Like the MINI range, British cuisine has evolved in surprising, exciting ways while still serving up the classics everybody knows and loves
It’s not uncommon to hear of beers being paired with food, but what about cars paired with food?
No we haven’t gone off our collective rockers, hear us out: Once upon a time, a Mini was simply one car. Now it’s become something else entirely, a whole brand unto itself and with an offering for almost anyone with an ounce of fun in their makeup.
Like MINI, British cuisine has evolved dramatically. From bland, simple fare (boiled beef, anyone?) it’s evolved into something far beyond a bit of grub to accompany your ale. It’s now food to satisfy the demand for proper, stick-to-your sides food that’s so much more than a Ploughman’s Lunch, especially with the gastrobar concept moving things forward from the 1980s and 1990s on.
Here we’ll take you on a journey not just around Singapore, but also through British food as we know it – and as we think we know it – accompanied by the various characters in the MINI range, with recommendations and suggestions so you can do it yourself once you’ve worked up the appetite.
1. The MINI 3-Door Hatchback
Dish: Classic British Fish n Chips
While the side bits might differ here and there, this is immediately recognisable, familiar, something that brings out great memories and more, and always delivers satisfaction. We’re not just talking about the MINI hatch in three-door body style, but also classic fish and chips.
Proper British fish-n-chips is beer battered, not crumbed, and it comes with thick-cut potato chips, not shoestring fries. A wedge of lemon and tartar sauce are the least you should expect with it — better yet would be curry, gravy and mushy peas. Smith’s, at Balmoral Plaza, is one name that comes up in search of this classic. There, the portion size is huge, the fish crispy (though a little dry) and chips not too hard, though the food isn’t cheap at S$20+. An alternative is local seafood restaurant chain Fish & Co which also does variations on the classic for a reasonable price.
2. The MINI 5 Door Hatchback
Dish: Bangers & Mash
What if you need something of a known quantity – like said fish and chips – but simply need to fill a bigger appetite in the morning? Like a MINI chassis with any MINI power plant, the pairing of protein and potatoes can’t go wrong, so enter bangers and mash. There are occasions when five-doors is a must, just like it’s weird to eat fish and chips first thing in the morning (not saying you can’t, it’s just…weird).
Like FnC, the ingredients for bangers and mash are, on the surface, simple, but to make a truly good example requires attention to detail: The mash can be creamy, or chunky, but the potato-ey goodness can’t be outshone by butter or cheese, the sausages can be grilled or fried, but require a snappy skin with a tender, and not overdone interior. And on that note, ‘Bangers’ is certainly a great description for the MINI five-door’s ability to go around corners quick, and if you correspondingly mash the accelerator, it’ll always bring a smile to your face.
3. The MINI Convertible
Dish: Shepherd’s Pie
Of the various pies that help fill the satisfied British tummy, why pair the open top MINI with this classic pan of working class heartiness? Maybe because a good Shepherd’s Pie is multi-layered affair that’s easy to fall in love with, like the MINI Convertible. Its clever Z-action folding top stows away in just 18 seconds, giving you access to an experience you can’t wait to tuck into – an immersive drive that’s a feast for the senses, with the wind in your hair helping to intensify the sensations of driving a MINI. Likewise, after peeling back the crust of a Shepherd’s Pie you get to the real substance: the minced lamb, brown sauce, peas, carrots and all the rest of it.
Yet, for car or pie, both the covering and what’s underneath it have to work well with one another. At the Queen and Mangosteen Gourmet British Pub, the Shepherd’s Pie (S$18) has an exemplary crust of freshly-made, creamy mashed potato with a layer of toasted cheese that doesn’t overpower the proceedings. Beneath? Minced lamb in a well-seasoned, tomato-based sauce with a playful hint of curry. Top and bottom work together, just like in the MINI Convertible — the folding roof is a highlight in itself, but the car underneath it delivers the heart of the experience.
4. The MINI Clubman
Dish: Full English Breakfast
The MINI Clubman is a shooting brake, of that there is little doubt, but like the term ‘coupe’, it’s actually hard to define and with no fixed rules as to what constitutes one. Some shooting brakes have two doors, some four – if you count the fold-out rear doors, the Clubman has six! A stylish, elongated car that has more flexibility than a hatchback, and can also be considered a sub-species of wagon, but what’s non-negotiable is a big dash of style, and that the Clubman has, along with practical flexibility and fun driving nature, in spades.
And since a shooting brake implies lots of activity (it doesn’t really have to be shooting of course) done with propriety, then the English breakfast is the perfect pairing for it. Singapore might not have the weather, but a cool morning with a ‘Full English’ is one of life’s real pleasures. Like a shooting brake, the contents of a Full English has some flexibility, but the range of things to feast on is one of its key characteristics – fried tomatoes, mushrooms, Cumberland sausage, eggs (of any style really). The final decision? Like cockles in laksa, black pudding is the great divider when it comes to the subject of FEB, if you do include it, make sure it’s done well.
5. MINI Countryman
Dish: Hainanese Pork Chop
‘Hey, that’s not British, it’s Singaporean!’ one might say. But that’s just like saying, “Hey, that’s a MINI, it can’t be a sport utility vehicle (SUV)!” Which of course is proved utterly wrong by the Countryman, since it’s quite convincingly an SUV (space, tough looks, usefulness) but also a MINI (handling, zip).
The dish of Hainanese Pork Chop is probably the best example of fusion before it was cool. The ethnic Hainanese Chinese here were trendsetters in food and beverage, as the NLB notes, and various Hainanese adaptations to Western style cuisine were a result, the Hainanese Pork Chop being one of them. If you think about it, it’s simply breaded pork cutlet, peas, fried potatoes, but transformed by the sweet, spicy, and tangy sauce that includes ketchup (‘ketchup’ is from Malay, by the way…). Classic Hainanese restaurant Jin Wee in Siglap serves it up as one of their signature dishes, complete with retro-style kopitiam surroundings. You’ll find similar Hainanese restaurants near the Raffles Hotel (Singapore Sling being another Hainanese creation), but it’s easier to find parking in Siglap.
6. The MINI JCW lineup
Dish: Devil’s Snapper Curry
In case you haven’t heard, curry has been voted the national dish of Great Britain. And just as there are numerous curries out there, there’s more than one John Cooper Works MINI around: the hatchback, Convertible, Countryman and Clubman are all available with the go-faster equipment that this high-performance label entails.
Yet, it’s the hatch that best embodies the spirit of performance that every MINI JCW embraces. The 231 horsepower engine gives it firecracker acceleration, while tasteful (and tasty!) decorations such as aero bodykitting or centrally-exiting twin exhausts signal the fieriness within. And with enhanced braking and careful suspension modifications for optimised handling, every element is perfectly balanced in a MINI JCW.
That sort of balance is also the secret to the perfect curry, according group chef Patrick from the Queen and Mangosteen — his Devil’s Snapper Curry (S$18) bathes fresh, flaky snapper in an aromatic broth that hits notes of acidity, sweetness and complexity in well-judged harmony. The curry pairs brilliantly with the accompanying biryani rice and papadum, and would be a treat with a pint, but it’s the unexpectedly spicy hit that makes the dish come alive.
That’s the case with the MINI JCW range, too — beautiful presentation, perfect balance, and a fiery kick that makes the heart beat faster!