Chef brings Raffles Singapore dining experience to Suffolk
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
As I chat to effervescent chef Lilian Hiw, I’m frantically taking notes. There’s seemingly nothing the Singaporean native doesn’t know about food.
She reels off nuggets of precious epicurean knowledge in practically every sentence. From how to make a cucumber taste sweeter, to a trick for the juiciest chicken (involving cornflour if you’re interested), as well as the subtle but still distinct differences between Singaporean, Indonesian, Thai and Malay cooking.
I am spellbound by her descriptions of the hawker food of her childhood, and by her travelogue of a career which has taken her via five star Swiss training, through Asia (including a spell as catering manager at the world-famous Raffles hotel) to Bury St Edmunds, where she’s known for her speciality cakes, and (more recently) exquisite heat at home meals.
During lockdown the food lover, under the umbrella of her business Lilian’s Kitchen, has been delighting diners with lavish Asian banquets – with a view to restart cookery classes and pop-up dining events from her home in Culford (as well as private cheffing in homes) when restrictions ease.
Available to order for collection any day of the week (with a week’s notice), and for a minimum of four people (or two with a 10% surcharge), Lilian’s Kitchen is so much more than boxes of food. It’s a full experience, with every detail thought of – down to the vial of lemongrass essential oil spritz every customer receives to spray about their dining area.
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“As a private chef I was very busy with a lot of enquiries,” Lilian says of life pre-Covid. “When I go to a clients’ home I plan everything for them. Because of my background at Raffles we can start with a truly original Singapore Sling. We shake that up and I bring all the garnishes, straws and umbrellas. I like to serve those with canapes. And because I want everyone to relax, I spray lemongrass mist all around to transport them.
“With At Home With Lilian [her heat at home option] everything is cooked and ready. Customers pick their box up with full instructions of how to heat the meal. I want every dish to be perfect, so some dishes are part-cooked, like the tandoori salmon, which is just seared so when you finish it off it will not be dry. I can even make up jars of Singapore Slings. All they have to do is shake them up with three ice cubes.”
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Lilian offers three menus, priced from £42 to £49 per person for four to five courses, spanning Singapore and Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, and Asian Fusion.
The former vice president of what’s reported to have been the first restaurant group in Asia to open a fusion restaurant, says the Asian Fusion menu is especially close to her heart.
“In Singapore we do things differently,” she explains. “We might have Western ingredients cooked in a Chinese method, or Chinese or Malay ingredients cooked in a Western way. That’s my concept of fusion here. I’m not competing with local Western chefs. My niche is to share Asia with an authentic taste, but without very difficult methods. I have customers who’ve said they go to Asia often and this is the best meal they’ve eaten.”
The Asian Fusion menu begins with Indian tacos – cubes of fresh salmon, marinated in tandoori masala spices, served with soft wheat tacos and a Greek yoghurt, coriander and garlic dip.
“Next is Hong Kong honey and hoi sin roast duck. I take the skin off, cut it into little pieces and I very slowly let all the fat come out so it is really rendered. I turn those into duck scratchings with a little salt. We then have gem lettuce cups with bean sprouts I have topped and tailed, which completely changes the mouthfeel, and spring onions and hoi sin honey dressing, with the scratchings on top. It's all the flavours of Chinese duck pancakes in one bite.”
Lilian provides beautifully carved tomato roses and decorative carved Mandarin ‘buttons’ from vegetables for customers, who simply have to pour the dressing over this dish.
Next up is young Indonesian corn, char grilled over a high heat with kecap manis (a kind of caramelised soy sauce), fresh banana shallots and red chilli, followed by Thai green chicken curry and ginger rice with crispy fried shallots.
The meal ends with a coconut panna cotta and fresh mango coulis.
Other menus include tender satay chicken, Singapore wok smoked drunken beef noodles, and Lilian’s favourite Peranakan curry – found ubiquitously in Singapore. “It’s a mixture of Chinese and Malay – like they got married,” she smiles.
Desserts aren’t something you’d typically order from your local Chinese or Thai restaurant, but Lilian’s keen to showcase the delicacy and fragrance of Asian puddings – telling me replacing dairy milk with soy milk in a panna cotta is the secret to a seductively wobbly end result.
“I do love that. But one of my favourites I make is Thai sticky rice, or glutinous rice. It’s very classic to have that. The rice is soaked and steamed, and then I put in first grade coconut cream and fluff it with chopsticks and let it infuse. It comes out lovely and sticky, not mushy. The Thai are famous for their sweet and salty coconut, so I make a salted coconut sauce too and serve that with mangoes. Another dessert I enjoy making for clients is the best alphonso magoes macerated in mango puree with fresh mango or lime sorbet, lime salt and chilli. That really brings out the flavour.”
Order one of Lilian’s heat at home feasts, find out about cookery classes or upcoming pop-up suppers at lilianskitchen.co.uk
Recipe: Roti John
“The legendary Indian burger, Roti John, first appeared in the 60s. An Englishman asked for a hamburger to a hawker in Sembawang, Singapore. Having no hamburger to offer, the Indian hawker had the ingenious idea to use ingredients he had at his stall, and fried up some minced mutton and onions with eggs and tucked them into a loaf.
The locals eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a snack. It’s especially tasty for supper after a heavy night of drinking.”
1 small onion, finely chopped
100g minced lamb
2 medium eggs
1tsp chilli sambal/chilli powder/fresh chopped chilli
1 small baguette
1 tsp salt
1tbsp vegetable oil
Sriracha chilli sauce - optional
1. Season the mince with ½ tsp salt and pepper, set aside.
2. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the other ½ tsp of salt, onion and chilli of choice, mix well.
3. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise, do not slice all the way through.
4. Heat up ½ tbsp oil in a frying pan and fry the lamb on medium high heat till brown, add this to the egg mixture.
5. Add the other ½ tablespoon of oil to the frying pan, pour the egg and meat mixture in the pan.
6. Open up the baguette and place the cut side down onto the mixture. Press the bread down with a spatula to ‘glue’ the egg and meat mixture and bread together, tuck any ‘overflown’ omelette under the baguette.
7. Flip the baguette over to brown the other side slightly. cook for 2 minutes.
8. Fold the two halves back together, transfer to a cutting board.
9. Cut the baguette into half lengthwise, then across; into 6 little pieces.
10. Drizzle with mayonnaise and ketchup, serve with sliced cucumber, tomatoes and sriracha chilli sauce for the brave hearted.