A toast to a Singaporean wine kitchen

Impressive vintages, an unassuming locale, a publicity-shy chef and a sumptuous menu are the mouthwatering ingredients

If you ask me, one ofSingapore’s finest restaurants can be found in an unassuming two-storey building in the shadow of the city’s tallest financial towers. Despite some renown, the chef-owner of Mag’s WineKitchen, Magdalene Tang, has shunned the high-glitz recognitionperhaps courted by neighbouring celebrity chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Guy Savoyand Daniel Boulud, who each have eponymous outposts at the nearby Marina BaySands resort.

Whenever foodie friends pass through town, I bring them to thiscompact haven. From the street, Mag’s in no way stands out from the swath ofeateries and louche lounges that characterise Boat Quay, but its chalkboard menu of around a dozen dishes never fails toimpress. Diners choose any starter and main for £25 at lunch, £30 at dinner.I rely on mainstays such as the Hiramasa kingfish ceviche (second picture), in which Tang substitutes yuzu for the expected lemon, along with cucumber, babyradish, micro coriander and edible flowers. I break my “nocarbohydrates” rule for the pan-roasted Boston lobster risotto withasparagus cooked in vegetable stock and white wine. Then I abandon my dietaltogether for Singapore’s finest chocolate fondant, which really does flowlike lava.

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In 1996, the Singapore-bornTang was a stock trader whose restaurant investment nearly nose-dived on day onewhen the chef failed to show up. With those early days of her impromptu career makeoverlong behind her, Tang can still be found helming the kitchen. From there, a raisedwood-block dining table extends out, enticing with its aromas. The cellars hold more than 1,000 bottles (or 250 labels), mostlybordeaux, burgundy and côtes du rhône. I have heard Tang call the entire series ofComte de Vogue burgundy one of her “most prized possessions”, along with aChâteau Margaux and a Château Haut Brion. She rotates the three white andthree red house wines often, based on grape, not country.  

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I recently joined a groupof Singaporean friends to share the summer seafood broil (first picture), agourmand’s cornucopia of freshly caught crab, prawns and clams cooked in theirown juices with corn and potatoes. As we nibbled on a starter of Japanese clams in white wine, I noticed a significant difference between our chef andher more famous cohorts: Tang was far too busy actually cooking to pay anyattention to this curious journalist’s enquiries and her local following’sfawning compliments.

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