The Wood Ear private dining: Creative, quality dishes in a homely setting
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
Having only explored the home dining scene in February this year, you could say I’m late to the party.
The Wood Ear was already pretty well-known when I heard about it, having been featured on Channel 8’s home dining series and several other publications.
At the helm is chef Jesper Chia, who left his full-time job in accountancy at the end of January 2021 to do home dining full-time. Previously, chef Jesper was hosting guests only on Saturdays. He now hosts dinners four times a week, from Wednesdays to Saturdays.
Of course, dinners have been put on hold due to current Phase 2 HA restrictions. For now, he’s pivoted to an enticing takeaway/delivery menu featuring local delights like rojak, chilli crab, mee sua kueh and prawn & ebi pasta. You can check out his FB page for the deets.
I visited in early May, and tried his Japanese and Italian fusion menu, which was priced at $75 per pax. As chef Jesper’s home dining experience is named after the wood ear fungus (inspired by his Teochew roots), all dishes feature some type of fungus too.
His Choa Chua Kang HDB flat is a neat and homely place, and I was pleased to see that guests can even do a SafeEntry check-in upon entering the home. He also had a giant hand sanitiser for guests.
His tableware definitely stands out too, featuring a minimalist Japanese aesthetic (perhaps in line with the theme of our meal?). I loved the wooden spoons and chopsticks, simple black cups and quirky chopstick holders which were different for each diner. There were shapes like carrots, celery and even a crane. All his plates were beautiful too.
FYI: Jesper mentioned that he got his crockery from Fortytwo.sg, a popular online furniture retailer.
Now on to the main attraction: the food!
With five diners, it was a one man-show for this chef. He usually has his wife help out with food prep if there are more diners.
Chef Jesper presented the first starter, which consisted of 3 types of appetisers. These were somen with squid dashi sauce, miso pana cotta and shiitake & enoki mushrooms. He also gave our table a separate serving of edamame with truffle oil.
I thought the miso pana cotta was particularly innovative, and a creative Jap/Italian fusion dish. Panna cotta is usually a sweet dessert, but this was a savoury rendition. It was made of cream, milk, miso and gelatin, with mangoes on top to cut through the savouriness. Savoury desserts don’t always turn out great, but this was creamy and refreshing with a great consistency.
The somen went well with the squid dashi sauce, which consisted of kombu with bonita flakes, dried squid and some seasoning. I also enjoyed the mushrooms, finding them to be flavourful and well-seasoned.
I was surprised by how tasty the edamame was, thanks to the truffle oil. I’m usually not a fan of edamame, but dousing it in truffle oil was a great idea on the chef’s part. Let’s just say he really got me to eat my greens!
The second item on the menu was flower crab with dashi and caviar. The first thing I noticed was how beautifully plated the dish was - almost too attractive to eat. It really did resemble a flower!
Featuring a layer of dashi jelly, the dish contained caviar, goji berries, vinegar, sugar and salt. The combination proved to be a success, and we all commented on how fresh and flavourful the crab flesh was and how it paired really well with the dashi jelly. Another interesting and creative combination of ingredients, and a dish that I’d be happy to pay for at a fine-dining restaurant.
Our third starter was the arancini. This is a traditional Italian snack of rice balls made from leftover risotto. Instead of traditional rice grains, chef Jesper used barley risotto, which has a lighter taste.
The ball also came stuffed with yummy mozzarella cheese, romesco sauce (containing hazelnut and bell pepper) and parmesan cheese and spring onion sprinkled all over.
Having a weakness for anything fried and stuffed with cheese, this was a starter I could have had seconds of. The arancini came out hot and fresh, and it was deliciously crispy as I bit into it and savoured the tasty melted cheese. The barley risotto grains were a nice touch as well, ensuring the dish didn’t become too heavy and filling.
Chef Jesper then announced our fourth dish - the chawanmushi. This rendition had shiitake sauce and powder, shrimp, ikura as well as truffle oil. The dish certainly had an umami taste, and I liked how this and the arancini were served piping hot. The shrimp and mushrooms were fresh as well.
Next up was another hot appetiser, the sukiyaki. Chef Jesper used Hokkaido pork collar instead of pork belly, mentioning how belly would be too fatty. It came served with braised Japanese onion, toasted sesame and pickled cucumber.
I found the sukiyaki to be flavourful and tender. That being said, the portion was a little too small even as an appetiser. Others in my dining party agreed. The beef was delightful, but we all felt that it needed an accompaniment of rice to fill it out. The rice would have absorbed the sauce well and elevated the dish.
When we mentioned this to the chef, he mentioned that rice was previously included in the dish, but he had taken it out because of guest feedback (they mentioned that rice made the dish too filling). Understandably, it’s hard to please everybody, and I understand why he chose to remove it. Perhaps, a rice mochi ball might be included instead of a full portion of rice for each diner.
Whilst this next dish was titled miso soup, our final hot appetiser was actually seabass. Chef Jesper first served the fish - which came accompanied with miso cream, daikon and maitake mushroom. He then poured out the miso soup from a teapot into our dish. Thumbs up for the Japanese-style presentation of this dish!
The flesh of the seabass was tender, and I liked that the miso soup (consisting of dashi mixed with miso) was well-balanced and not overly thick or salty.
Our main course was prawn and tomato pasta. The pasta used was of the angel hair variety, and it was cooked in a prawn base made with prawn roe powder and sakura, and garnished with celery and tomato. The al-dente pasta was well-executed, with a nice bite to it. The prawn base sauce was savoury and tasty too, with a strong seafood flavour. Yum!
We ended off the meal with two desserts. First up was a unique creation - textures of grape. This multi-layered dessert consisted of slices of kyoho grape as its base, followed by grape granita, a thin translucent layer of white grape jelly and grape caviar on top.
You might think that this all-grape combi might be too overwhelming, but it was surprisingly delicious. The different textures came together perfectly. The ice granules of the grape granita contrasted well with the smoothness of the white grape jelly and grape caviar. And even though it was technically one flavour, chef Jesper succeeded in making the dish varied and multi-dimensional.
Last but not least was the tiramisu. Again, chef Jesper put his own unique spin on this Italian dessert. He added pickled pear for fruitiness, toasted hazelnut, pieces of ladyfinger biscuit and matcha cream underneath.
This dish was more of a deconstructed tiramisu though - we could only really taste the tiramisu flavour in the cream itself. I also wished for more contrasting textures - the pear and the ladyfinger were both crunchy and it was a little hard to tell the difference. That being said, one must applaud chef Jesper’s creativity and willingness to take risk with his dishes.
At present, home dining sessions at The Wood Ear need to be booked about five months in advance - bookings for September and October opened up in early May.
So is it worth the five month wait? In my opinion, absolutely! Chef Jesper is willing to experiment and get creative with his food, and it has certainly paid off. He’s smart with his use of ingredients, and his plating and presentation are top-notch too.
The humble and soft-spoken chef even asked for feedback at the end of our dining session for how to improve on his food.
If there’s anything to critique, it would probably be the timing between dishes. We waited about 15 to 20 minutes for each dish, and I did feel quite peckish in between. As chef Jesper was doing food prep alone, I understand the wait. After all, it’s important that the food comes out hot and fresh.
Even after the whole meal, I was still slightly hungry though .I felt that there could be at least two main dishes, instead of 1 main dish and 6 appetisers. A little rice along with the sukiyaki (to make it a main course) would have been perfect.
Nevertheless, the quality of food was excellent and I can see why his food is so highly recommended. If you are looking to try his Jap/Italian menu which I reviewed, the next run will be in August this year. After which , a Spanish menu will run from September to October 2021.
Due to current government restrictions, chef Jesper has mentioned there might be some menu reshuffling for affected bookings - so do get in touch with him for more details about which menus are available.
To find out more about The Wood Ear, order takeaway or book a home dining slot when restrictions lift, check out The Wood Ear's Facebook page here.