There is asian food and then there is modern Asian food. My idea of the former involves traipsing past some gritty back alley in search of wok-hot Hokkien mee, mostly to satiate hunger after a buzzing champagne night out. The latter, however, is a term coined during the inevitable emergence of a contemporary foodscape, rising fast in cross-cultural nations such as Australia where two-hour-long queues dominate the streets that spill outside Melbourne’s Mr Miyagi and Chin Chin in favour for a bite of their ubiquitous nori tacos and wagyu beef rendang.
But in a digital age where visual trumps authenticity, fun cuisine and Instagram have dictated that we trade in the unglamorous Asian fare for something less conventional, flavours familiar to our palate but with a refined twist. And that’s where culinary visionaries Eddie Chew and Christian Bauer comes into play, injecting their signature whiz-bang into their latest establishment – Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar. “When we saw this space with an oriental lone drum two years ago, we knew we wanted to do an Asian restaurant,” Christian discloses, backtracking to the very moment inspiration struck. “Australia was the inspiration really. We wanted to take that Asian inspiration and translate it into something else,” he explains further, noting that their other successful establishment Fuego embodies a similar concept where the ingredients are South American but the food doesn’t quite conform to the cuisine.
The original concept is merit-worthy and we can see why. The audacious duo has brazenly transformed the former duplex loft into an elusive ambiance that’s dotted with tasteful touches of contemporary design meets Art Deco. Herringbone-tiled floors, Kartell armchairs, Christian Lacroix fabric prints and the pièce de résistance in the room – an arresting hand-painted mural behind the bar, depicting a spoof of the original portrait of Empress Dowager Cixi. It all spells cheeky with a dash of sass, abiding by the Eat Chino, Live Latino! catchphrase the restaurant embodies.
But here’s the thing, when it comes to modern Asian fare, does it only cater primarily to expatriates who want to dip their feet into the world of Asian cuisine? “There’s nothing ‘mat salleh’ about this restaurant,” laughs Christian. “When the dish is described as spicy, it is spicy,” he warns with a chuckle. Executive Chef James Thong and Chef Ivan Ong unleashed their culinary prowess on the creative menu, covering all bases of Asian cuisine inspired by Eddie’s family recipes while fusing together elements of South American cuisine into the dishes. The result is an ingenious use of ingredients such as avocados and tacos on the menu, providing a cohesive balance where the explosion of bold flavours breathe new life into our Asian comfort fare. Similar to the Latino culture, the portions at Mr Chew’s are served sharing-style, except maybe there’s more dancing involved in the former according to Christian.
Mr Chew’s take on conventional Asian fare includes the likes of a whole sesame roast chicken, special fried rice made up of five types of fragrant rice and steamed buns stuffed with sautéed tiger prawns. Yee sang is served all year round here with an unorthodox pairing of half-seared Japanese mackerel, seaweed and orange plum sauce. Be warned though, the crunchy nori taco with sushi rice, salmon belly and salmon roe, topped with tobiko mayo will warrant second or even third helpings, ideal for a late nightcap snack at the bar. Then there’s the Chew’s family pride, pan-seared barramundi with spicy tamarind chilli sauce, coconut cream and pineapple with avocado ginger flower salsa. The laksa-based broth is complex in flavour and bears nuances of South America with the inclusion of avocado and pineapple, instantly whetting the appetite.
The century egg sōmen with tofu, salmon roe and spicy Szechuan sauce hits home for me, topping my list of comfort fare on a rainy day. “This was inspired by a dish we had from Jalan Alor,” Christian remarks before continuing, “the yee sang was inspired by the memory of a yee sang dish I had in Ipoh. There must be strong emotions connected to food, you either love it or hate it,” he deftly sums up. Another dish that warrants a mention is the organic sweetcorn kernels with butter and shallots, a deceivingly simple dish that allows the natural sweet freshness of the corn to take the spotlight. It’s also worth noting that the corn is only the best our ringgit can buy, as it’s usually sold as an imported produce from Cameron Highlands to Singapore only.
Dessert usually comes in the form of banana burrito or lychee ice kacang but there’s a grander surprise for dedicated sweet tooths. The city’s first Dessert Bar offers a six-course dessert degustation menu that comes with either tea or alcohol pairing. Expect modern, innovative techniques fused with familiar flavours that will entice your taste buds.
Regulars at Coppersmith will also get to revel in a similar range of creative cocktail concoctions at Mr Chew’s, spearheaded by Beverages & Wine Manager Rick Joore. Mr Chew’s “Take-Away” G&T packaged in an oriental take-away box isn’t just Instagram-worthy, but its pink peppercorn and guava formulation makes it an easy drink to enjoy. Other exciting new cocktails are concocted with unorthodox Asian ingredients such as roasted matcha, ginseng beer and rose cooking wine.
Should you choose to wander around the space, you’ll discover cosy nooks with plush seating ideal for private conversations and you may stumble upon other obscure treasures – a secluded bar with champagne bathtub or even a former bathroom converted into a smoking room with an aerial city view to boot. No doubt Mr Chew’s humble abode feels like home.