Old is Gold

Where Chefs Eat: Gabriel Fratini’s Picks For Cantonese Food And Deep-Fried Sotong

The head chef of The English House prefers Asian classics to flashy European fine dining restaurants on any given day.

Where Chefs Eat: Gabriel Fratini’s Picks For Cantonese Food And Deep-Fried Sotong
Head chef Fratini carving the roasted rack of lamb.

Chef Gabriel Fratini is one of those larger-than-life figures who launches into conversation with a messianic zeal. From staff poaching during a labour crunch to fickle diners navigating dining options, his diatribes cover the gamut. The veteran chef is well-acquainted with Singapore’s culinary scene. He moved here during the 1980s and opened several Italian restaurants. He now heads The English House by Marco Pierre White, where you’ll find beautifully slivered cod fish and chips, and a sublimely velvety cacio e pepe studded with peppercorns.

The English House's Cacio e pepe.
The English House’s Cacio e pepe.

Lei Garden Restaurant

I lived in Hong Kong for a decade, so I know Cantonese food well. My favourite is Lei Garden, and I usually order a selection of dim sum, steamed grouper and hot and sour soup. Also, I like that it is located in what was once a convent run by nuns. I believe some of the restaurant’s private rooms were once dormitories. It’s all about the atmosphere; I don’t like hyper-modern restaurants where you pay so much just for the décor.

Lei Garden Restaurant.
Lei Garden Restaurant.

Newton Food Centre

Despite its reputation as a tourist trap, I still frequent Newton Circus because I know many of the stall owners. The satay and chicken wings are excellent, and I have ordered both the chilli and pepper crabs from the same stall for the past 30 years. I’m not sure about their exact names, but turn left towards the ATMs from the entrance and you’ll see a row of drinks, seafood, satay, and chicken wing stalls — those are my go-to spots. You’ll find me having a beer with the drinks stall owner and ordering garlic naan with mutton masala from Indian Palace.

Dim Sum at Changi Village Hawker Centre

Since I can likely make the same dishes they serve at fancy five-star restaurants here, I avoid them. It’s the simple things that appeal to me. There’s a dim sum stall at the end of the row facing the car park at Changi Village Hawker Centre. The chicken feet are deliciously gelatinous.

Beer battered wild cod fish and chips at The English House.
Beer battered wild cod fish and chips at The English House.

Hua Yu Wee Seafood Restaurant

Live seafood makes this one of my favourite restaurants on Upper East Coast Road. The prawns are practically still swimming in alcohol as they are served. I’ve been coming here since the 1980s, and nothing has changed. Some employees have even stood the test of time. I love the crispy, deep-fried sotong and the crab, which you may have to order in advance, as it sells out fast.

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