My earliest memory of Native is their Antz cocktail. Back in 2018, foraging was sorta a burgeoning activity—"let's pick our ingredients from our surroundings!"—and for Vijay Mudaliar, founder and owner of Native, who has always advocated for zero-waste, it'd make sense that he and foraging would be bedfellows.
So. Antz. A Chalong Bay Rum, coconut yoghurt, salt-baked tapioca and soursop cocktail with the locally foraged weaver ants and Thai-imported ants added as garnishes. There's a Fear Factor appeal to it but I doubt Mudaliar didn't expect Antz to take on a life on its own. No one wants their message of 'reconnecting to nature' to be eclipsed by 'uncommon garnish'.
Fast-forward to now, and Antz remains on its menu but it is now nestled among the other drinks, all sharing the same spotlight. Native still champions its ethos of using produce that is procured locally or regionally but now it has a full-service restaurant with a casual drinks programme.
Occupying a three storey shophouse—a fermentation lab on the third; the cocktail bar takes second and the restaurant on the first floor—the restaurant's menu is democratically put together with different team members adding touches of their own culture, heritage and memories. The result is a culinary concept that pays homage to its Southeast Asian roots. The majority of the menu is vegetarian or pescatarian.
We started with the Miang Kham; a sorta popiah dish that you have to put together. For this Thai wrap, ingredients like wild pepper leaves, ginger flower, lemongrass, and borlotti tempeh crisps are added to a sticky sweet pineapple shoyu before they are wrapped in a leaf and consumed in one bite. The pineapple shoyu is fermented pineapple trimmings that are left over from the Pineapple Arrack cocktail (nothing wasted!) before they are mixed in with gula melaka.
We like the Really Cold Somen, which comprises of a housemade white kimchi, tomato granita, charred shishito chilli and shiso. The flavours are… a lot. Spicy, savoury, sweet, tangy, my tongue got a good workout and I was slightly upset that I inhaled that dish almost as quickly as I took a picture for the 'gram.
The main act of dinner was the Nose to Tail Chicken Pao Fan. A claypot of rice topped with chicken thigh before a roasted bone broth is poured into it. That dish is fine as it is but add Ah Moy's Chilli Sauce, and you have a dish that hits home; it has a good heat and brings out the flavours of the broth. This condiment is a recipe cribbed from Head Chef MJ Teoh's mother. This same chilli is used in Native's Bloody Mary cocktail (again, nothing is wasted).
Remember the gula melaka used in Miang Kham? That's a special paste made by Mdm Yap, who produces small batch gula melaka sans additives and preservatives. That gula melaka is used in the dessert dish, Sticky Jackfruit & Sugee Cake. It's sweet, not saccharine; the brown butter sugee cake is moist and the jackfruit (caramelised in Mdm Yap's Gula Melaka and pineapple juice for two-and-a-half hours) has a slightly bitter taste to it.
It is a good expansion for Native—a showcase of Mudaliar's philosophy that isn't meant to be pushy but with a menu as good as what we had that evening, people will lean towards it.
Native Restaurant is located at 52a Amoy St, Level 1, Singapore 069878.