Named after Singapore’s international dial-code, plusixfive is the brainchild of Goz. Lawyer-by-day. Self-taught-chef. And founder of London’s only underground supperclub seeking to put Singaporean food firmly on the map. Many regard Goz to be one of the pioneers of what is now a growing movement of South-East Asian supperclubs in London. He’s been churning out compilation after compilation of local Singaporean delicacies and Straits Chinese favourites since 2011… all from the modest open-plan kitchen of his cozy Old Street flat. Londoners craving for something a little off the beaten food trail can look forward to everything from Teow Chew style Braised Duck to Pork Belly Satay. South-East Asians, prepare yourselves to revel in the familiar tastes of home…
But it wasn’t just any ol’ supper club evening this time round. It was Fish Head Freaking Curry night!. And with my tastebuds still in withdrawal from Nasi Kandar Line Clear’s version from a few weeks back, I booked myself in as soon as word got out that there was going to be oo-gley eyes headlining the evening. Before we got to the main event though, a series of opening acts were served to get the party started…
In true Fergus Henderson nose-to-tail style, first up was deep-fried ‘Skin & Bones’ - an inventive duo of dishes which surprised and delighted despite being made from often discarded remnants. The savoury fish bones were particularly fragrant and crispy, going extremely well with the kaffir-lime infused tartare sauce it was served with. Next up, Sardine puffs… airy, flaky, melt-in-the-mouth pastry filled with a spicy, comforting Sardine filling. I could have easily devoured the entire plate of ‘em!
My favourite of all the starters though had to be the Chwee Kueh (steamed rice cakes). A speciality of Singapore and Johor, the last time I had these rice cakes must have been over a decade ago. The soft, velvety rice cakes were topped with delectably addictive hot salted radish (‘chai poh’) that had been spiked with chilli oil. Yum-meh mum-meh.
In fairness, not everything was perfect. Char Bee Hoon (fried rice vermicelli), served the traditional hawker stall way on a sheet of brown wax paper for diners to tuck into was a little disappointing. Though tasty and pimped up with healthy helpings of spam, choi sum (chinese vegetable hearts) and black fungus, I thought the noodles were a wee bit soggy for my liking.
Then, out came what everybody had been waiting for… the Fish Head Curry, served with bountiful amounts of steamed rice. Goz explained that he had deliberately cooked the curry out a little longer than usual which meant there was a little less Jaws-style action given much of the fish meat had flaked into the gravy. I’m all for less drama when it’s made up for in flavour, and what resulted was a full-bodied curry with chunks of fish throughout that was beautifully balanced. It had a good zing of tamarind piquancy, a slightly creamy body (I suspect from a small slug of coconut milk) and a nice, fragrant background heat. Personally, I would have cranked up the heat with a few more chillies, but the mild gravy meant we could plough our platefuls of rice with buckets and buckets of gravy without being overwhelmed.
Fish Head Curry
What was arguably even better though was Goz’s Nestum prawns – a match for any top seafood restaurant back home. Deep-fried with salted egg yolk, curry leaves, chillies and cereal, the dish had that wonderful characteristic crunch… every subsequent bite releasing holy trinity bombs of sweet, spicy and savoury flavours. Also delicious, and fabulously spicy was the side-dish of Sambal Telur (Hard-Boiled eggs) which had been prepared by Shu Han (@mummyIcanCook) who sous-chef’d alongside Goz for the evening (you can find her recipe for these bad boys here).
Last but certainly not least, the icing on the cake…
For those wondering what on earth this Milo Dinosaur business is all about, it’s the same Chocolate-malt based drink that the Asia-Pacific loves, only loaded with epic amounts of undissolved Milo Powder for some extra, malteser-ey goodness. Sound good? Well, I’m happy to report it’s even better in ice-cream form! The rich, Choco-malt ice-cream was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Add to that the extra milo goodness and crunch of the toasted cornflakes on top and it makes for a truly ingenious dessert that manages to embody everything that’s fun about mamak stall culture in Singapore & Malaysia.
Food aside, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my other fellow diners who had gathered there that evening. Yes, there is bound to be that awkward moment when you see others hovering outside the ‘secret’ location, checking their smart phones to triple-check they have the right address. And of course there’s the inevitable bit of initial small talk to get through. But it’s hard not to love the social buzz and bohemian camaraderie that ensues once the food gets going (and the booze flowing).
I hear Goz makes a mean Ox-cheek and Beef Brisket Rendang. If that’s not a good enough reason for a return visit, I’m not sure what is.
..at a Secret North London location | plusixfive.wordpress.com | Friday May 13th 2012
p.s. Thanks to @plusixfive, @mummyIcanCook & @ChristineYeo for hosting a rollickingly good evening. Was also great getting to know one half of @DishPiglets (& her man C), @Samsmitter (& family) and @feasttotheworld.
** £35 suggested donation, BYO drinks