Merlion restaurant, located on the third floor of Myanmar Plaza in the south-west corner, is a very recently established enterprise that aims to provide customers the most genuine experience of native Singaporean cuisine possible by harnessing the skills of their head chef, who’s previous post was at the glitzy Ritz Carlton Singapore. The owners of the establishment, Ringo Wong and Michelle Leow, are Singapore natives themselves and shared with me a selection of their premium dishes including Hainanese chicken and Singapore high tea snacks. I took the opportunity to make my own selections from the menu to really to get a feel for the essence of their cuisine.
The star dish of Merlion is the Hainanese chicken with rice, image above, and proved to be the perfect showboat for the food philosophy of Ringo and Michelle (they advertise themselves as the best Singaporean restaurant in Yangon). The Hainanese chicken is a delicate, falling-off-the-bone dish served in a light, salty broth. The real secret to the dish, Michelle told me, is fully exploiting the natural oils of the chicken meat and bringing them to the forefront. Leaving a piece of the Hainanese chicken on one’s tongue reveals a remarkably satisfying natural taste achieved through careful preparation of high-quality chicken served with a broth that offers tantalising hints of salt, pepper, bone-stock and spice but ultimately serves as the perfect backing to what is indeed almost perfect chicken meat.
The Hainanese chicken was accompanied by a selection of rather smart, lightly-fried snacks that come from their Singaporean high tea menu (an afternoon special). The bite-size parcels were expertly fried and offered incredible flavour, my personal favourite being the squid parcel. The high tea snacks include vegetarian and sweet varieties.
Finally, as per Ringo’s suggestion, I tried both the house-made tofu and the freshly made soy-milk, which can be enjoyed with or without sugar syrup. Ringo has an obvious fondness for soy products and was especially proud to serve me daily house made Thai style tofu. The cubes were, as with the snacks, fried to a light crispy perfection and come drizzled in house-made Thai sweet-chili sauce. The tofu excelled not only in flavour but in its silky texture. Both selections were creamy, absolutely fresh and very satisfying.
Making my own selections I decided to begin with appetisers of black fungus salad with Asian dressing and sambal eggs topped with chili sauce. The black fungus salad was pleasantly delicate with a slightly crisp texture and lightly tossed with sesame-oil dressing. The sambal eggs proved to be just as refreshing, perfectly poached as to be soft but not runny and topped with a well-balanced sauce of garlic and chili.
The main course consisted of king prawn curry served in a clay pot, Thai style soft-shell crab and a plate of sautéed broccoli with garlic. I was impressed by both the size and freshness of the king prawns while the curry base revealed a smooth yet distinct blend of south-east Asian spices complimented by a reasonable amount of heat. The Thai crab was lightly fried with a drizzling of sweet sauce over shredded carrot – it was satisfyingly crisp and highlighted the flavour of the crab with no residual oiliness. The sautéed broccoli with garlic was a simple, well tossed dish that did well mediating the mains.
More than the regular restaurant banter the Ringo and Michelle walked me through the intricate processes and stringent vetting they place on their staff, their produce and their suppliers to guarantee the most genuine Singaporean fine dining experience you could hope to find in Yangon. With the confidence and skill of a former chef of the Ritz Carlton Singapore, could one ask for more? I give Merlion full marks for food quality, presentation and dedication to service. The restaurant space is a little at-odds with their vibe, being connected to the food mall of Myanmar Plaza, but these are the early days. Ringo and Michelle, backed by the experience and prestige of their head chef, convinced me of their absolute dedication to quality and consistent excellence and the proof is very much in the product. Visit as soon as you can.