With all this talk about the demise of our hawker culture, it is refreshing to meet some Gen Yers who are doing an excellent job with our local cuisine.
Meet Josh and Deven, the dynamic duo who runs Diamond Kitchen. Well, there is also the chef who is responsible for the food. But I didn’t get to meet him cos he is a bit shy …… and “dynamic trio” just doesn’t sound as nice as “dynamic duo”…….. but I digress….
Now, Josh is the guy with the money, (he deals with diamonds, hence the name of the restaurant) and Deven is the guy who works his butt off running the place. Deven is one Gen Yer who has given me hope for the future of local cuisine. He started working in restaurants in his early teens till he finished his biotechnology course at the polytechnic. After a brief stint in the lab, he gave up playing with test tubes to pursue his real passion in food. Fortunately, unlike a lot of Gen Yers these days, his passion is in local food!
It is guys like Devan who make a big difference between a calafare Cze Char and one which is a real Cze Char. This guy is obsessed. So obsessed that he personally goes to Senoko Fishery Port in the middle of the night three times a week to buy seafood for the restaurant. So obsessed that he even takes a boat twice a week to an off-shore kelong near pulau ubin to buy the seabass which he then personally delivers live to the restaurant in his own van!
I have been very reticent about ordering Seabass in recent years as I have come across far too many farmed ones which have a muddy taste and mushy texture. The steamed seabass here has completely restored my faith in this local fish. When they are farmed in the sea where the fish has the opportunity to swim against the currents, the flesh takes on that bouncy texture which is what we Chinese prize in steamed fish. The flesh has a nice clean taste and at $40/kg for live fish it is excellent value compared to live Red Garoupa. I really salute Devan for putting in the effort and personally going to the Kelong to procure the fish himself! 4.25/5
Lala (clams) beehoon and Champagne pork ribs are two of their signature dishes and they are both excellent. The stock used to make the bee hoon is very special. Everyday, they will steam 10kg of clams just to collect their natural juices which is used exclusively to cook the beehoon. The other secret is their generous use of Jing Hua ham to cook their main stock. I was told that the whole leg is cooked in the stock over period of a few days in order to fully extract all the umami for the stock! What results is a bee hoon dish whose stock is light on the palate but brimming with natural umami. I would have liked it more if the flavours were more concentrated but the light handed approach preserves much of the natural flavours of the mollusk. 4.25/5
With the Champagne pork ribs, it’s all about the texture. In fact, the “Champagne” part is really just clever marketing. This dish started out in the good old days as “7 Up Pork Ribs” where the strips of pork loin are marinated in 7 Up to give it that bouncy, tender texture. Then someone cleverly put in a splash of champagne to increase its marketability and value. Having said that, the Champagne Pork Ribs were well executed. The meat is delightfully tender but still retains enough bite so that you don’t mistake it for tofu and the sweetish crust is nicely flavoured. It’s something I can finish a whole plate of by myself. 4.5/5
Salted fish is packed with umami but of late we have not used it as much because of health concerns. So much so that when you get to eat it at a restaurant, everyone seems to rave about it! I guess it is good that it is restricted to those occasions when you eat out so that you don’t get to eat too much of it. The wonderful flavour of salted fish can be easily exploited by Chefs and this dish of Sweet Potato leaves with salted fish is a prime example. The chef had apparently come up with the dish himself and it is delicious! 4.5/5
Diamond Kitchen is not a place that you would go specially for crabs, unlike say Jumbo or No Signboard. But they do serve it. One of the flavours which are very popular in Malaysia is Gan Xiang which I has a flavour which I always felt tasted like “Curry Chicken Twistees”. The dominant flavour is that of a fragrant Colonial style curry powder. The version at Diamond Kitchen is not bad although I have tasted better ones in Malaysia. Still, it’s worth a try if you are looking for something different. 4.25/5
My personal preference for Salted Egg Sotong is fresh slices of sotong which is covered with a thin crust of salted egg sauce such that the sauce doesn’t over power the sotong and you can still taste the natural flavours of the cephalopod. In Singapore, I think most people just like the salted egg sauce and so a lot of Cze Char places just drown in the Sotong with the sauce. Sometimes I feel that the sotong just serves as a vehicle for the thick batter and sauce. I think that is the same here. The sotong is covered with a thick coating of batter and salted egg sauce and that is what you taste. The good thing is that they managed to do it such that it is not overly oleaginous. Good for those who just want the salted egg sauce to eat with rice! 4/5
Diamond Kitchen falls somewhere between a Cze Char and a Chinese Restaurant in terms of environment as well as pricing. The white linen tablecloths and “Diamond” name may give some the impression that it is expensive, but when compared to Chinese restaurants, the prices are actually quite reasonable. There is no argument about the quality of the food. Deven, the restaurant manager is passionate about his produce and makes sure that he gets only the good stuff. Good to see a Cze Char run by Gen Yers who are giving the old boys a real run for the money.