotly debated amongst Singaporean and Malay expats as to what exactly is “authentic” Peranakan food. The cuisine comes from combining Chinese ingredients with Indonesian and Malaysian spices and cooking techniques, with each family having unique recipes and different takes on popular dishes.
Bringing Nyonya cuisine to Hong Kong are chefs and culinary directors Tinoq Russel Goh and Dylan Chan, who form the famous pair PasirPanjangBoy. Well known as make-up artists to the stars (including but not limited to model Lily Cole and Constance Lau of Crazy Rich Asians), they opened up a private kitchen in Singapore as a passion project after their famous friends tasted their dishes. They’ve recently come to Hong Kong with JIA Group to open Bibi & Baba.
Dylan Chan (left) and Tinoq Russel Goh (right)
Tinoq, who grew up in Singapore, is of North Indian and Thai-Chinese heritage. He is a striking figure with his flawless skin, stylish ensemble and bright pink hair, which Dylan shares. He is also a fabulous, hilarious and engaging storyteller who is clearly passionate about everything he does. Both Tinoq and Dylan are warm and friendly, making you feel as though you have stepped into their home rather than an astoundingly busy restaurant.
I went to Bibi & Baba with very little preconceptions of Nyonya cuisine, only knowing a few dishes from my travels to Singapore and Malaysia. Tinoq emphasised that his approach to Nyonya cuisine is Singaporean and understands that this may not be to all Peranakan tastes.
“Food is very personal,” he explained, which is why many people may get upset if the food is not cooked in the same way in which their mother made it! He also notes the connection between his two passions: beauty and food. Food is aesthetically pleasing and contains healing properties such as healthy fats and vitamins that are also vital for healthy skin.
Colour is clearly of great importance to the duo, who noted the auspicious nature of the colour pink. Most of the restaurant is pastel pink and green, with a few blue, red and marble touches. The space certainly brightens one’s mood, and not matching my surroundings, I immediately regretted my black dress yet was pleased with my choice of green nail varnish.
In keeping with the colour theme, I was served a bright green lemongrass jelly ($48) drink soon after sitting down. The slightly fizzy drink was very sweet yet refreshing and thirst-quenching. The drink menu features plenty of classic drinks, such as the always satisfying Milo Dinosaur ($88), as well as unique cocktails and mocktails designed by talented mixologist Mario Calderone.
Before tucking into our meal, the chefs taught us how to make our own sambal. Made with red onion, lemongrass, shrimp paste, tamarind, chilli and garlic, these fragrant ingredients are blended together and cooked for around 45 minutes until they turn deep red, frequently stirring them to avoid sticking. Our portions were smaller than the chefs were used to, telling us that they often cook around 30kg at a time!
After our sambal workshop and all the enticing smells that wafted from the kitchen, we were eager to begin our meal. We started with the ngor hiang ($78), five-spice minced pork with water chestnut and candied winter melon wrapped in dried bean curd – a tasty yet rather subtle starter before we got to the stronger flavours.
Kueh pie tee ($75) are delicate, cupcake-esque bites filled with jicama and topped with egg, shrimp and coriander. I enjoyed the thin and crispy pastry yet felt that the filling could have used a little more seasoning.
The ayam goreng istemewa ($128), or fried chicken, was finger-licking good. I could not get enough of that crispy skin.
I was served an “individual” portion of laksa ($102), half the size of the regular portion yet still a very healthy serving. The laksa had a definite kick to it, with the coconut flavour present yet less notable than most laksas found in Hong Kong. The rich soup was certainly moreish, with the prawns, thin noodles and bean sprouts soaking up all that spicy goodness.
Babi ponteh ($138) is a pork belly dish that’s braised in fermented soybean sauce and dark soy sauce. Possibly my favourite dish of the evening, the tender pork simply melted in the mouth.
Another stellar noodle dish, the Penang prawn mee ($102) is a fiery red colour yet was distinctly less spicy than the laksa. The dish is made with both thin (bee hoon) and thick (yellow) noodles to soak up as much of the rich red prawn and pork broth as possible. It’s topped with addictively crispy lard bits.
Assam pedas ($288) is a whole fish cooked in a spiced broth with torch ginger flowers and laksa leaves. Not a huge fan of ginger, I personally found the ginger taste too overpowering yet could appreciate the complex, layered flavours and tender, well-cooked fish.
Nyonya chap chye ($78) is a vegetarian mix of slow-braised cabbage, tofu, assorted veggies and glass noodles. This dish was far tastier than expected; the cabbage was not at all bitter and, coupled with the tofu and glass noodles, was a pleasant combination of chewy textures.
Finally getting to taste our very own sambal, we tucked into the prawns sambal petai ($148). The chilli was prominent in the sambal yet not so spicy that we lost the layer upon layer of fresh and fragrant flavours. The meaty prawns were incredibly succulent, with their sweet flavour beautifully cutting through the heat of the sambal.
Otah ($88) is grilled fish mousse wrapped in a banana leaf. It is similar to a fishcake yet distinctly unique with its smoky aroma and buttery texture. But take heed – although delicious, this was the spiciest dish of the night.
Aside from the pictured dishes, we also tried the lean and generously spiced beef rendang ($138), which is Chef Dylan’s personal favourite, the palate-cleaning bakwan kepiting ($68), a soup with crab meatballs, and the ayam buah keluak ($158), which is chicken braised in a deliciously savoury black nut sauce with aromas of black truffle.
Chendol ($58) is an icy treat that was welcome after the warming flavours of the mains. However, I would recommend sharing this dessert as I found it a bit too sweet to finish by myself.
The kueh platter ($58) is absolutely beautiful, with colours that somehow match the restaurant’s interior. In opposition to the chendol, these bite-sized delights are not too sweet and are a lovely way to end a meal. My favourite was the mini pandan pancake.
While it may not meet everyone’s expectations of what Peranakan food “should” be, Bibi & Baba’s menu is one borne out of personal memories, a holistic approach to high-quality ingredients and a deep respect for the Peranakan heritage. Thanks to the incredibly hospitable staff (not to mention the world’s coolest chefs), vibrant atmosphere and a menu that positively explodes with colour and flavour, Bibi & Baba is sure to become a frequent local favourite.
1–7 Ship Street, Wanchai, 2555 0628 (no bookings)
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.
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