Monday, January 5, 2009

Cafe de Hong Kong, Singapore

Christmas Day dinner with family

Christmas Isn’t Christmas
'till it happens in your heart,
Somewhere deep inside you
Is where Christmas really starts;

So give your heart to Jesus,
you'll discover when you do
That it’s Christmas
Really Christmas for you.

We performed this Christmas story when both Kin and I were in University...and hold the musical by Jimmy & Carol Owns - The Glory of Christmas dear to our hearts. Christmas is a special time, and should not only be celebrated at the end of the year, but everyday. But each year, the extended family comprising of my sister, her husband, children and their significant others gather for a Christmas dinner with us.

This year, we decided to hold it in Cafe de Hong Kong...a small cafe hidden in Balestier Road, which came highly recommended by Champagne and Ijeff.

The owner - Francis was on hand to recommend dishes, and on his recommendation, we started with the Kurobuta pork chops.

As the first dish, this turned out to be tasty, but we found the pork chops - kurobuta no less, to be a bit tough, and chewy. I had expected the pork to be tender, butter like, but not so. Perhaps it is the origin of the pork, though kurobuta is Taiwanese in origin. At least they did not over-use the tenderiser. I have eaten Kurobuta from Japan (in Japan) and from the US (Snake River Farm) and Australia, bu this is the first time I have sampled Taiwanese Kurobuta.

The marinate was very nice, though, and the way it was pan fried was done excellently. Bits were lightly charred as can be seen in the picture. The toughness still bothered me, though.

We had the exotic crocodile palm.

This was an interesting dish. I cannot imagine how much time and gentle simmering it must have taken to make what I would imagine to be a tough, scaly crocodile palm to be tender, soft, jelly like consistency served before us. The palm was complete with claws...I looked up croc anatomy, and found that only 3 of the 4 digits feature horny claws. Francis told me the palm was about 500g, but did not know how large the crocodile was. I imagine it to be quite large to yield a palm weighing half a kilo.

The scally bits you can see in the picture above turned out to be jelly like, soft, and tender. The collagen, sticky parts tasted quite like the collagen in a turtle as found in braised turtle, and the meaty bits reminded me of braised pork, though the taste of the meat was still consistent with braised turtle.

The claw and um...finger, I guess that's what you'd call it....looked a bit scary...reminding one of a dragon's claw. I had expected it to have a strong gamey taste, but it tasted like chicken feet. Chock full of collagen, jelly like, super tender, but with a sticky, consistency, it had surprising little taste of its own, and absorbed the flavours of the gravy. I liked it quite a lot. Quite sublime.

The home made tofu with spinach and scallops was next.

This was a great dish. The tofu was very fragrant, very soft inside and had a somewhat more springy, almost crispy exterior. But the exterior was so tender, it almost spontaneously disintegrate and spill forth the wonderful tofu contents...Topped with a thin layer of spinach, the tofu was excellent. The scallops provided good support in complementing the taste. It was served in a thick gravy made from thickened superior stock, and just rightly blanched brocolli which were still crunchy and full of brocolli flavour (which I love!!).

Francis also recommended the back of the crocodile...this was the part where horn like protrusions appear making the crocodile look menacing.

This too, was rendered by the cooking method into a mass of collagen. Interestingly this collagen also took on the character of the thick, rich sauce, and had the consistency and texture of sea cucumber. Indeed the taste was also similar to sea cucumber.

A closer look at the horn like protrusion. Observe the jelly like, almost pure collagen texture.

The crispy chicken was highly recommended.

A one full day advanced booking is required. And this chicken was worthy of the wait. The skin was crisp. Very crispy. As an aside, interestingly an study done by Heston Blumenthal, the chef and owner of the 3 Star Michelin restaurant in UK - The Fat Duck, concludes that crispiness of food can be measured, and the measurement is the sound the food makes as one bites into it. The surface breaking, the thousands of micro breaks - the number, frequency, and intensity of the surface breaking is transmitted directly through the jaw to the ear tells us the piece of food is crispy. Fascinating.

Anyway, this chicken skin remained super crispy, while the meat was juicy, soft and tender. I suspect the usual method of brining, soaking, blanching, drying, slow cooking of the meat at low temperatures (possibly using a sous vide method), and deep frying the final product produced chicken that was soft, tender, juicy on the inside and crisp on the outside. Certainly one of the best roast chickens I have eaten, and reminded me of a place in PJ which was owned by a friend of my father in law, who made these on demand each time we visited.

I tasted a hint of taujoo which was possibly used in the seasoning. This was first class crispy chicken. Superb!

Fortune rolls were next.

This was another winner. Prawns and seafood were wrapped in what I think is a kind of vermicelli - made from tapioca so I was told, and deep fried. A dash of flying fish roe added some richness and colour to this magnificent dish. Very tasty. The seafood were very fresh, crunchy.

We also had French Beans...stir fried with minced meat.

Powerful wok hei. Observe parts of the french beans are charred...but the entire dish was expertly cooked...very well done. Tasty, sufficient salt, not overpowering.

This was a great meal, worthy of a good Christmas celebration. We promised ourselves that we will return to sample the baked pork rice, the black bean hor fun and other dishes as recommended by ijeff. See also ieat's account of the restaurant here.

Cafe De HongKong 新天地小厨/茶餐厅
586 Balestier Road
#01-01 Eastpac Building
Tel: 62553865
Contact: Francis Mak

We went back for a re-visit on Sat 3rd Jan. We tried the individual dishes highly recommended by the ieaters.

Seafood fried rice was the first:

This is excellent fried rice. Only egg whites are used. Ingredients like seafood are diced, and the entire mixture fried in a super hot wok. I can discern the wok hei, and parts of the rice and ingredients slightly charred...adding to the character. Very good and a huge thumbs up from the whole family.

Next was brocolli with scallops.

I love brocolli. Especially lightly blanched, just dente...and with some rich seafood stock poured over. This is enough for me. But Francis had the dish elaborated with fresh, succulent, sweet scallops. Superior!

We also ordered the beef hor fun.

Is this a rival to my gold standard - Prince's superior beef hor fun? Will it give it a run for its money? Well, firstly the gravy is different. While Prince's was beefy, savoury. Cafe de Hong Kong's version was based on black bean. It was lighter, but complements well the hor fun. While Prince's hor fun was fried till golden brown, with smoky flavours and huge wok hei, Francis rendered the hor fun more light, less wok hei, but still present in spades. The beef was where they depart...Prince uses airflown USDA Prime beef...and it showed. The beef was supremely tender, rich tasting. I don't know what beef Cafe de Hong Kong uses, but it was rather less tender, more chewy. But not necessarily in a bad was tasty in its own right. Given a choice, and limited calories to imbibe, I would rather eat Prince's. But Cafe de Hong Kong is also very good, and far above the normal standards achieved by Cze Char stores the island over.

Oh, we also had the baked pork chop rice.

This was cooked rice, possibly first fried, toped with a rather large slice of deep fried, breaded pork chop then baked in a jacket of cheese and tomato. A typical Macau dish...indeed I had a quite special baked rice in Macau Restaurant in Hong Kong recently.

The tomato was rather strong in this version. And the cheese a bit mild. The pork chop was very tender. Compared to Macau, the rice in Hong Kong was more dry, and flavourful. The pork chop was neck to neck. I think the HK version was also dryer and crispier, but the SG version was more juicy. Different styles. Different strokes for different folks. For me, I am undecided which is better...I guess some days I would prefer Macau and some days I would prefer Francis'.

So final conclusions? Cafe de Hong Kong is an excellent little restaurant. Lovely, family run, great service. And food which is home cooked (except for the crocodile bit), honest, homely. Very good cooking. I will definitely make many returns with family and friends.
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