Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Forest – Sam Leong does it his way.

Chef Sam Leong is a friend whose first two cookbooks I’ve had the pleasure of publishing. I was an avid fan since he was Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Hotel, Singapore, and later when he helmed the Tung Lok Group of restaurants.

We lost contact when I moved to Hong Kong four years ago and he quit his post with the restaurant group. But we rekindled our friendship in his newly opened restaurant, Forest at Equarius Hotel, Sentosa, two nights ago.

This quiet restaurant with a seating capacity of more than 170 sat in the midst of green and tranquil surroundings. The interior was cleanly modern with a stylised eco theme complete with green wall and abstract palm tree pillars.

Tuna tartar with
fresh mango in cone
We were first greeted with plum sorbet with cherry tomato and pickled carrot. The chill taste of the plum sorbet left a lasting aftertaste of plum and an acidic sweet effect.

Like a kid enticed with an ice-cream cone, the chill tuna tartar marinated with fresh mango in crispy seaweed, which came after, was bliss. The tuna and mango were like a pair of long-lost twins at a pleasant and heartwarming reunion.

Steamed Chawanmushi egg with pan-seared foie gras was no surprise, but who could refuse foie gras in whatever form?!
Steamed Chawanmushi with
pan-fried foie gras

This was one of my favourites of the evening: I could have begged for more with the first spoonful of double-boiled sea whelk with Sakura chicken consommé. The taste of sea whelk and cordyceps flowers was distinctive and rich. The price of cordyceps has hit the sky and its flowers are nowadays a good alternative. Chef Sam explained that he used Sakura chicken for its low fat content. The tempura sea whelk? I loved its texture but the sea whelk didn’t come through, only the prawn paste.

Double-boiled sea whelk soup & Sakura chicken consomme
accompanied with Tempura sea whelk
Charcoal-grilled cod fish
with sauteed eggplant
Charcoal-grilled honey cod fish was close to my taste buds. I love my fish grilled with a crispy texture yet succulent to the bite. The hint of sweetness flawlessly complemented the slight spicy sautéed eggplant that came with the dish.

The influence of Chef Sam’s early stint as chef in Thailand, and perhaps that of his wife, Forest, who is Thai-Chinese, was clearly evident. The slightly acidic soup balanced with just the right amount of sweetness, brought out the subtle taste of the sea from the scallop dumpling. The big surprise was the dried scallop and prawn stuffed inside the dumpling, which I noticed upon biting into the dumpling, betraying the Chinese influence on top of the Thai.
Steamed scallop dumpling in
Thai-style hot and sour consomme

Charcoal-grilled Wagyu Beef & foie gras with sea urchin
Wagyu beef and foie gras are like the Simpson Twins of haute cuisine. But the touch of sea urchin gave another dimension to the pairing. The rich, cream-like taste and texture actually provided a nice break from the heavy-tasting beef and liver. I loved this surprise combination!

The traditional Szechuan-style mapo tofu with crabmeat was great. The generous serving of crabmeat added panache to this Chinese dish but I found the mapo tofu overly generous for the small portion of accompanying rice. The rice was drowned by the mapo tofu, which was, in turn, too salty to be eaten on its own.
Szechuan-style mapo tofu with crab and steamed pearl rice

The dessert finale didn’t disappoint. The Siam chocolate banana ganache was wonderful as Chef Sam used Thai banana whose taste was strong, yet sat comfortably with the chocolate. The Thai-teh ice-cream and Lemongrass jelly were overshadowed by the goreng durian and chempedak. Durian and chempedak each have strong pungent tastes of their own, yet bringing the two together created an explosion of multi-level taste, texture and satisfaction….. provided you liked durian and chempedak in the first place!
Siam chocolate banana ganache, Thai-teh ice-cream, lemongrass jelly and goreng durian & chempedak

Throughout dinner, Chef Sam and I had the rare opportunity to catch up with the past, present, and even the future. He told me that when he quit his position with Tung Lok, everyone thought he had gone mad for forgoing such a salary and a regional creative post on top of that. But he said that while quitting at the seeming pinnacle of one’s career was always difficult, if you didn’t do it you never will, because you always keep setting yourself a next higher goal. So Chef Sam decided to bite the bullet, and now cherishes the time he spends with his wife and family running his cooking school and his occasional consulting stints. Well, Chef, here’s wishing you best of luck!

Equarius Hotel
Resorts World Sentosa

Sam.leong@forest Cooking School
4A Craig Road
Singapore 089664
Tel: 65-6222 3305

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