Thursday, January 8, 2009

Singapura Restaurant, Singapore

with Larry, Prof Horolographer, Dr. Mycroft and SJX

My friend Larry is a foodie with few parallels. In the years that I have shared a meal with him...each has been always a wonder, an entertainment of the highest order, with great food as the standard bearer. When he suggested Singapura Restaurant, I thought it was going to be possibly local malay cuisine. A quick google and up came KF Seetoh's pronouncement that the restaurant was very good, and their cold crabs was die die must try. Housed in a somewhat hidden enclave behind Sim Lim Square, the ground floor of the restaurant is merely a lobby...with a display table set in one corner, and a staircase leading upstairs. As I ascended the stairs, my eye caught on a portrait of Anthony Bordain and the owners occupying a place of pride amongst other celebrity guests. Interesting, methot.

We were warmly greeted by the owner: Valerie Tang. The restaurant was one of two started by her father - the late Mr. Tang Eng Seng, who claimed to have invented the method of preparing the cold crabs. Mr. Tang's original restaurant - Li Do, is still in operation. As he had two children, he started Singapura which was willed to Valerie, and Li Do which was handed to his son.

The crab looked beautiful indeed. The colour was resplendent. Glowing even. Each shell was full of roe, to the delight of Mycroft...

And came with huge pincers, much to the delight of moi...ahem. The shell was cold to the touch. I imagined it to have been either steamed or boiled...probably steamed, possibly with some herbs, then chilled before being served. But somewhere in there must be one or two secret steps.

At first touch, the cold crabs felt a bit strange. But once in the mouth, all strangeness disappeared. The roe was heavenly - aromatic, rich. Wonderful. The meat was tender...not flakey, it still retained some of the elasticity which suggested its freshness. Very nice. The oily mouthfeel that one gets with cooked crabs like chilli crabs or pepper crabs was mostly absent. In its place, a sweet and savoury, somewhat astringent meat.

I picked a huge pincer...the thick, hard shell easily gave way to yield a beautiful piece of pincer meat. The meat was succulent, sweet. Dipped into the special chilli sauce - piquant, spicy, pungent. The chilli sauce is something special and provided added firepower to enhance the crab meat.

We also ordered some har cheong kai.

The prawn paste encrusted pieces of juicy chicken was also very good. but excellent har cheong kai is de rigeur in a Cze Char stall or restaurant in Singapore these days. This was not particularly special, just well executed. I still prefer the har cheong kai in Loy Sum Juan, which to me, provided extra oomph in all departments - more aromatic, more crunchy, more crispy, more juicy meat within.

The prawn roll also the next dish.

This dish is also special. Fresh, succulent, juicy prawns were wrapped in pig's caul, and deep fried till crisp. Regular prawn rolls are just prawns wrapped in bean curd skin and deep fried. While this tasted good, the bean curd skin imparted a flavour of its own, not totally discordant with the prawns. Valerie chosed to use an animal covering...much like sausages made with pig's intestines are more intense in flavour, as the pork within is ably complemented in taste...Here, a pig's caul (as I understand it, this is a membrane that covers an embryo at birth) serves the same purpose. I am tempted to use the word micro-taste as in micro-dynamics in music...small, tiny variations in taste that is sublime and yet at the same time affirmative.

To ensure that the skin is crisp, crunchy, light, pig's caul is cleansed with chinese rice wine to rid it of the smell.I would imagine the astringent quality of the wine would also dry out the caul enabling it to deep fry to a higher level of crisp. This dish was delightful. Everything came together. The fresh, succulent, sweet, "breath of the sea" prawns inside the cocoon of light, crisp cual were a delight.

Next we had braised spare ribs.

Lovingly marinated with honey, cloves, five spice powder, each spare rib was first steamed, then deep fried. The meat was fall off the bone, melt in your mouth kind. The mouth feel and umami was good. Beautiful texture and very tasty indeed.

We also had some Hokkien Mee.

This was fried with thick yellow noodles, into a thick, brown gravy with seafood. Not quite the famous black hokkien mee in KL, but the fragrant gravy, and the fresh seafood was exquisite.

Each strand of noodle was coated with the rich gravy.

But being the gluttons we were, we just have to have the crab bee hoon soup. Larry described it as a piece de resistance. He has always been partial to bee hoon crab, so I expected it to be good. We had interesting experiences with horological genius and guru Philippe Dufour some years ago at Sin Huat in Geylang...chef Danny Lee's crab bee hoon, dry fried instead of soupy...was outstanding and blew our minds - not only because it was caustically expensive (S$700 for 8 diners for a 7 course dinner in a Cze Char stall in Geylang!! we can eat a similar menu at the Ritz Carlton!!), but the taste experience was stupendous.

With this background, we approached Singapura's crab bee hoon soup gingerly. Larry was in all confidence that we would love it.

The dish came in a large claypot, with visible prawns and crab swimming in a yellow, curry like soup. Valerie spent some moments fussing over the presentation.

And first whiff...the fragrance hit the nose. Wonderful. First taste, indeed this was soup what hits the spot! Extraordinary...a very complex taste. Thick, fragrant, rich. Flavourful. Powerful. Coupled with fresh, fresh seafood, and coarse bee hoon. The prawns were crunchy, and still smelled of the sea. Two Thumbs up for Valerie and Larry for the recommendation. What a wonderful way to round up a meal.

But wait, we still had bean pancake is a house speciality.

Rich, smooth red bean paste inside a crisp pancake. Very nice, and rivals some of the better ones in town, but not extraordinarily so.

Overall an excellent restaurant. Service was excellent...Valerie was buzzing around, checking that guests were being served by the waitresses.

We also had Christmas Fruit cake made my Mrs. Horolographer...she is a gifted baker if I ever met one, and this was a great fruit cake.

Blk 9 Selegie Road
#01-31 Selegie House
Tel: 6336 3255
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