We are always on the lookout for unique eats in Singapore. If you walk into a typical seafood restaurant, you usually find the samo samo.
Steamed fish: Teochew or Cantonese style. Sri Lankan Crabs: chilli, black pepper or salted egg?
The thing that will differentiate one restaurant from the other in this case would be the quality of the seafood, the price and how well executed their dishes are. But every now and again, we do chance upon a restaurant owner who is willing to experiment and push the boundaries and that gets my attention. Novelty is always good, ceteris paribus.
Famous Kitchen is run by a brother and sister team; Jeffrey and Jenny. Jeffrey had spent a number of years and China and tries to infuse his dishes with tastes that he has picked up in his travels across China. One of the dishes that he had come up with is the salted vegetable fish which is based on the Sze Chuan steamed chilli fish but with the chillies taken out to make it more acceptable to the local palate. This dish would go very well with a nice big bowl of plain Teochew porridge! The piquant sauce is a complex melange of flavours and textures which is well balanced and complements the fish quite well. We opted for the Turbot fish that day as it was on special but we found that the flesh was just a tad too firm for this sauce. This dish is normally served with grouper whose tender, flaky flesh would have been better with the sauce. 4.25/5
The dish that really blew us away were the salt baked flower crabs. Now, I guess there is nothing novel about salt baked crabs, but it was the way that managed to capture the essence of the crab that was so, so good. They first fry a bit of sea salt in a special wok that is reserved only for this dish. They then add some stock and place the crabs in the wok, cover with a lid and turn up the heat such that the wok gets fiery hot. The crabs are stirred every now and again and cooked till the sauce is completely dried. What is left is an uber umami crustacean flavour with a smokey aroma coating the shells of the crabs which you will happily lick off to get to the tender sweet flesh underneath. 4.5/5
(Do note that they import their crabs live from Indonesia and they arrive every Monday and Friday. So these are the best days to eat there if you are going specifically for this dish! Their crabs often sell out so do call in advance to reserve.)
In order to enjoy the Crystal Chicken, you need to first alter your perception of the dish. This is not your typical white poached chicken that you get at the chicken rice stall. It may look like it but it is quite a different dish altogether. Jeffrey tells me that this dish is quite commonly found in Swatow. It is served steaming hot with a special sauce that can best be described as “chickeny”. The flesh is unlike the tender, voluptuous meat that we find at the chicken rice stall. Instead, it is intentionally done in such a way that there is a bit of a chew to it which is reminiscent of the Kampung chicken in the good old days. The sauce is very unique as they specially bring in ingredients from China just to make it, but the chicken will need a bit of getting used to. Might be good for you if you had tasted this dish in Swatow and are looking for that particular flavour. 4/5
“World Best” is the term coined for their fried kway teow with chye poh (preserved radishes) and dark sweet sauce. It was coined by one of their regular customers and is actually an off menu item which is ordered only by customers in the know. The kway teow is very well fried and has that wok hei flavour while still maintaining its slippery, chewy texture. Now you also “in the know”! 4.5/5
Jeffrey imports his dai lok meen (thick noodles) daily from KL specially for his KL Hokkien mee which should have been better. The noodles that day was just a little flaccid and pastey, lacking that lively chew. Jeffrey told me that the noodles have been this way for a few days, so hopefully it will improve when he manages to sort things out with his supplier. The flavour is otherwise very good and they don’t hold back on the pork lard! 3.75/5
Another signature dish at the restaurant is the prawn paste kangkong which is also quite novel though I felt that the prawn paste flavour was a tad too strong and it just dominated the dish with impunity. The kangkong could also do with a bit more wok hei. 3.5/5 The chye poh tofu on the other hand was expertly done and the minced meat sauce was well balanced and mildly moreish. 4.25/5
It turned out that I have actually met Jeffrey and Jenny before when I blogged about them way back in 2008 when I visited their restaurant which was then known as Changi Teochew Kitchen. Since then, they had moved twice before settling in the current location for the past few years.
The restaurant is located at the ground floor of a condominium just opposite Nee Soon Camp and it is located just beside a jungle, so it has a bit of that quiet kampong feel. There is valet parking available in the evenings and it’s usually quiet during lunch so it is a good place to bring guests. The prices are not exactly cheap but they are of good quality. Sri Lanka Crabs are $68/kg but they are quite large and definitely Sri Lankan (at least on the day I visited) Live fish is around $90-$120/kg.
The salt baked crabs were excellent and a must try and the salted vegetable fish is also a refreshing change from the usual Cantonese or Teochew steam fish. Don’t forget to order the “World Best” when you are there!
These turbot, my god! $90 a kilo!!!! Here in HK, I buy at the market, live, for HK$60-80 each about half kilo! That’s SGD$10-14 for half kilo. If you eat at the restaurant, it is always right at the top of the special price menu! Some will be as low as HK$88 to at most $138 each, steamed HK style.