I need to say this: I am sick of crazy prices in restaurants. It’s getting hard to get a good meal out without first mortgaging your home, or selling your kids. There is nothing worse than forking out a small fortune, having your expectations built sky-high (I mean, what else would you expect for a meal costing S$250 and above?), only to be let down by food that is merely pleasant. Believe me, there are a lot of them out there, some even with Michelin stars.
Then there are places like Fiz which, at S$288++ before drinks and supplements, has already priced in the Michelin star that it doesn’t yet have. To be fair, chef-owner Haffizul Hashim has a sterling pedigree going back much further than those of many bright, up-and-coming young chefs currently hogging your Instagram feed. Of mixed British and Malay parentage, Fiz worked at the Michelin-starred Mirabelle and Chez Bruce in London, honing classic French-European techniques. Stints in Asia learning about herbs and spices across various cuisines followed, before he landed in Singapore in 2021 and ran a private dining operation over the Covid-19 years.
His eponymous restaurant Fiz opened on the central business district fringe some 12 weeks ago, and is still on its first menu, focusing on the chef’s childhood in the seaside town of Lumut, Perak. As a result, his “Episode 1” is seafood-focused. And as one would expect at these prices, the seafood in the opening trio of appetisers features uni and caviar (yawn). Prejudices aside, the Murasaki uni is massacred by an imbalanced Filipino sinigang jelly and kesum oil, which leave only notes of sourness and bitterness on the palate. Caviar is meant to provide umami on a Kuih Ros of white miso and petai, but the petai is so muted that the caviar becomes a soloist without a backing choir.
The only thing I enjoy, and enjoy a lot, is a pie tee with the flavours of nasi lemak, and the star of this little mouthful is a sambal tumis with a striking balance and depth. Having gotten the token luxury imported ingredients out of the way, Fiz starts to channel his heritage, and the results are striking. His pasar malam trio — an oyster cucur (cooked through to concentrate its flavour, and to allow it to act as a vehicle for a trio of homemade Sriracha, taugeh and chives sauces), blood cockle satay with peanut sambal and shaved macadamia nuts, and magnificently spiced quail meatball — would take any red-blooded Malaysian/older Singaporean back to their childhood. A little offering of sugarcane juice in a baked clay jar almost brings a tear to my eye.
On the journey goes, wending through a beautiful blue swimmer crab curry scented with kaffir lime and a comfortingly deep, lip-smacking chicken broth made with eight kinds of ginger (seconds are necessary, bien sûr). Then comes the centrepiece of the menu, a veritable and authentic Malay jamuan. There are no concessions to fine-dining tropes: no service à la Russe, no small food on big plates, no silly splashes of sauce and edible flowers. You get two kinds of rice, two condiments and four very generous serves of beef curry, mackerel on more of that delicious sambal tumis, paku pakis foraged from Brinchang, Pahang, and chayote shoots with fried garlic chips and black garlic purée. By the time the excellent kuih-muih arrives, I’m fit to be carried off to the abattoir.
Malay cuisine seems to be the flavour of the month, with the success of Seroja at Singapore’s Michelin Guide 2023, ex-Thevar chef Nurl Affy’s private dining escapades and, of course, the very ambitious opening of Fiz. No expense has been spared on this cavernous space, which seats only 26 at a push; you could fit a gerrymandered electorate worth of voters between the tables here, a very rare indulgence in space-scarce Singapore.
The prevailing wisdom is that the best Nyonya and Malay food is the food you eat at your friend’s nenek’s house just because it is so time-consuming and labour-intensive to prepare all the sambal, rempah and curries properly. With 11 cooks in the kitchen, Fiz has the manpower he needs to deliver his vision of refined Malay cooking.
Comparisons with Seroja are inevitable, but perhaps, besides the point. Fiz is pushing for an authenticity beyond Seroja, which is informed and simultaneously handicapped by its chefs’ training at Korean-esque Meta. Seroja’s main course plus “lauk-pauk” is really just Korean banchan with a Malay name, and some of its desserts really owe more to Korean flavours and ingredients than anything vaguely Malay Archipelago.
So there I am, stuffed to the gills and exulting in perhaps the finest Malay meal I have ever had, and thinking that Malay cuisine finally has the showcase it deserves. Then the chef tells me Fiz is not a Malay restaurant but a Southeast Asian restaurant, and that the next “episode” may be somewhere like Thailand or Vietnam. I mentally face-palmed. I don’t know whether the demand is there for Malay food at this level and price, but when you have a great thing, you really ought to stick to it. And Fiz does have a great thing going; I just hope he realises it.
Visited: August 2023
Chef-patron: Haffizul Hashim
Cuisine: Malay/Southeast Asian
Budget around S$380 nett for dinner, including non-alcoholic drinks.
This article first appeared on Sept 4, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.