Last year Rishi Naleendra became the first Sri Lankan chef in history to attain a Michelin status when his Modern Australian restaurant on Boon Tat Street received a coveted star from the Michelin Guide Singapore 2017. Cheek by Jowl may only have opened in 2016 but has fast become one of the most popular and trusted restaurants in town. The name means ‘side-by-side’, attributing to working alongside his beloved wife and restaurant manager Manuela Toniolo. Professionally, life continues to soar for Naleendra, as his creations are savoured up internationally. He takes his flavours over to London, where he guest-chefs at Carousel (carousel-london.com), and takes time out of his busy Brit-feeding schedule to chat to Esquire Singapore back home.
ESQ: Why did you decide to bring your flavours to London?
Rishi Naleendra: I was invited by the team at Carousel to do a two-week pop-up. We have a very good English clientele at Cheek by Jowl and they recommended Carousel during their meals here in Singapore. In addition, I’ve always wanted to cook in London soI feel like the stars have aligned.
ESQ: How does the food scene compare between London and Singapore?
Rishi Naleendra: London is extremely seasonal and the biggest difference is probably the produce available here and there.
ESQ: Are all dishes brought directly from Cheek by Jowl, or have you tailored according to British tastes?
Rishi Naleendra: We are bringing some of our signatures like the oyster with smoked tomato and zucchini flower with Sri Lankan mung beans. However, I’ve also created a dish especially for the pop-up which is the Old Dairy Cow as I’ve always wanted to make a dish with the English dairy cow. It’s served with puff gains that add to the texture, and fermented chilli that’s subtle with a mild kick.
ESQ: The Strawberry, Black Olive and Rhubarb is a beautiful way to finish the menu. Why did you choose to introduce an international audience to it?
Rishi Naleendra: Well it is the season for strawberries and rhubarb, and visually it looks exciting, which has been the guest feedback both in Singapore and now in London. I think it’s both a nice and surprising way to finish.
ESQ: There are a lot of amazing European wines, have you had a chance to sample any and do you have any standouts that you would like to see stocked in Singaporean restaurants?
Rishi Naleendra: Actually, there is a wine pairing on the menu we have with Carousel which is incredible. It’s called GT Partida Creus from Les Caves De Pyrene (https://shop.lescaves.co.uk/
ESQ: Cheek by Jowl has achieved so much already, where do you see things heading?
Rishi Naleendra: Cheek by Jowl has achieved quite a bit for a small restaurant that is only two years old. We have built a good clientele and achieved certain accolades but I feel that we are still a young restaurant and have a lot more to work on. Right now, I would like to concentrate on the restaurant and give our guests the best experience.
ESQ: What are your favourite restaurants in the world?
Rishi Naleendra: I don’t have a favourite restaurant but some of the memorable meals I had are at Cosme and Atera in New York City, and The Ledbury in London.
Cheek By Jowl, 21 Boon Tat Street, Singapore 069620. For reservations and inquiries, call 6221 1911.