Private dining experiences have been around in Singapore for a while, but became increasingly popular during the Circuit Breaker with home chefs having more time on their hands.
I’ve been meaning to try one for a while, but have been hesitant because of the hefty price tag. Though most include 4 to 5 course meals, they are priced at around $100++ or more per person - still a pretty deep hole in your pocket.
So I was pleasantly surprised when some friends recommended Baba Pui Dapur, an affordable Peranakan home dining experience by Chef Eugene Lim.
A four-course menu starts from $65 , and includes 1 appetiser, one soup, 5 dishes and a dessert. Considering how expensive Peranakan food is outside, I thought this was an extremely good deal!
If you want to try more dishes, the chef also offers $80 and $100 menus. There’s a selection of over 30 items to choose from, including Peranakan staples such as ayam buah keluak, beef rendang, kueh pie tee and babi pongteh.
I visited in a group of 5, and we made our way over to Chef Eugene’s home at Marymount on a Saturday afternoon.
As soon as we entered the lift lobby, we could smell the aromatic fragrance of the food. It made us really hungry and we couldn't wait to try everything!
Chef Eugene’s Peranakan-themed home decor definitely added to the welcoming ambience. This included the elegant walkway leading up to his main door, as well as the intricately- decorated dining/living room.
We were impressed by the colourful table settings, as well as the authentic heirlooms and trinkets he had peppered around the home such as tableware collections, traditional tingkats and even a serving table reconfigured from an old sewing machine!
His home kitchen was beautiful as well, with aesthetically-pleasing tiles and a pull-out table for all the prep work.
As we chatted to the chef, we found out that he’s been in the private dining business since 2018. He also has a full-time job, so dining is only on the weekends for now. Majority of his recipes were handed down by his Peranakan mother and grandmother. Over the years, he’s also tweaked them (in terms of the spiciness level) to suit customer tastebuds.
We started off with kueh pie tee as our appetiser. Filled with a dollop of chilli, turnip, shrimp and cucumber strips, we wolfed these down almost instantly. The turnip shell was crispy and all the ingredients were really fresh. Needless to say, these certainly got our appetites going!
Next up was our soup dish - bakwan kepeting (meatball with crab meat/prawns in broth) with bamboo shoots. Although this was just a starter, it was honestly one of my favourite dishes. The broth was rich and flavourful, with the bamboo shoots adding a nice contrast. As I bit into the meatballs, I found them to be extremely tender and melt-in your-mouth.
Several dishes were served at once after that, including the ayam buah keluak (chicken curry with black Indonesian nuts) and babi pongteh (pork belly stew with bamboo shoots).
Having tried buah keluak once before, I would say it’s definitely an acquired taste, being somewhat bitter and earthy. Chef Eugene does it splendidly though. He really brought out the complexity of the flavours. The flesh of each nut had a subtle bitterness that was not too strong or overwhelming. It also had hints of sweetness and savouriness. The accompanying chicken was tender and juicy too.
According to chef Eugene, buah keluak is tedious to prepare. The seed of the fruit needs to be soaked and scrubbed for 7 days until clean of ash and dirt. After which, one has to knock a hole, dig out the meat, pound it and stuff it back in. He usually does this in advance and cooks the dish itself the night before.
The babi pongteh (pork belly stew) with bamboo shoots was a crowd-pleaser too. The pork was well-charred before being cooked in the stew, and you could taste the pleasant charring on the pork belly. The mushrooms and bamboo shoots offered a good balance for the dish. The delicious gravy was the right thickness too - not too starchy or watery.
Though it came a little later, the sotong kapitan (cuttlefish cooked with coconut) was definitely a standout. In fact, it was in my opinion the best out of all the main dishes. Cuttlefish has a tendency to be rubbery and hard to chew, but this one had a smooth and tender texture. The spice level of the sauce wasn’t too overwhelming, and it had a really savoury and lemak taste. 10/10 indeed!
Whilst I’m not really a vegetable person, I did enjoy the chap chye (mixed vegetable stew), which consisted of ingredients like carrots, cabbage, vermicelli and black fungus. The vegetables were cooked just right, and paired very well with the other rich and heavy meat dishes to provide a nice counterbalance.
As for the assam paste prawns, they were a little different from the traditional assam gravy. The assam paste was sweet but too overwhelming, and I found the prawns to be fresh too. I would have liked more assam gravy at the side, so guests can deshell the prawns and dip the meat in the sauce.
Here’s not forgetting the delicious rice that accompanied all our dishes. The fluffy rice soaked up the various sauces and gravies really well, and we liked the fish floss which added that extra bit of savouriness.
Though I didn’t eat the sambal belacan due to my low ( or rather non-existent) spice tolerance, my dining buddies found it to be very rich and also quite pedas.
We were honestly stuffed when dessert arrived, but couldn’t resist the delectable sago gula melaka. Watching Cheg Eugene pour the gula melaka sauce all over the giant pudding was a real appetit-teaser. The sago was chewy and held its integrity , and I loved the thickness of the sauce, which wasn’t overwhelming sweet.
Though our menu didn’t include fruit and sugee cakes, Chef Eugene generously added them as part of our meal too. He really is generous when it comes to portions, and even refilled our servings of buah kelak and babi pongteh at least once or twice! We even had a decent amount of leftovers, which he kindly packed for us in boxes to savour at home.
FYI- Chef Eugene also makes bazhang during the yearly bazhang festival. Do get in touch with him if you want to pre-order them!
Being rather resistant to private dining because of its price tag, I’m happy to say that my first experience was indeed a culinary delight ( minus the part where I was so full after and could hardly stand up).
Not only was Chef Eugene warm and friendly, his food really speaks for itself and was value-for-money. Though we met him for the first time, it really was like going to a friend’s home for a catch-up! He does get booked up fast though (around three months in advance), so do get in touch asap if you’re hoping to make a reservation.
You can find out more about Baba Pui Dapur and how to contact Chef Eugene on his Facebook Page.