A Taste of Home: Mathew Leong on His Favourite Eats in Singapore
Singaporean chef Mathew Leong has always loved food, thanks to his mum who taught him how to cook Cantonese food well. “I’d always help her in the kitchen when she whipped up a feast for the family,” enthuses Leong.
This inspired him to start his culinary journey; at age 13, he joined his first competition and won his first gold medal. “This ignited my passion towards gastronomy to achieve culinary excellence,” he shares, and at the tender age of 21, he packed his bags and moved to Norway to become the chef de partie of two-Michelin-starred Renaa.
Currently, he is the head chef of Michelin Plate Restaurant À L'aise where he dishes out Nordic-style cuisine infused with Asian flavours. While he works full-time at the restaurant, he reserves his off days training for the Bocuse d’Or 2021 competition that will take place in Lyon, France in September. “I want to make history and be the first youngest Singaporean chef to win gold at this prestigious culinary competition.”
While he’s extremely busy pursuing culinary excellence and making Singapore proud, he makes sure he can go home a few times a year to rest, recharge and get inspired by the country’s vibrant F&B scene. And when he's back, he always has a long list of restaurants and eateries to visit. Here are some of them.
What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from Singapore or haven’t been back for a while?
Mathew Leong (ML) There’s no doubt all the local food and drinks that can’t be found in Norway. Aside from my mum’s signature dishes, among which are Cantonese steamed fish and stir-fry beef with scallions, I also miss ou jian (fried oyster omelette), Hokkien mee, chilli crab, satay and my favourite teh-peng (iced milk tea). Although I do make some of these dishes whenever I crave them, they just don’t taste like home.
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
ML Whenever I am back in Singapore, the first dish I’d eat is usually the Peking duck from Imperial Treasure. Dining here has become a tradition for my family, and this is the restaurant where I celebrated many good memories—including my birthday.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Singapore? For fine dining/special occasions and for more casual experiences?
ML I really love db Bistro & Oyster Bar by chef Daniel Boulud. I did the math and I think I have dined there more than 20 times to date. I often order the Original db Burger, one of their signature dishes comprising short rib and foie gras in between parmesan buns.
For fine dining, Singapore hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant Summer Pavilion is a place I always visit. Cantonese cuisine is something I really love and grew up eating a lot, and the food handcrafted by Chinese executive chef Cheung Siu Kong is top-notch. It also helps that the restaurant has a great ambience and atmosphere.
Another reason why I love dining at Summer Pavilion is because I used to be a trainee at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore back in 2012, during my younger days. I've had many good memories there.
Related: Singapore Chefs Share Simple Chinese Recipes You Can Make at Home
If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Singapore?
ML Definitely Long Beach. I always take visitors and guests to the outlet at Dempsey. The restaurant serves amazing chilli crab and salted egg crab—two dishes that truly provide a real taste of Singapore.
For a more local experience, I’d also bring them to Newton Food Centre to eat some of Singapore’s famous local food. These include BBQ stingray, satays, char kway teow, ou jian, Hokkien mee and, of course, the king of fruits—durian
What are your favourite Singaporean heritage dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?
ML Prawn noodles from Middle Road Pork Rib Prawn Mee. My family and I have been patronising the store for many years. The broth is particularly fragrant and flavourful – my comfort food.
Related: The Best Peking Ducks in Singapore
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food/drinks?
ML Whenever I am back in Singapore, my friends and I would always meet up at db Bistro & Oyster. We have been going to this place for almost four years.
Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in Singapore?
ML While I am generally not a ‘cafe person’ and rarely visit one, I really enjoy the food at PS.Cafe and Chopsuey Cafe. That said, the cafe culture has definitely taken a storm in Singapore in recent years, and I look forward to exploring more cafes the next time I come home.
Anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?
ML Before Covid-19, I’d visit home three times a year. Whenever I am back, besides going to my favourite eating spots, I will also make it a point to visit the temples. These are the temples I always visit—Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple at Si Ma Lu, as well as Burmese Buddhist Temple at Balestier.
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Singapore?
ML I can never leave Singapore without taking bak kwa with me.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you currently live in Oslo?
ML Whenever I miss home and crave to eat something that reminds me of home, I’d always visit Dinner Restaurant and Bar, located in the heart of Oslo city. This is one place that serves amazing Cantonese cuisine that really captures the familiar flavours I grew up eating. The taste really hits close to home.