The curious case of Maca
Blink and you’d miss Maca Restaurant (B1-01 Tanglin Post Office, tel: 6463 8080), hidden behind an outdoor porch amid the lush greenery surrounding the old Tanglin Post Office. Yet, its unintentionally stealth appearance is what gives the restaurant its charm—it makes a great getaway for those who want to escape the madding weekend crowds of Orchard Road, if just for an hour or two. It also only seats 30 indoors and 30 outdoors, to keep meals intimate for all.
Decor-wise, the three-month-old restaurant has gone along with the industrial-chic trend, but its menu reflects head chef Rishi Naleendra’s efforts to differentiate the offerings from the restaurant’s peers. Seasonal catches and produce primarily determine the menu, which offers a variety of starters and sharing plates of mainly fresh seafood, greens and grilled meats. What connects most of the dishes is the use of creams and yoghurts.
The menu comprises 20 dishes that are personal favourites of chef Naleendra and his good friend Irene Chow, who is the restaurant manager, and suggests a focus on clean, low-carb food which, as my dining companion Maisy Koh points out, would especially appeal to women.
Lightly salted padron peppers made great bites to start the meal, which we followed with starters that whetted our appetites. First up was a tender smoked swordfish belly on a creamy avocado mash, and garnished with baby turnip slices that soaked up the refreshing yuzu juice the fish sits in. Droplets of wild garlic added to the juice gave it a slightly more rounded flavour. The ceviche of Argentinian prawns was a winner as the prawns were sweet and succulent. The dish also presented a well-balanced medley of salty, sweet and sour flavours with konbu kelp, sesame, salty fingers (an edible leaf) and tomato in a light wasabi and buttermilk sauce.
A good vegetarian option is salt-baked beetroot served with goat cheese, pickled raisins, raw watercress, roasted rice and shavings of horseradish. Despite being thinly sliced, the beetroot’s sweetness came through, accented by the well-thought-out combination of its pairings.
The mains here are heartier and in generous portions that are perfect for sharing. The chargrilled baby octopus, imported fresh from Port Lincoln in South Australia, was simply prepared with a smoked red miso dip, and was chewy and highly addictive. The grilled calamari was tender and mildly flavoured—how good calamari should be, Maisy concurred. It was not outshone by its companions of goat yoghurt, and salted compressed spinach and cucumber drizzled with sherry vinegar, which gave the dish a variety of flavours and textures that did not overpower the natural sweetness of the squid.
There’s also the Ibérico pork collar slow cooked for 12 hours until tender, but still juicy and blushing lightly on the inside. Its nicely charred sides compliment a crunchy parsnip slathered with yoghurt and coated with roasted wild rice. The dish gets a little kick from scallion and an apple cider mash.
Sweets don’t come just as cakes, pastries or macaroons here. Do try the blackberry dessert, where blackberry ice-cream is topped with coconut cream, chocolate, raspberries, salted cocoa crumble and a liquorice puree, which chef Naleendra makes from liquorice lollipops. The burnt pear makes an excellent alternative. Caramelised pear that is slightly charred to add a bit of crunch, is topped with a refreshing pear sorbet, caramel yoghurt and almond crumble.
Chef Naleendra’s penchant for experimenting with ingredients comes through in his dishes, as does his finesse honed from a year as a line cook at Tetsuya’s in Sydney and three months as a trainee chef at Michelin-starred La Botica in Matapozuelos, Spain. He credits his years as a pastry chef at Yellow, the acclaimed restaurant in Sydney helmed by chef Brent Savage, for sharpening his eye for precision—he ensures the ingredients of each dish comes together in a well-balanced manner, whether they are adding flavour or texture. And he also prefers to keep each dish simple and straightforward yet refreshingly creative and unique.
Maca offers a range of organic wines from Australia, France, Italy and Spain that have been carefully picked out with help from spirits curator Proof & Company. The latter also had a hand in selecting high-end sakes and cocktails done with a twist—a good example is the Togarashi Old Fashion, where pepper-infused liqueur is weaved into a classic Old Fashion. The black and white styles of Japanese malt beer, Suntory, are also on tap here.