A culinary journey through South-East Asia


The shima aji pekasam is a wondrous treat for the senses that is designed to be etched in your memory forever. — Photos: Restaurant Fiz

Perched incongruously amidst a slew of Korean restaurants along Singapore’s Tanjong Pagar Road is Restaurant Fiz. The eatery has a calm, soothing colour palette and is bookmarked by an open kitchen that offers front row seats to all the action.

The restaurant marks a career milestone for chef-owner Hafizzul Hashim. Hafizzul, 40, grew up in Lumut, Perak, and is the child of Malay-English parents. He spent a considerable amount of his formative years fishing and foraging with his father, and those early years taught him the beauty of harnessing what the land provides.As an adult, he worked in top restaurant kitchens in London, Tokyo and beyond – from Michelin-starred Chez Bruce to Marco Pierre White’s Mirabelle. But still, he dreamt of shining the spotlight on South-East Asia’s finest gastronomic offerings.

“I’ve always had a passion for the vibrant flavours and rich traditions of South-East Asian cuisine from my early days as a budding chef in Kuala Lumpur in 2001.

With Fiz, Hafizzul finally has his long-awaited restaurant centred around the jubilant flavours and ingredients of South-East Asia.With Fiz, Hafizzul finally has his long-awaited restaurant centred around the jubilant flavours and ingredients of South-East Asia.

“It was when I went to work in London, and then Tokyo, that I realised it was really time for us to spotlight the various cuisines of the region. I saw how ingredients like lemongrass and kaffir lime could shine on the international culinary scene as chefs abroad were using them in so many creative ways.

“I realised then that I really wanted to showcase the diversity and depth of our culinary landscape in a way not fully explored before, paying homage to the age-old traditions and recipes enjoyed since ancient times,” he says.

In 2023, that long-held dream came to fruition when Hafizzul was approached by ABR Holdings, who were interested in collaborating on a fine-dining restaurant. And that is how Restaurant Fiz was birthed nearly one year ago.

At the eatery, Fiz champions South-East Asian ingredients and flavours and has a strong commitment to ensuring that time-honoured traditional cooking methods are still used, albeit in a modern restaurant kitchen. This means using traditional (and more laborious methods) like pounding base aromatics using a pestle and mortar, as well as utilising wood-fired cooking.

The restaurant is sleek and stylish but also warm and comforting.The restaurant is sleek and stylish but also warm and comforting.

“We adhere to the historical integrity of a given dish so that means we pound and grind ingredients by hand using a mortar and pestle and cook over wood fire. While modern techniques of using blenders would make things so much faster, the technology has not been able to replicate the flavour that labour-intensive methods can produce.

“The blender, for instance, introduces heat to the process and changes the character of the ingredients while a mortar and pestle lets us gently coax out the oils and aromas, bringing depth and complexity to our dishes.

“Secondly, we use wood fire cooking through our custom-built Josper oven as it is integral to the culinary heritage of South-East Asia. We use mangrove charcoal wood which is native to our coasts – it’s sustainable and fast-growing,” he says.

Hafizzul has also embarked on a mission to revive the use of indigenous ingredients and consequently, has built relationships with producers in Malaysia who grow them for him.

At Fiz, you can opt for a lighter, curated lunch menu or a heavier dinner menu with all the bells and whistles. As I was pressed for time, I indulged in the five-course full lunch experience (S$108/RM380), a true treat for the senses which incorporates snacks, two appetisers, a main and a dessert, all built around Hafizzul’s childhood memories of growing up in Malaysia.

The introductory snacks of ma hor and epok epok provide a tantalising peek into what Hafizzul is capable of.The introductory snacks of ma hor and epok epok provide a tantalising peek into what Hafizzul is capable of.

You’ll start a meal of snacks in the form of Epok-Epok (essentially a curry puff) filled with blue swimmer crab, gulai lemak and black garlic sambal as well as the Ma Hor, which is a rotund ball filled with candied tiger prawns, peanuts and pineapple.

The epok-epok is really good – a crisp outer shell yields easily and gives way to flaky, buttery properties and this in turn segues into the richness of crabmeat, which provides a wonderful aquatic slant to a classic afternoon snack.

The Ma Hor meanwhile is another delightful treat that probably traces its lineage to rojak, which it closely resembles, a fact that becomes more noticeable as you chomp down on the peanuts and pineapples in this configuration.

Next up is the Blue Swimmer Crab, a crab custard with lacto-fermented physalis and fermented krill sauce. This is a silken smooth egg custard infused with nuanced, pronounced crab flavours in what proves to be a delightful underwater odyssey buoyed by the dried prawns, which add crisp, salty notes to the meal.

The blue swimmer crab custard is a silken smooth treat that is awash with aquatic flavours. — RESTAURANT FIZThe blue swimmer crab custard is a silken smooth treat that is awash with aquatic flavours. — RESTAURANT FIZ

Up next is another appetiser in the form of the Gurita Belado, which is made up of grilled octopus served on white gulai seasoned with pistachio miso and turmeric leaves and accentuated by a sambal ijo that is evocative of the nostalgic kampung flavours Hafizzul grew up with.

The octopus is cooked perfectly – charred and blistered on the skin with bounce and spring in the flesh, and just the right quotient of yield and tenderness. This is complemented by the white gulai, which adds a layer of lightness and herbaceous goodness to the meal.

For mains, there is a choice between fish and beef, and you’ll find that if you’ve enjoyed the seafood odyssey served up on the menu, you’ll want to prolong and extend the experience further with the Shima Aji Pekasam, which is fish that is crusted in toasted rice and salt and left to ferment for a few days or weeks, before being deep-fried. Pekasam is popular in northern states like Perlis, Perak and Kedah.

In Fiz’s iteration of the dish, the Japanese shima aji has been transformed into pekasam and this is rounded out by an adan rice congee (made from Bornean beras adan), a grilled fish broth and a motley assortment of ulam, meant to be tipped into the congee and topped with fish broth.

Grilled octopus is the star of the gurita belado. Grilled octopus is the star of the gurita belado.

There are meals that you eat and quickly forget and then there are meals like this. “Unforgettable” doesn’t even begin to describe how good this is.

The pekasam has a crisp crust and firm yet pliant flesh that yields an alluringly fermented tang. This is a superlative version of a classic Malay dish – possibly one of the best pekasams you’ll eat in your lifetime. I still think about it weeks after th e meal!

The congee meanwhile undulates with aquatic undercurrents and this is juxtaposed by the ulam which adds a leafy, herbaceous element to the meal that gives it that extra edge and dimension.

It’s hard to come down to Earth after that shot of euphoria, but worry not because the sweet treats in the form of Pisang Salai Ice Cream and Palmyra Bahulu are show-stoppers in their own right.

Fiz’s bahulu is jaw-droppingly good.Fiz’s bahulu is jaw-droppingly good.

The ice cream pays homage to the humble pisang goreng and features smoked pisang mas and gula melaka ice cream. It’s probably a combination you never gave much thought to but once you try it, well, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve come into contact with a sweet slice of greatness.

The miniature bahulu on the other hand has been crafted using custom-made moulds sourced from Melaka and by God, this is probably the best version of bahulu you are likely to encounter anywhere in the world. It is – honest to goodness – world-class bahulu, the stuff they ought to make and sell all over the world because once you eat one, you’ll want a fistful – and then some.

Moving forward, Hafizzul says he hopes to further enhance diners’ experience at Fiz, something he will continue to work on in the next iteration of his menu.

“What we’re really excited about is our next landmark dinner menu, which will be revealed in due time. It’s the first truly major change since we opened and we hope it will further deepen diners’ understanding of South-East Asia’s many cuisines,” he says.

Restaurant Fiz

21, Tanjong Pagar Road

#01-01/02

Singapore 088444Tel: +65 9679 8021

Lunch: Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 3pm

Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday, 6pm to 10pm

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!
   

Next In Eating Out

Retailer expands delicatessen with French-inspired desserts
Turkish chefs present culinary inheritance
Bold flavours from Hunan
Unlimited dim sum for brunch on third Sunday of the month
Inspiration at a relaxed pace
Teppanyaki maestro from Japan delivers exclusive culinary delight
Making meatless chicken drumsticks
Scenic lounge an urban getaway
Stylish twists create gourmet stars
Global brand’s KL branch fields satay burger in competition

Others Also Read