Once every few weeks, sixteen people gather in a flat to devour course after course of satay, Katong laksa and gula Melaka ice cream. But this isn’t your average dinner party. The dishes aren’t zichar takeaways. It isn’t even in Singapore. The guests are strangers in London, and some think our cuisine consists solely of that most mysterious dish, the Singaporean Fried Noodles. Others are born-and-bred Singaporeans who have been starved of rojak for too long and have come to claim their share. Voraciously.
Regardless of their predisposition to Singapore food, Goz feeds them all, transforming his cosy Islington flat into the venue for +(65) – a supper club serving home-cooked Singapore food – borne out of love, nostalgia, and a desire to share. You sign up at the website, are told where and when to arrive, and feast on a secret menu of dishes lovingly prepared by Goz and fellow Singaporean foodies.
A lawyer by profession, Goz has lived in London for years, beginning with university. After months of goading by his sister and Wenlin Soh, +(65)’s manageress, Goz set up a debut dinner on the 16th of May. In just a few months, +(65) has taken the supper club and London food blogging scene by storm. They now attract invitation requests that far outnumber the sixteen slots available.
According to Goz, good food starts with love, holds a story and ends with a memory. It comforts, excites, and above all, doesn’t take itself too seriously. “When people harp on the history of their food, it puts me off,” he remarks. “At the end of the day, all we really, really care about is whether it tastes good!”
While the concept of a supperclub is not entirely novel, +(65) is the first of its kind to gastronomically connect its guests to home.
“We do have foreigners, but it’s always interesting to have Singaporeans at the table to explain and interact with the rest. I served nonya chap chye and they were like, “‘Oh YES! I used to eat this when I was young! My mum used to make this!’ When you bring food to the table, it brings back memories in turn. A big part of my supper club is to trigger emotions”, he says.
“Unlike in England, where a lot of people congregate around drink, socialising in Singapore has always centred around eating. That’s definitely heightened overseas. You meet other Singaporeans and you just want to sit down and have a good meal together.”
Indignant at the plethora of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants in the UK, Goz is also using +(65) to introduce Singapore cuisine. A recent dinner served up Papa Palheta’s locally roasted coffee, while it also allowed a chef guest to taste beef rendang for the first time. “He said it looked unappetising because it looked so dark brown and heavy, but when he tasted it, he said it was light, floral, and fragrant.”
“Yes, probably because there’s lemongrass and galangal in the rempah. These are things you take for granted, so it’s always interesting to get a new perspective.”
As anyone who’s been on a long stint overseas would know, the subtle beauty of local flavours isn’t the only thing we crave for while we’re away. At home, no one doubts our food or questions what being Singaporean really is. However, we are put to the test the moment we land on foreign shores, and find ourselves struggling to introduce, explain, or even defend Singapore’s idiosyncrasies – culinary or otherwise.
“The Singaporean identity is definitely brought into sharp focus overseas”, Goz says. “Some of my friends are dating Westerners and they always remark, ‘I can’t believe every time I go out with you guys you’re always talking about food!’ It is a big part of our lives.”
Continuing the practice of communal dining is also important to Goz. He continues, “At my supper clubs, I don’t serve individual dishes. We don’t even really pass plates around but just share and dive in. It’s a family-style, collegiate way of eating and socialising. It’s a big part of our communication, but it is difficult for people to grasp!”
During Goz’s last visit to Singapore, some hawker food was not what he remembered it to be. Hawkers had retired – being a char kway teow master is “hardly the most glamorous job”. Goz acknowledges that he only learned to cook Singaporean food because he missed it in London.
“If you think about it, if I was in Singapore, I would have never have learnt how to make chwee kueh, or braised duck. These things are at my doorstep, so why would I? There’s just no reason to cook it in Singapore.” The heightened self-awareness from being abroad became a slow-burn nostalgia, and Goz adds, “You suddenly feel like you need to carry on the heritage a little bit. If not, the quality of food might inevitably dip, and I would feel quite sad about that.”
Since he intends to return to Singapore one day, he doesn’t know what the future holds for +(65), and plans to take it a step at time. What’s for certain, however, is that the project will always be sustained by fun – “The supper club is about being personal with the chefs and being in their house, so if I’m bin chow chow (literally, 'smelly face') in the kitchen and see it as a chore, I wouldn't want it to translate to the food and the guests as well.”
For now, with Goz firmly fixed in his kitchen, here's a little taste of Singapore in London:
Goz’s Quintessential Singapore Menu
Appetiser – Kueh Pie Tee
“This is something you can’t find in a restaurant here, and it’s not difficult for a foreigner to grasp – it’s like a canapé, and you can see that there’s a lot of work that goes into it. Taste-wise, it’s also pretty inoffensive, I don’t wanna weird them out! That being said, we served berlinjau keropok which is kind of bitter, and I thought it was a bit adventurous but people loved it.”
Main – Beef Rendang
“You can find beef rendang here, but it’s hard to find good beef rendang. We went to a restaurant the other day that served it, but it wasn’t beef rendang – it was just strips of beef that clearly hadn’t been stewing for very long. The beef was tough, wasn’t the right cut, and just seemed like stir-fried beef.”
Dessert – Gula Melaka Ice Cream with Caramelised Sago
“Dessert is tough. Lately I’ve been serving Gula Melaka ice cream, which I think I’ve perfected. Very few people have actually tasted Gula Melaka, let alone Gula Melaka ice cream, so I serve that with caramelised sago. The ice cream is rich, creamy and sweet, the sago has a little gooey chewiness to it, and the caramelised sago gives it crunch, so you get different textures in there.
That being said, I just got an ice shaver as well, and we’ve been serving honey sea coconut. That’s interesting, novel and a bit weird too, and you definitely can’t find that here!”
Words Julianne Tan