Chef Marcus Leow of Naked Finn and BurgerLabo shares his favourite dining spots
Because F&B insiders know best
These days I'm busy with running around for both Naked Finn and BurgerLabo. Couple of months ago, we downsized the restaurant and carved out a space to do experiments: be it dry aging and wet aging of fish, aging beef garum (like fish sauce made with beef) for our burgers or just having fun and fermenting stuff to see what goes well with our seafood. I'm also working with the next crop of chefs for Magic Square — advising the chefs how to plan their menus as well as to bounce off ideas and plan the logistics of the place, for it to open on schedule.
A hawker stall I would queue for is Song Kee Fishball noodles. I'm a sucker for dry noodles and the herh kiao is really the tastiest! They hand-make it and the texture is simply amazing. I always order their dry noodles with extra noodles and take the leftover sauce to add to the bowl of soup to give it extra flavour. Really unhealthy but so damn good.
I'm a regular at Punch and Gather! Vincent has such nice design concepts and his staff always has the warmest hospitality. His food has always been simple but done well. I've been a fan of his cafes since they opened the now defunct The Plain at Craig road, but I will always remember their dean's breakfast, which they now serve at punch! Whenever I have time to dine in I'll always start with a latte and have a chai to go after my meals.
When I need to eat clean, I don't skip the curry with my double egg prata and have it with sugar instead.
My favourite bar in Singapore is Loof! I'm a sucker for puns and their drinks and drink names are always really on point. They have nice whiskeys and good selection of beers on hand and the music is always a good vibe when I go there. During these Heightened Alert times I order takeaway Negronis from Jigger and Pony to get my fix.
An underrated restaurant in my opinion is Kazu Sumiyaki. They do one of the best barbecued skewers but for a select regulars and friends, who happens to be my boss Ken Tan, the chef does an omakase experience comprised of raw fish and an assortment of cold and hot dishes. Industry people like me would swoon over his custom made sukiyaki grill and exhaust system that's so good and efficient you could have a two hour meal and leave the restaurant smelling without a hint of smoke.
My guilty pleasure is Dong Fang Mei Shi restaurant off Chinatown. They open really late and there's nothing I would want more after a long day of service than Chinese food slathered in spices and chilli oil! A few of their must-orders is their tripe tossed in chilli oil and raw leeks and spring onion, their chicken heart skewers tossed in like a Xinjiang spice blend, and a Tsingtao beer to wash it all down.
My go-to supper spot is Lim Joo Hin at Beo Crescent. I used to go there all the time after our shifts at Magic Square and head down there to have their Teochew porridge. A must order is their braised intestines and handmade fishcake! Just the right amount of saltiness and bounce to them.
For weekend brunch with friends, I normally do not have time as I am either working at the restaurant or choosing to catch up sleep at home and spending time with my fiancé and my dog.
The best place to get a meal with seafood is Naked Finn! I may be (slightly) biased but Naked Finn has a myriad of seafood sourced all over the world because we run our own suppliers mostly to get them. It's been open for nine years now and they have been constantly revamping and thinking of new ways to improve the quality and pair it with diverse ingredients. A must order is our Roughscale Flounder, which is barbecued over coals and brushed with a baste of juniper berry vinegar and brown butter.
For special occasions, I always go to the same places — Odette and Mustard Seed. Obviously it needs no introduction but Odette for their warm hospitality and precise and seasonal dishes. Mustard Seed for their Singaporean cuisine cooked with finesse and the most meticulous of seasonings. It's definitely shaping up to be one of the most exciting restaurants in Singapore.
My all-time favourite restaurant is Restaurant Ikoyi in London. I ate there when I was on holiday and it blew my mind. I applied for a stage (an unpaid internship) immediately and it was one of the best working experiences in my professional life. It was mind blowing to see how the use of spice and heat could be so well-balanced in a tasting menu format. Working with chef Jeremy Chan was one of the most fruitful memories to date and I still remember every moment in the kitchen, two years on.
My favourite farm in Singapore is Eng Ting Ting of Pocket Farms. I haven't been to her new farm in Tengah but I've always been very amazed by her enthusiasm and passion for cultivating the best micro greens and herbs. I remember doing a menu at Magic Square and ordering cucumber flowers from her, which required me to hike through a place to reach her farm but it was always so worth it because her quality of micro greens are unmatched.
I grew up eating Peranakan food. I come from a family of Peranakans and every Chinese New Year we had buah keluak instead of "pen cai", bak wan kepiting, instead of fish maw soup. My memory of cooking rempah and rolling meat balls for soup with my grandma was one of my earliest food memories and I still reminisce about it. I was exposed to spice at a young age with dishes like babi pongteh and assam pedas, which in some way influenced the way I cook - trying to use uniquely Peranakan ingredients in a totally different way and pairing.
For dining with family, We go to iO Osteria which is near my place, it's a cozy Italian joint where they serve unpretentious hearty Italian food and real tasty fare that the whole family can agree on. Which is rare for a family of Peranakans as they're known for having a ton of opinions about anything food-related.
The food scene in Singapore is competitive and dynamic. It's a diverse fare, Singaporeans are somewhat open to new cuisines and still hold on to local roots. Of course the food scene in Singapore nowadays is that people tend to gravitate to things that are trendy and new or "experimental", I try not to fall into these stereotypes, by making sensible developments in our dishes. From a chef's standpoint, it's always good as it pushes each other to be better and never rest on our laurels to constantly think of new dishes and new items to drive Singapore cuisine or the Singaporean food scene forward. It will definitely be exciting to see how far we could push Singaporean cuisine and influence more chefs to take this direction and embrace local culture.