Interview: Willin Low
Nine years ago, chef Willin Low opened Wild Rocket and won diners with his innovative take on local flavours — arguably sparking the wave of Modern Singaporean, or Mod Sin, cuisine. Ever since Low closed the restaurant late last year, the dining crowd has been waiting to see where the creative chef would take Wild Rocket to —literally and metaphorically speaking.
Wild Rocket was relaunched just a month ago, and it remains at its beloved Mount Emily enclave. Most notably, it has been given a facelift to resemble an intimate Japanese teahouse. However, it is the talented chef's inspired dishes that truly transport diners to a place of fine ingenuity and comforting familiarity. While old favourites are still available, Low's new signatures such as the nori tsukudani spaghettini with prawn and salmon, and baby octopus red rice donburi are equally impressive.
A new eight-seater Chef's Table has also been introduced, and a spot there entitles one to a constantly evolving eight-course tasting menu that is available for both lunch and dinner. Here, Low gets to experiment with new techniques and flavours. He personally serves up his dishes while indulging diners with his inspirations for each course.
When asked about the evolution of his cuisine at Wild Rocket, Low said: “Regulars will realise that the evolution is gradual. My food will always have the same DNA — local flavours and dishes presented in different platforms. It is the platform that keeps changing and the introduction of the tasting menu allows me to be experimental with these platforms.”
Left to right: Pomelo salad; Low's take on 'Singaporean Fried Noodles'
Our menu starts off with a pomelo salad topped with tiger prawns and frozen coconut dressing. Each mouthful yields the sweetness of prawns and pomelo punctuated by the distinct flavours of fried shallots. The greens and nuts add crunch while the cool creaminess of the coconut dressing rounds up all the flavours nicely. Little bursts of spice and heat from chilli padi powder provide a delightful surprise.
The chilli padi powder appears again in the second dish of salted egg crab ball, giving it just the right amount of fiery kick. Here, a generous sphere of lump crab and spanner crab finds itself panko-crusted and deep fried, then laid atop a mound of salted duck egg paste. This is Low's take on the local salted egg crab dish.
One course that Low reveals will be a mainstay is the Singaporean Fried Noodles, his cheeky nod to a dish found in Chinese restaurants the world over — save for those in Singapore. His treatment of this dish is set to change from time to time, but its current incarnation comes in the form of a taglierini with king prawn, konbu and homemade chilli padi flakes.
Low demonstrates his finesse in working with local flavours through the beef short ribs in rendang sauce. The dish features a wonderfully tender 48-hour sous vide beef headlined by a punchy rendang rempah.
One of the most exciting new dishes on the tasting menu is Low's pineapple sorbet with sliced pineapple, mint sugar and soya sauce crystals. Low shares that this is his take on his father’s favourite way to eat pineapples. Using the crystals that form in the vats of soya sauce production, this dessert sees the return of the chilli padi powder, rendering each mouthful of this dish a dance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy. While few chefs would favour ending off a meal on a spicy note, Low has no reservations on this front. “If I could, I would put chilli in everything. It is similar to adding salt and pepper to desserts. It introduces a new dimension to the taste profile. It keeps the palate interesting.”