Teochew Cuisine Restaurant at Blk 212 Toa Payoh Lorong 8
I just checked and my last published post here is dated 22 March 2014. Oh my. I suppose the reason I’ve not updated this site in almost a year is because, well, I’ve been focusing on photography more generally. That plus the fact that in July 2014 I returned to work at the old haunt resulting in substantially lesser time to update this site. Whatever the reason, a fresh review is long overdue and so here it is.
As I’ve mentioned before, my family is a family of foodies. I use the term “foodie” here not in the sense of wanting to constantly try new places and I certainly do not mean that we are authorities on what (or what not) and where to eat. We aren’t really big on variety – but we aren’t opposed to it either. If we find somewhere we like, you can be pretty damn sure we will be patronizing the place aggressively over the course of several years to come. As such, in order for us to break the established cycle of restaurants, a new place must really come highly recommended from several sources before we give it a try.
One of the benefits from coming from such a “foodie family” is that our friends are often foodies as well. So when one of my dad’s friends highly recommended a Teochew restaurant in the Toa Payoh area, my dad, wife and I went down there on a recce mission. Suffice to say, we felt we found a gem because less than a week later, we invited the entire village down for my uncle’s and brother’s combined birthday celebration. This review is based on that experience.
Teochew Braised Duck
There are a few things to look out for when one patronises a Teochew establishment in Singapore; one of them is the braised duck known as “Lor Ack“. This is essentially duck meat braised in dark soya sauce, Chinese five spice, star anise and cinnamon. There are variations to the basic recipe and sometimes include the addition of cardomom seeds and/or cloves. There is also some argument as to whether one has to use goose or if duck is a suitable replacement. On the last issue, my preference is generally for duck as it is easier and cheaper to source for fatty duck than it is for fatty goose. Also, if not done well, goose tends to be tougher and may also result in a game-y flavour.
Whatever the recipe used, the features of a good braised duck are straightforward: (1) tender, well-sliced meat; and (2) fragrant “loh” or gravy. If you really have a maestro in the kitchen, this will be accompanied by a perfect Teochew style chilli (which for the life of me I cannot pronounce and will not attempt to spell in fear of butchering the language). Getting meat tender is a matter of cooking it for exactly the right amount of time and at the right temperature whereas slicing is a matter of the chef’s technical skill. As for the sauce, you usually get as good as you put in – which means it is an absolute must to use top grade dark soya sauce in making this dish.
On all fronts the Lor Ack at 212 was exceptional. And exceptionally well priced too at $42 for an entire duck.The meat was tender, succulent, well-infused with flavour and perfectly de-boned and sliced. The gravy was more fragrant than it was flavourful – which is really not a bad thing. I’m used to this dish usually hitting heavy on the taste barometer but was pleasantly surprised with the delicacy of this rendition. Verdict? 5/5 Die die must try.
Braised Pork / Lor Bak
This was really a no brainer – if the Lor Ack was good it’s very likely that the braised pork would be equally as good. True to form, it was. The pork belly was perfectly cooked and sliced, having been braised long enough for the dark soy flavours to soak into the meat. This is a perfect combination with the duck and I suggest ordering the two as a platter. I suppose my only minor complaint is that the pork should have been somewhat fattier. Yes, perhaps this is the “healthy” version but there is really no such variation of this dish. If I’m eating pork belly, I’d like to actually see at least a centimeter of fat between the skin and meat. Verdict: 4/5.
Braised Sea Cucumber with Duck Webbing
This is not a dish I’ve tried before – nor is it a typical one I’ve seen in the Teochew restaurants that I’ve managed to visit so far. So far as ingenuity is concerned, top marks have to go to the chef. But creativity is hardly as important as taste and I’m glad to say this dish also came out as one of my favourites. The duck webbing was simply brilliant, although one will have to be careful to sift through the bones when sucking the webbing off the feet. The addition of the sea cucumber braised in the typical scallop / oyster sauce / starch reduction was nice albeit pricey touch – something to add if you want to spoil yourself. Otherwise, just go for the webbing! Verdict: 4/5
Another signature Teochew dish. In my view, it is actually quite easy to assess a good oyster omelette. Execution is, of course, far more difficult and far be it from me to suppose that I can do all the things I look out for. But this is a food review, not a recipe attempt. In my view at least:
(1) the omelette itself has to be crispy on the outside with the edges slightly burnt but the center of the omelette has to be fluffy and cannot be overcooked. I suppose the only way to achieve this is to fry the omelette under a very high heat for precisely the right amount of time;
(2) the right amount of starch has to be used to get that gelatinous texture and taste – and the starch has to be partially seared as well;
(3) the oysters have to be fresh!!!!; and
(4) the chilli has to be perfect.
This version was pretty good insofar as the omelette itself was not overcooked and the chef used just the right amount of starch. However, the edges and top were not crispy enough for my liking and the oysters could have been a tad fresher. That being said, this was a very commendable oyster omelette indeed and better than most I’ve tried. The chilli was also very well done with just the right amount of vinegar added. What sets the standard for me is the rendition at Chui Huay Lim – which by far is the best oyster omelette I’ve had in Singapore. The best I’ve ever had was one prepared by an unmarked roadside stall in Penang. Verdict: 3.5/5
Teochew Style Steamed Pomfret
As you can tell by now, we really went for all the “classic” Teochew dishes (although we did not try the Orh Nee). As it was a special occasion, we went overboard and ordered a 1.8 kg whopper of a pomfret. It was steamed perfectly and the soup was perfect without it being too cloying. The fish was fresh and the meat tender – although I felt we should have perhaps ordered a smaller fish. This one was slightly too meaty for my taste – and for some reason, the fish itself was a little tasteless although the texture was perfect. The broth itself was perfectly balanced and, consistent with the approach to the Lor Ack, was focused more on finesse and fragrance rather than outright taste. I would go so far as to say that there was a level of complexity to the broth! Really good but a little expensive at $80 per kg. Verdict: 4/5
Steamed Cold Crab
To be frank I didn’t try this as I’m quite tired of eating crabs. Those of you who know the family business will know why 😛 But from what I heard and saw, this was pretty good. The roe looked decent but I took a nibble and found it a little hard. I’m not going to rate this dish because I didn’t actually try it.
Despite the photograph, I didn’t actually try the steamboat here – although it will definitely be next on my list as I hear the restaurant is known for its steamboat. The other dishes we tried included the prawns fried with leeks, fried scallops with vegetables and one or two more I can’t recall. They were competent enough but overpriced (at least in my opinion). The pricing was, overall, reasonable if a little strange – ranging from ridiculously cheap to slightly overpriced. All in all, however, this was a very positive experience and the family and I will definitely be back. Definitely for the braised duck, pork and webbing = ) If there are other hidden gems that we discover, I’ll update this post or consider penning a fresh one.
All images captured with the Sony A7s & Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA. All images are and remain my intellectual property and all rights are reserved. The unauthorised reproduction of any material in this post is somewhat frowned upon = )