Rowdy Labyrinth

My parents and sister are visiting Singapore, and although they went to bed early last night and I watched Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, tonight I treated them to a meal at Labyrinth.

Labyrinth is (depending on your perspective) an achingly pretentious restaurant where every dish has to be explained to you by your server, or a theatrical deconstruction of Singaporean street food, or something in between. I figured that going straight to a hawker centre or cramming curry puffs into my family at Ikea might be a bit too abrupt a reintroduction to Singapore for them, whereas Labyrinth, an almost church-like zone of peace in the Esplanade complex, would be a nice treat.

And then we got there…

As we arrived, the maitre d’ apologised in advance for there being a large party of 20 people in tonight. I began to register the constant roaring noise. It didn’t seem like a party so much as a 20-man shouting competition. At 8pm on a Saturday night, it wasn’t like we’d be able to go anywhere else, so we meekly said it would be fine and went to our table.

A few other things to bear in mind. My father is hard of hearing at the best of times, and when there’s a high level of ambient noise (like 20 Japanese men shouting at the same time) it’s harder for him to make out what’s going on. Every dish at Labyrinth does come with description and instructions, and you don’t get the full experience without that. And finally, my mum and dad tend to react badly to shellfish, and I’d forgotten that half the ten-course tasting menu was prawns, crabs and scallops. So overall, I was beginning to regret subjecting the family to this.

Oh, and Labyrinth has a fairly strict dress code for men (I assume because one too many bumpkins have turned up to lower the tone – no flip-flops, no shorts, no tshirts and no hats. Thus it was ever more aggravating when various members of the shouting party wandered out of the room they were contained in, wearing pink shorts, or tshirts, or crimes against fashion. It got so loud that eventually an enormous man who was trying to enjoy the first quiet meal with his wife since they’d had a baby went to tell them to pull their heads in a bit. The volume went down a bit then, and thankfully the whole raucous rabble departed about an hour or so into our meal.

Aside from that (and to make up for it, they comped us a bottle of champagne) it was quite lovely. I’d forgotten how adorably ridiculous some of the courses were (and I’ve only ever had the 5 course lunchtime menu before, not the full-bore insanity of the dinner menu, complete with an aubergine-based facsimile of Indonesian pork, the highest class kaya toast a man could ever eat, and of course the deconstructed curry puff.

They even brought out a birthday cake with a candle on it for my mother and my sister, which was a lovely surprise at the end of the night. Mind boggled, I photographed almost every course, although I’m at a loss at to what it all was; everything was good, but at some point it merges together into a feeling of satisfaction, coupled with a worry that you’re living a deracinated lifestyle where you aren’t eating the originals of these dishes on a daily basis.

We stumbled back out into the regular world and went back to my parents’ hotel for a nightcap. What better possible way to prepare for an early morning wake up and a very long flight?

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