Clam pasta with an umami boost

The Saveur co-founders who drew crowds to their restaurants by serving upscale food at reasonable prices have gone their separate ways. But I am glad they are still in the food scene.

I am even happier that they are sticking to their guns and continuing to provide affordable food.

Mr Joshua Khoo, 33, now runs a hawker stall at Amoy Street Food Centre called Taste Affair, while Mr Dylan Ong, 30, will open a restaurant, called The Masses, at 85 Beach Road in two weeks’ time.

So while I await the opening of The Masses, I head to Taste Affair, which offers a simple menu focused on aglio e olio-style angel hair pasta or paella- style rice flavoured with saffron.

Choose from ingredients such as sake butter clams ($6 with pasta, $6.50 with rice); poached chicken leg ($5); and diced prawn and chorizo sausage ($7). A poached egg, as well as sauteed mushrooms or vegetables, complete the meal.

Unfortunately, the rice had run out by the time it was my turn, so I pick from the pasta menu instead.

My favourite option is the sake butter clams – I get a generous portion of 12 clams on my plate and they are sweet and juicy. The mushrooms are sauteed till tender and the egg has a perfectly runny yolk.

I notice finely diced dark bits in the pasta and they turn out to be Mr Khoo’s “secret ingredient” of kombu (kelp), which adds a touch of umami to the dish. I think the chilli oil could be spicier, but that would mask the delicate kombu flavour.

His career of cooking in restaurants shows in the plating of the food. While it is odd to have the pasta come in half a cardboard takeaway box (his effort to “go green”, he says), everything is plated neatly. I also get freshly ground pepper on the egg as well as grated cheese.

I also try the poached chicken and chorizo pasta, which comes with sliced, tender poached chicken and lightly spiced sausage.

Some diners give up queuing when they notice that Taste Affair is a two-man show. My suggestion is to go as early as possible or be prepared to queue for at least 20 minutes in the stuffy food centre with the Central Business District crowd.

Mr Khoo and his partner Joel Tan, 34, are, after all, working in a cramped hawker stall. And I will be happy to queue again for the rice.

SOURCE: Singapore Straits