The Full Book
Will Chng is the go-to guy in town for homemade mala sauces if you didn’t already know. Umami Boy (@umami.boy) came to life in August last year. The 28-year-old chef who professionally cooked at one-Michelin-starred Meta, Roketto Izakaya, Kimme (closed down), Wild Rocket (closed down) within a span of six years brings restaurant-grade experience to his home dining room. We were chuffed to be the first ones to sign up for the first official private dining dinner by Umami Table (@umamitable.sg). It’s been raining on Umami Boy’s parade (as the home cook is sometimes referred to). The fluctuating changes by the government (now two home guests a day, indefinitely), and letting slip a knife that cut his fingers real deep pushed the start date even further. But that date did arrive eventually, Just a pre-warning, Umami Table is fully booked till 21 November. Hopefully the stabilization phase then would, well, be phased out. And we can have more than one dining companion at one seating. Until then, it's two vaccinated people to dine anywhere.
Sliced hokkaido scallops served sashimi-style with chili vinaigrette kicked off the whole meal. It's inspired by Will's affinity for Putien's spice mum chili sauce. (In fact, the one-Michelin-starred restaurant even posted the recipe during circuit breaker online for fans to make their own at home! Count red chili pepper, dried red chili pepper, green chili pepper, garlic, onion and lime in.). Not one to sit on his laurels, the busy chef created his own version making it into a vinaigrette using Japanese vinegar. However, this chili sauce never made it to our homes because the shelf life is very short. Yay for us because we got to try this firsthand from the maker himself in his own home!
The dish is presented on a large clam shell, topped with celtuce strips, pomelo pulp and coriander (OMGS I love coriander 🤤) It was then finished with szechuan green peppercorn oil which, you guessed it, the HBB Home-Based Business) owner made himself to add floral aroma to the umami ensemble. Fancy or what?
Spanner Crab Chawanmushi
Have you had soft, silky chawanmushi like this? You can't really see the steamed egg underneath, but in full view are bursting flavors of sweet spanner crab, fermented yellow wine (or huangjiu) sauce on top, chicken scallion oil, then finished with a spray of aged shaoxing wine? Both wines by the way are categorized as huangjiu which is an "ancient" alcoholic drink as it's been around for 2,500 years. There's zao lu shanghai wine and
10-year shaoxing, with the latter giving complexity to the overall flavor, and must come from its namesake town. If you're wondering how this came together, you may already heard that this young chef has lived and cooked in Japan, Taiwan and China. So like my dining companion mentioned, the menu is like a running commentary of where Will has worked at/been to, and a more personal, 're-imagined' take on his favorite things.
Midnight Drunken Clam Broth
What hits the spot for Will after a late night service? When he was running a Singaporean-style ramen stall in Taiwan two years ago, he chanced upon an uncle selling clam soup late into the night. This was something that was very comforting for him in a foreign land. He recreates this memory using clam stock and dashi base, sake (!), yuzu pepper, kaffir lime and winter melon. Just look at the cute shape cut-out's. This also reminded me of how I used to stock up on Family Mart's micro tiny clams in a cup. Just add hot water to the miso and it's ready. Of course this was way better than the instant cups.
Crispy Yellow Croaker 'Tempura'
Guess Will's favorite fish to eat when he was living in China? This one ☝️ Yellow Croaker. This specie is abundant and very easily available in the country. He painstakingly removed the bones, and thank goodness for that. I have this phobia of fish bones. The pretty meaty fish wore a seasoning mix inspired by 'shao kao' aka barbeque. Skewered and grilled meats is a street food similar to satay and yakitori. The addictive flavors are mostly reliant on this elusive seasoning mix which local peddlers are reluctant to reveal, and when asked they fend off inquisitors with "cumin". But the then-barista intern pressed on and recreated that familiar taste himself. So here we had it. With a side of excess deep-fried dough bits which were also spiced and oh so shiok. I suspect some of you would want some fluffy steaming rice with this! 🤤
Umami XO Capellini
It looks simple right? It can be if the hard work was done beforehand. Chef Will used copious lashings of Umami Boy's Umami XO sauce. Have you tried it before? When it was launched last year, the budding HBB sent me the original MALA and mushroom MALA ones to try. The 'ma' (or numb) and the 'la' (or spicy) were tamed so that most people can have it. But recently, some changes were made. The original recipe is now plant-based as of January this year, and it's wild and spicy. Exactly how I like it! And it's not just a condiment or dip. I tried Umami XO when it was first launched too, and it went very well with his homemade carrot cake. What's in this sauce? Top grade ‘har mi’ dried shrimps from Hong Kong, dried scallops, whitebait, bacon and chili.
Here, the Umami Boy creator bestowed so much flavor to stir-fried capellini with his Umami XO sauce. There were also added garlic slices and some dashi stock. He then gave us a lot more pasta than intended (we're charming that way 😃), then topped the carbilicious mound with two big and deshelled tiger prawns. I WAS SOLD. And yeah, I bought one of each bottle that was on display - original MALA, mushroom MALA and Umami XO.
36hr Wagyu Beef Short Ribs
This beef was so tender thanks to the 36-hour sous vide of the wagyu beef short ribs that breaks down the sinews. The experienced chef also made the char siu marinade to suit the beef, so that the flavors don't end up competing in our mouths. Looking at the meat, how many of you would have mistaken the steak for pork instead of beef? Check out the blowtorching action.
Under the onion petals, there were barley grains flavored with Umami Boy's smoky version of Umami XO! And no, that sauce is not for sale...yet (?). He adapted a Chinese recipe that required the charring of green chillies one at a time. Don't ask me why. But it sure does seem like he's gonna need a whole bunch to fill up a bottle. The pickled cucumbers were much appreciated. I do like spicy in most things. But I also like other piquant tastes like tangy. Hence I do enjoy picking on pickles.
Sweet Fermented Rice (Jiu Niang / 酒酿)
The original Chinese dessert is an acquired taste. Sometimes I like it, and at other times I just don't want it near me because the smell of sweet rice wine is plain weird. It's a chewy bowl of warm mini glutinous rice balls, usually in pretty colors, and sticky rice fermented in a distiller's yeast ( jiu qu/酒曲). Will describes the fermented flavor as similar to sake lees. But he also observed that it may not be necessarily everyone's favorite because, like I mentioned earlier, the acidity and fermented sweet taste, is an acquired one. So Will made his own blue hokkaido milk ice-cream with a little sea salt, and blended his fermented rice with lychee, and more of the fruit slices at the bottom. Then he added snow gum (aka tragacanth gum) which is a plant-based collagen, and looks a lot like bird's nest, don't you think? A sprinkling of dried osmanthus added a touch of gold color. This version definitely got my vote!
BONUS❗️Water Chestnut 'Warabi Mochi'
Umami Table's private home dining menu consists of six courses at $150 per pax. But Will added a seventh one for us which is a work-in-progress if you will. Though it tasted good to go for me. He modeled this second dessert after the Japanese warabi mochi which in its purest form is made with bracken starch. Here though he used water chestnut starch, and during R&D water chestnut bits were added. But he removed them in the final cut to retain this homogenous texture that he likes. Also similar to warabi mochi, kinako powder was added and kuromitsu (Okinawan dark sugar) syrup was substituted with a thicker winter melon molasses topping. He chose the latter as winter melon tea was a familiar drink when he was a kid. The jelly-like cubes were firmer and chewy. Everything on the plate harmonized well together.
It was a starless night because the real star was lighting up our dinner ⭐️ The home cook was quick to mention that his chef-friend, Emson Guan, was his go-to person to bounce off creative ideas, and also "assists Chef Will in the creation and development of Umami Table's Omakase Menus."
I think private home dining is here to stay for a long time to come. Would I recommend for you to make the trip? The best way to find out if you like something is to try it yourself. The meal was very satisfying and at $150 nett, it's a steal. There is no corkage charged on bottles, but do inform the host beforehand. Planning a proposal or wanting to have a heart-to-heart talk with an old friend? Umami Table is the place.
BOOK NOW : @umamitable.sg
Open for dinner on most days DM for dates).
Cuisine : Modern Chinese
Seating capacity : 2 (until government regulations ease)