Celebrity chow with local actor-singer Daren Tan

SINGAPORE - For the best dinner date, choose ambience over food quality. That's the view of local actor-singer Daren Tan.

Guys should not kid themselves that amazing food matters if an establishment's vibe is underwhelming, the 31-year-old said over lunch with M at Italian-Japanese restaurant Nuvo at Marina Square.

"Ambience is the No. 1 factor to consider," said the winner of reality TV singing competition Project SuperStar 2.

"Unless you're a foodie, would you go all the way to find a place just for food?

"That said, the food still has to be acceptable and edible."

As the bachelor enjoyed his smoked salmon with baby spinach, carbonara with crayfish and panna cotta, he recalled a romantic stunt he planned for one of his exes.

"I threw a surprise birthday party for her at my condo's barbecue pit and got all her friends down," he said.

"I try not to do things like that too often though. They should be saved for big moments like marriage proposals.

"Springing a surprise for every normal date will not work. The surprise will lose its value."

Tan's career is on an upswing - he can be seen in Channel 5's police period drama Mata Mata: A New Era and game show Silence!, which premieres tomorrow on E City (StarHub Ch 825) and SuperSports Arena (StarHub Ch 201). Last year, he snagged the lead role in local movie That Girl In Pinafore.

"I'm quite jovial, and acting is one channel that allows me to express myself," he said.

What do you never tire of eating?

Chicken rice. I'll never get sick of it. In fact, when I was bulking up in-between That Girl In Pinafore and Mata Mata (he had to transform from scrawny to muscular), I had chicken rice five times a week. It was part of my carbo-loading process to build up mass. Laksa would be the other dish. I'm a very local boy, I grew up eating at hawker centres and till today, I'm still loving it. Local food is right at the top of my list.

We hear you don't put on weight. You must be the envy of your friends!

Yes, I'm sorry to say this to everyone out there who's struggling with weight issues, but my metabolism is so high that I can eat all kinds of fatty foods. (Laughs)

When we were filming Mata Mata in Batam, I was eating instant noodles at midnight while my co-star Cheryl Wee was doing her Insanity Workout.

I'd tease her, "Eh, what are you doing?"

She'd snap: "You don't talk to me lah."

Favourite eating haunts?

I live in Lakeside and there's a lot of great food at Jurong West Food Centre, such as chicken porridge and wonton mee.

These days, I like driving to the east, where there's more good food. I like Katong and Bedok. There's a mee pok stall at Simpang Bedok called Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok. That's my all-time favourite.

How about restaurants?

My family and I go to Angus House at Ngee Ann City if we want a nice meal. The steaks are great, the escargot fresh and affordable. Recently, I tried a Japanese restaurant, Chikuwa Tei, at Mohamed Sultan Road. The sashimi blew me away.

For romantic dates, I like Stellar at 1-Altitude, ME@OUE at Collyer Quay and Halia at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Do you cook? Do you have any signature dishes?

I can cook quite well. I grew up under the care of my grandma and often helped her in the kitchen. I can do pasta and sushi.

But to be honest, I don't have the passion. Maybe it's the hassle of cleaning up that puts me off.

(Laughs) Cooking is therapeutic for some people. I'm not one of them.

Any memorable food encounters?

In Taipei, my friends and I went to Ninja, a ninja-themed restaurant opened by Taiwanese-Japanese celebrity Makiyo Kawashima. The concept is really interesting. You are greeted with a waterfall blocking your path and you have to shout a command for the doors to open.

Also, the waitresses are dressed as sexy ninjas. The entertainment value is very high!

This article was first published on October 22, 2014.
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