Chef and restaurateur David Yip is back on the local scene, after a successful stint in Hong Kong, with the opening of Circa 1912, which specialises in Lingnan cuisine. “It’s the food that I grew up eating,” he shares, adding that the menu is a nod to its golden age in China, which peaked in 1912 and forms the backbone of Cantonese cuisine as we know it today.
Brains behind the restaurant
There are two chef-scholars in the team, Yip and co-owner Xu Jingye, whose responsibilities include reviving old recipes such as the winter melon with crab and Chinese ham. “We spend time researching how these dishes originated and evolved over time, so we can replicate them as close as possible,” says Yip. They work closely on the execution with Chinese-born resident chef Yuan Aifei, who runs the kitchen day to day.
One recommendation is the Golden Coin Chicken, which Yip says is a true test of a chef’s skills. The dish resembles a stacked burger, and comprises mini patties of pork, chicken liver and cured candied lard. The chef roasts these “coins” to perfection—this means ensuring that the chicken liver doesn’t overcook before the pork and the candied lard are done. The taste is similar to bak kwa, with the sweetness of the fat complemented by the textures of the pork and liver.
The deep-fried superior stock and pig’s brain, which is an almost forgotten dish, is another signature at the restaurant. “There are only a handful of chefs in Hong Kong who offer it, and we are the only ones in Singapore who serve this,” Yip says. Perhaps it is because of the complicated way the dish is made; the frozen superior stock is cut and encased in nuggets. These are fried to a crisp, resulting in a crunchy shell with a rich and melt-in-the-mouth filling.
Made from scratch
The cuisine harks back to the time before modern gadgets dominated the kitchen, and when a chef’s mettle was proven in the way he wielded a knife. The majority of the sauces, condiments and stocks are made from scratch. “We make our oyster sauce from fresh oysters, while the marinade for our roast iberico pork char siew is prepared by drying and fermenting soy beans in the sun, and grinding them into a paste,” Yip confirms. Some ingredients are sourced from artisanal producers in China who he admits, do it better.
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