Teochew Steam Pomfret $75
You probably have heard of Ah Orh before. This seafood place has been around since the 50's and serves out classic Teochew dishes like steamed pomfret and cold crabs. There are two Ah Orh's around. One is situated at Bukit Merah and the other one is located at Blk 22 Sin Ming Road which is the one being featured today. The man behind the wok is 66 year old Mr Goh who started helping out at his father's (Ah Orh) restaurant when he was still a little boy of 4. (Not sure how he was helping then but that was what he told me)
Ah Orh has a reputation for being expensive and it is expensive if you are comparing it with other coffeeshop Cze Char. But as the old adage goes, you pay for what you get and what you get at Ah Orh is really fresh and good quality seafood which is expertly prepared.
The Teochew steamed pomfret here is the best version of the dish that I have had for as long as I can remember. Mind you, I don't eat this dish every other week, so you will have to take my first statement in that context. But I was really impressed with the steamed pomfret which was so nicely done that the texture of the flesh was just perfect and the sauce had just the right balance of sour, savoury and sweet. If you have never been enamored by Teochew style steamed pomfret, this might just change your mind. $75 is a lot to pay for one fish, but the Dao Chior (Chinese Silver Pomfret - pampus chinensis) was very big and its quality is excellent. I have seen this fish selling at my local market for $50, so it is not cheap even if you prepare this at home. 4.6/5
Cold Crabs $28 each
Teochew cold crabs are easy to make. You basically boil the crab, let it cool and put into the fridge. Anyone can do it. The difficult part is getting your hands on the crabs which are full of "Gor" and that is the reason why you eat this at a restaurant. The "Gor" is often mistakenly referred to as crab "roe". It is actually not "roe" (ie eggs) since both male and female crabs have it. Neither is it "milt" (ie sperm). It is in fact, the liver of the crab which gets really fat (like foie gras) as the crab has been eating and storing up energy to get ready to shed its old shell. That is why these crabs are also known as "double shell" crabs as you can see the new soft shell developing underneath the old shell.
Restaurants like Ah Orh have been buying these double shell crabs from their supplier for years and that long term relationship means that they can get hold of crabs that we ordinary consumers can't. The crabs are very good. They are solid, meaty and chock full of yellow gold which should please most people. My crab expert who was dining with me tells me however, that he is able to get hold of crabs that are even better than these in terms of its flavor. So, as I said, these crabs should please most except the ultra discerning crab connoisseurs. 4.25/5
Oyster Omelette $20
The oyster omelette here is excellent. They use Koren oysters which are fresh and flavourful. The egg omelette is crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. This really is as good as it gets! 4.5/5
I also like the clams which had a nice smokiness that can only come from a wok master. They were however, slightly overcooked that day such that the meat is just slightly dry. 4/5
Stir Fried nai pai (奶白) $15
The nai pai (奶白) was superb. The quality of the vegetables is top notch and fried just right so that it was crisp and sweet without being fibrous. I didn't think much of this much touted vegetable before and have often gone away wondering what the fuss was all about. Now I know! 4.5/5
Prawns with Gu Chai $45
Being a typical Teochew, Mr Goh tells me that he only uses the freshest wild caught seafood at his restaurant. You can taste the freshness of the jumbo Ang Kah prawns in this dish where the prawns are fried with chives. Unfortunately it looked better than it tastes. The chives didn't have the sweetness that I was expecting and the flavour of the prawn and chives did not quite meld to reach a crescendo. 4/5
Fish Roe $20
Can't say I am a big fan of fish roe but I am sure that there are a lot of people reading this who are. Fried fish roe is not something that is readily available, but I think that they are getting more attention in recent years due to the popularity of Japanese cuisine. Fish eggs, like any other eggs, eg tobiko (flying fish roe), caviar (sturgeon eggs), ikura (salmon eggs) and even chicken eggs are tasty because they are packed with all the nutrition that a animal needs. So naturally, we are drawn instinctively to such food sources. But this fish roe just did not resonate with me as I found it a little dry, grainy and not all that tasty. Then again I don't like pig liver either, so I think this might be a personal thing. 3.5/5
Prawn Roll $20
Judging from that hundreds of prawn rolls on display at the storefront, I would say that the prawn rolls here are a very popular item. I haven't yet come across a prawn roll I didn't like but neither can I tell you where to find the best one in Singapore. I still can't. 4/5
If you are looking for really fresh and good Teochew steamed fish as well as other Teochew cuisine, then this is the place to find it. Just remember the old adage. Cheap no good, good no cheap. Yes, it may be more expensive than other Cze Char places, but this is not your usual Cze Char place!
Ah Orh Seafood
Blk 22 Sin Ming Road
Open for lunch and dinner
5.30pm - 9.30pm
When I was a kid, 京都排骨 (jing du pai gu - lit Kyoto pork ribs) or 排骨王 (pai gu wang - lit pork rib king) was my all time favourite dish. I used to always look forward to eating it whenever our family went out for dinner at the Chinese restaurant.
According to Chef Chris Hooi of Dragon Phoenix restaurant, this dish was created by his father, Chef Hooi Kok Wai in 1962 as part of the menu for his new restaurant. It was introduced to Singaporeans when Dragon Phoenix restaurant was opened in 1963. At the time, it was called 日本排骨 ri ben pai gu or Japanese Pork Ribs as it was inspired by the Japanese Tonkatsu. However, the name was later changed to Kyoto pork ribs when one of Chef Hooi's customers suggested that when translated to English, Kyoto pork ribs would sound better than Japanese Pork Ribs. And so the name was changed to Kyoto pork ribs. It is also commonly known as 排骨王 (pork rib king).
Ad in 1963 announcing the opening of Dragon Phoenix restaurant
For the sake of clarification, there is also a dish called Kyoto pork ribs which originated in China. It is made from prime ribs in a traditional "烧汁" sauce. Chef Hooi's version is different in that he uses pork loin instead of prime ribs. There is also the sprinkling of sesame seeds which is also associated with Tonkatsu. The sauce is also different as it uses HP or A1 sauce reflecting the British colonial influence in Singapore at the time.
As with most dishes in Singapore, our short history means that most of the dishes created here are really modifications of dishes from Chinese, Malay, Indian and British origins. There really is nothing new under the sun. Even the Japanese Tonkatsu was derived from the Portugese. But when you talk about Tonkatsu, no one will doubt that it is a Japanese dish. It's the same for our beloved 排骨王 which is one of our favourite Cze Char dishes.
1. The cut of meat used is the pork chop which includes the loin (the round lean bit) which is still attached to the rib and back bone. This is the reason why it is called 排骨王 (pork rib king), so you really should not use any other cuts for this dish. If you wish, you may buy boneless pork loin to make the dish.
2. The meat should be tender and bouncy. This is achieved by pounding the meat first with a meat tenderizer and then marinating it with bicarbonate of soda. This is the traditional way of doing it. When using bicarb, just make sure you don't use too much and you don't marinade for too long or else it will become tasteless and lose the meaty texture. Around half and hour to an hour is ideal.
3. If you are using frozen meat, make sure you defrost it in the fridge slowly, preferably overnight. If you try to thaw it in water or in a microwave, the muscle cells will be damaged and you will end up with dry meat. This is particularly important with the loin as it is very lean with little marbling. You may not be able to find pork chops cut in this manner at the wet markets as they tend to remove the loin from the prime ribs. You can find this type of cut at the frozen section of the supermarket as pork chops is more popular in Western cuisines. They are usually sliced with a machine at 1 cm thick which is the right thickness for this dish.
4. One extra step you might want to take to make the meat more juicy is to brine the meat after it has thawed. Make the brine using 300ml of water and 15g salt. Cover the pork and leave in the fridge for 8 hours and you will have nice and juicy meat when its cooked. You will need to omit the salt in the final marinade.
5. Custard Powder is used in the traditional recipe to add extra flavour and colour to the fried pork. It is a common ingredient used by the four heavenly chefs in deep frying. You may replace it with corn flour.
6. Sugar is an important ingredient in this dish as it is essentially a sweet dish. The tang is almost undetectable and serves to brighten the dish with a bit of zest. So make sure you use a good quality brown sugar. Traditionally, they like to use sheet sugar which is brown sugar that has been cut into rectangular blocks. You can find these at the supermarket. Sugar is always nicer when it is a little caramelized. So when cooking the sauce, make sure you really let it bubble and swirl in the wok to caramelize the sugars.
7. I have always remembered Jing Du Pai Gu to have a wonderful floral aroma when it was served. To do this I came up with a final step in the cooking process. Once the pork and the sauce has been incorporated and almost ready to serve. Turn up the heat in the wok and add 2 Tbsp of good quality Rose Wine, tilt the wok to allow the alcohol to catch fire. It adds that nice floral aroma to the dish as well as caramelizing some of the sugars on the surface of the meat.
Here's the Recipe:
Pork Chops 400g
Sesame Oil 1/2 Tbsp
Salt 2 tsp
Ginger juice 1 Tbsp
White pepper 1/2 tsp
MSG 1 tsp
Bicarbonate of Soda 1/4 tsp
Chinese Wine 1 Tbsp
Custard Powder 1 Tbsp
Potato Starch 1 Tbsp
Brown sugar or sheet sugar 3 Tbsp
White sugar 3 Tbsp
Rice vinegar 1 1/2 Tbsp
Plum sauce 1 Tbsp
OK Sauce 1 Tbsp (can omit or replace with HP or A1 sauce)
Tomato Ketchup 2 Tbsp
Worchestershire sauce 1 tsp
Vegetable or Chicken stock powder 1 tsp
Dark soy sauce 1 tsp
Red Colouring (optional) 1 pinch
Corn flour 1 Tbsp mixed in 2 Tbsp water
Rose wine 2 Tbsp
Pound the pork chops with meat tenderizer and cut into 5cm by 3cm pieces. Add all the ingredients in A1 and massage into pork. Then add the ingredients in A2 and mix well. Leave for half to 1 hour but not more than 2 hours. (If you leave out the bicarb of soda you can marinade overnight)
Heat 1 inch oil in a pan or flat bottom wok. When the oil is very hot (180°C) add the pork and fry till it is golden brown (approx 2 min). Make sure you fry in small batches. Set aside on rack or dry with paper towel.
Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl.
Pour off the oil from wok. Add the sauce and cook until it is thickened and some of the sugars have caramelized. Add the pork and toss to coat evenly.
Once it is well coated, add 2 Tbsp Rose Wine and tilt the wok so that the sauce catches fire from the flame. Allow the alcohol to burn off. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
Bittergourd pork ribs $14
Fans of Mitzi's would be very pleased to know that the old man, popularly known as "Har Zai" 虾子 (little shrimp) is back behind the wok after a short break. His restaurant had closed its doors at Tras Street 2 years ago due to rental and manpower issues (This is getting quite repetitive). They are now back in a hawker stall setting, serving some of the classic Cantonese dishes which they have been known for, but at hawker prices.
Crab with mustard green $14
This may be considered a "Cze Char" but if you come here and order your usual Cze Char dishes, then you are going to miss out on some classic dishes like the bittergourd and black bean pork ribs. 4/5 as well as an excellent mustard green with crabmeat and egg white. 4.5/5 I felt that the pork ribs could have had a little more oommph, but the rest of the kakis tell me that this is the classic taste that they like. The mustard greens were fresh and had a nice crunchy bite. For $14, they sure were generous with the crab meat!
Crispy noodles $16
I have had crispy noodles at many Cze Char places before, but this was the first time I have seen it presented this way. My more seasoned (read older) kakis tell me that this was the way it had been served in the past. Instead of deep frying the egg noodles, they were pan fried such that some bits where crispy while other bits were still chewy. The thin egg omelette on top of the noodles were expertly done and they use fresh, locally caught Western King Prawns 沙马 here. It would have been a must try dish if the sauce had a little more punch. 4/5
Prawn Roll $18
My kakis were not so impressed with the prawn rolls as I was. I liked it because unlike a lot of other places, these prawn rolls were full of chunky prawn which had that nice crustacean flavour which hits you at the back of the palate. The skin was also crunchy, unlike the usual thin bean curd skin which other places use. To me, these prawn rolls really captured the natural flavour of the prawns very well without the other ingredients getting in the way. 4.25/5
Steamed fish head $13
Smith Street food centre is the steamed Song Fish head (freshwater carp) capital of Singapore (perhaps of the world?). Everywhere you turn, there is someone serving this particular dish. If you head down the stairs to the wet market early in the morning, you will be able to catch the fishmongers slaughtering the live fish which are farmed in Malaysia. So, you would expect the quality of the fish to be very fresh as is the case at Mitzi's. I felt the bean sauce was a little on the sweet side but at $13 for one half of a fish head there really is little to complain about. 4/5
Yam ring $16
The problems I always have with yam ring is that most places don't give you enough sauce! When you divide up the yam into bite sized pieces, it would be nice to have a bit of sauce to moisten the otherwise dry yam paste. It's the same here at Mitzi! It's ok if you really need to have Yam Ring, but I think it would be wiser to save your calories for some of their other more unique Cantonese dishes! 3.5/5
Mr Chan Pak Hoi "Har Zai" 虾子
The food here is old school, cheap and good and you will be able to find some of those dishes which you had eaten in the past which are not commonly served at Cze Char places. I was a little disappointed with the lack of Wok Hei in both my fishhead bee hoon and hor fun which I ordered on the two separate occasions. I can't figure out why. Seeing Mr Chan behind the wok with intermittent bursts of naked flame and with 64 years of wokking experience (he started at 12) one would expect the hor fun to be bursting with that elusive wok hei fragrance!
Blk 335, Smith Street Food Centre
(Closed on Mondays)
Tickets for Operation Durian Mobilization 2014 are now on sale! This year's mobilization will be a Mao Shan Wang feast! So gather the family and friends, bring your picnic gear and come and "Jia Liu Lian!" (Eat Durian)
Tickets are priced at $38 and are available at: http://www.kindness.sg/durianmob/. This year's beneficiary will be The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.
Venue: Telok Ayer Green CC @Hong Lim Park
Date: 27 July 2014
Time: 6.30pm to 9.30pm
Price: $38 per pax
Pls note that we are only providing the durians, so you need to bring your own mats, newspaper, chairs, picnic tables, wet wipes, drinks etc!
Hiyashi Chawanmushi with Taraba, Ikura and Junsai
I will come straight to the point on this one. I had a great dining experience at Ki Sho because of three things. 1. Chef Hiro is very likeable, speaks good English and has that rare ability to put everyone at ease during the dinner service. 2. The food here is excellent and all the ingredients are meticulously sourced and presented. 3. I love the location of the restaurant which is set in an old heritage bungalow with its own car parking lots.
Ki Sho is not a sushi bar. So you can't come here and eat whatever you want. Ki Sho serves omakase which means that you eat whatever the Chef wants. Of course, if you have dietary restrictions, Chef will be able to modify the menu to suit your needs. I like omakase courses because I don't have to bother about what to order. All I needed to do is to choose between the 6 course Aoi menu ($300++) or the 9 course Kai menu ($450++. The dishes here are part of the Aoi menu.
Summer Vegetables with Sayori, Tsubugai, Hotate, Mirugai, Akagai and Seabream Roe
We did get off to a slow start though. The starter of hiyashi (chilled) chawanmushi was pedestrian but things really got exciting with the second course of summer vegetables with assorted raw seafood which is served with a dressing made from seabream roe and raw egg. The combination of the mildly spicy seabream roe and the creaminess of the raw egg served as an excellent dressing. It had just the right amount of acidity to balance the richness of the egg. For those of you who are adverse to eating raw egg yolk, I must assure you that these Japanese Organic Eggs which Chef imports directly from Japan are nothing like the raw eggs that we get locally. They don't have that "yolky" flavour which sometimes make you nauseous. Instead, it lends a rich, buttery creaminess to the dish much like a hollandaise sauce.
Hokkaido Uni and Caviar
The Hokkaido uni season has just started and that usually means that Chef Hiro will bring in fresh whole murasaki uni, cut off the top and serve it with vinegar jelly, edamame, sweet corn and caviar. Unfortunately for us, the current batch of uni were a little small, so the dish was served on fresh wasabi leaves instead. Our instructions were to make sure that every scoop was to contain one of each item so that there is a good balance sweetness of the uni and sweetcorn, saltiness of the caviar, tartness of the vinegar and bitterness of the wasabi leaf. You really can't go wrong with this dish as long as the uni is good!
Seasonal Sashimi Platter
Our sashimi platter might look like something that is served at most sushi bars, but Chef had a little surprise item in the form of a piece of anago which has been char grilled directly on binchotan (I mean on as in directly on the charcoal). Anago (Sea eel) is usually braised in soy sauce and I never fail to order a piece whenever I am eating sushi. This smokey little slice of anago with a dusting of charcoal ash really changed my perception of the fish. The little binchotan stove, filled with charcoal that can cost up to $20 per stick was to become the highlight of the evening.
Grilled Wakayama Ayu
The grilled ayu did not quite agree with me. I felt that it was a little too dry and the tatezu (herb vinegar) which was supposed to be the traditional dip for ayu was just a little too harsh. That is a shame because I usually enjoy this sweet river fish whose fine, sweet flesh is eaten together with its liver which gives it a tinge of bitterness.
Grilled A5 Saga Wagyu (Gunma prefecture)
The grilled Saga Wagyu on the other hand, was quite a revelation. I have eaten Wagyu on numerous occasions but this was the first time I have come across Wagyu that is slow cooked over a charcoal fire for an hour! Chef Hiro tells me that they start cooking the beef at the beginning of the meal. The beef is given a quick sear over hot binchotan for a short time and then taken off the fire to cool. They continue to do this for an hour till the meat develops a deliciously smokey crust while the inside is still rare but the fat has reached the point where it is just starting to melt. Because of the long cooking process, a lot of the meat juices has evaporated which intensifies the flavour of the remaining meat. It was one of my best beef moments! My only complain is that the serving is so tiny! We were only given 30g of beef which equates to about the size of a mahjong tile and this one mouthful was sliced into 3 pieces!
Chef Hiro making the Otoro roll
The highlight of the evening has to be the grilled otoro roll. He has been making this throughout the night for the other guests and we have been eagerly waiting our turn. Chef tells me that he came up with the dish because the belly part of the tuna is quite sinewy and when served as sushi, the tough membrane sometimes get stuck in between the teeth. So instead, he slices it very thin and gives it a quick broil over hot charcoal just to melt the fats a little, then roll it around and nugget of rice with a touch of wasabi. You really don't need me to tell you that it was an extremely enjoyable mouthful of sushi!
Salted Egg chopped tuna gunkan sushi
Great things happen during omakase meals when you are able to build rapport with the Chef. After a few drinks and unbridled affirmation for his dishes, Chef was more than happy to throw in a few extra surprises. One of this was a gunkan sushi made with salted egg and chopped tuna. The salted egg idea was borrowed from our local salted egg. However, Chef Hiro makes his own salted eggs by cooking the yolk of his Japanese organic eggs until they have just congealed and then curing them in salt. What results is a rich, savoury and salty topping which he serves which scrapings from the bones of the tuna!
Wagyu roll with Uni
Chef continued the same theme of combining egg with meat with our final sushi by wrapping a nugget of rice with lightly grilled Wagyu and then topping with a generous mound of uni. These are two of my most favorite ingredients! It made me very happy!
Japanese strawberry, Matcha Chocolate, Hojicha Monaka Warabimochi
Our final surprise of the evening came in the form of a green tea chocolate which was made by chef from white chocolate and matcha. It was velvety smooth like most of his other dishes, we were left wanting just a bit more.
There are many fine Japanese restaurants in Singapore. What sets Ki-sho apart is its setting in a heritage bungalow which gives it that unique exclusivity which is hard to find in Singapore. The sushi bar setting may be a little too intimate for some. There is space for only about 10 persons and there is no background music. So it's just you, the chef and the food. I like it because of its intimacy but Rockett girl would have preferred something a little less intimidating. The food is very good and Chef really takes care of all the small details as you would expect of a meal in this price range. It's one of these meals that I will be able to recall fondly for a long time. 4.5/5
29 Scotts Road
Open for Dinner
Closed on Sun
Thanks to Ki-sho for hosting our dinner
Kaya Toast $1.40 (Super Crispy $1.80), Kopi $1.20, Teh 1.20
Tong Ah was quite arguably the most iconic Kopitiam in Singapore. Since 1939, their coffeshop which was located at the junction of Teck Lim and Keong Saik road was the place to drink a cup of kopi, munch on super crispy toast and enjoy a 270° view of time slowly ticking by. Unfortunately, like a lot of local establishments, that super premium location has now been taken over by some upmarket eating establishment. Thankfully, Tong Ah managed to relocate just across the street.
The iconic building which used to be Tong Ah coffeeshop
However, Tong Ah was not forced to move because of an increase in rental like most other eateries. They actually owned the shop space. Or at least, the family owned the shop space and when someone came along and offered a princely sum for it, all the family members wanted to cash in on their share. The shop was thus sold but fortunately the business was left to Ah Wee who had been running the coffeeshop for years.
The crispy toast at Tong Ah gets my award for "Most Crispy Kaya Toast in Singapore". This is a special order item and if you want to try it, you need to ask for "Super crispy toast". The normal kaya toast is pretty much the same as everywhere else. But when you ask for the super crispy version, the bread undergoes three toastings and in between each toasting, the blackened, charred surface is scraped off with the lid from a can of condensed milk. You can just imagine that by the third toasting, the bread has completely lost its moisture and has turned into a light and crumbly wafer for the homemade kaya which I am told is cooked over a slow fire for 10 hours. 4.5/5
Aside from the traditional kopi which you can order with butter, the tea here is also very fragrant. Ah Wee has been buying his Sri Lankan tea from the same supplier for decades and he makes a special effort to age the tea for a further 9 months to develop a smooth and deep flavour.
It is unfortunate that there is now only about two or three tables outside the coffeeshop where you can slowly sip your kopi and munch on kaya toast. The rest of the seats are located inside the shop which has the advantage of having more seats and air conditioning but lacks the character of the old place. In case you are not aware, Tong Ah also serves quite decent Cze Char dishes which they have been doing even before they moved to the current location.
Here are a few samples of what we tasted:
Scallop Rolls $15
The scallop rolls were thought up by the Cze Char chef and are quite unique. Scallops are first rolled in vietnamese rice paper together with pork floss, veggies and then deep fried. Then it is further wrapped in a thin egg skin moisten with mayonnaise. It might not be anything to look at but it turned out to be quite a tasty little snack! 4.25/5
Fragrant Chicken $10
Another unique dish is the fragrant chicken which heralds its own arrival with a smokey, pungent aroma wafting out of the kitchen. Our kakis were all coughing away wondering why they were frying sambal chilli during the lunch service! The caramelized spicy sauce really does pack quite a punch and provides an interesting contrast to the freshly fried crispy chicken. Ah Wee tells me that the sauce is made up of a melange of 15 spices and is influenced by Indonesian style cooking. 4/5
Coffee Ribs $10
Being a kopi place, I had expected the coffee ribs to be made of the same beans that they use to make their famous kopi. But this was not the case. Instead the coffee sauce is made from instant coffee essence which is very nicely balanced to give the ribs a nice flavour. A lot of places pre-fry their meat first in order to save time, but I am glad that they prepare their dishes here fresh, such that the pork ribs are nice and juicy with a good, springy bite. 4.25/5
Assam Fish (whole fish $35)
You can order both Assam fish head or whole fish here. Our grouper was very fresh that day but I felt the sauce lacks enough umami to balance the spicy, tangy flavours. 3.5/5
Ah Wee, Fourth Generation Kopi Barista
It's sad that Tong Ah is no longer at the iconic building which had always reminded me of a mini "New York Times Square". However, it is good to know that the 75 year old institution is still around and the kopi and kaya toast is still great. It is one of the few places I know of where you can eat Cze Char and have with really good kopi and kaya toast for desert!
Tong Ah Eating House
35 Keong Saik Road
11am to 2.30pm,
5pm to 10pm
Alt Wed off