Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Keng Eng Kee Seafood – A Promising Start

Walked past Keng Eng Kee Restaurant for years and never once had the urge to dine there. Perhaps I was confused by what I saw: an air-con room without an attached kitchen and a cze char stall a few meters away that I much later learned were, in fact, two parts of a single restaurant.

Having said that, my foodie friends were talking about this restaurant of late, and I had read some favorable reviews of it on the Net; so I decided to give it a go. The prices on the menu shocked me in a very pleasant way. They were cheap, and cost the same if you had dined in the air-con room (so I was told) -- if you could get a table there.

The first dish that arrived at our table was, in fact, the first photo to catch my eye on the menu. Pearl Roll or明珠卷 in Chinese, looked good and sounded poetic. Deep-fried bean curd skin with salted egg yolk, ham and mushroom, the dish was visually attractive and I liked the crispy skin. The inclusion of ham was odd though, and didn't help the taste much, but it made a nice starter, and, at least, was eye candy.

For those who long for the taste of home cooking, the second dish was it -- a very straightforward version of sweet & sour pork! Unfussy, uncomplicated, and easy to replicate, just like mum’s cooking. The only nitpick I had with the dish was that its batter was a bit too soggy for my taste, but hey, not all mothers cook like a chef.

The next dish was by far the one I enjoyed most. Cuttlefish Kang Kong doesn't require much cooking, but the sweet sauce is key. The sauce served here was delicious but it tasted familiar. A final drop of white wine before leaving the kitchen would have made it perfect. However, I noticed another version of this dish featured in the post of one of our leading food bloggers, but his raving review of the dish obviously differs from mine. Do I detect a double standard here? Hmmmmm…..

The next dish got me thinking: Maybe it's the quality of pork available, but is getting a good Claypot Liver in Sg as difficult as looking for an attractive guy who isn't gay? One of the best efforts I’ve tasted thus far belonged to Manhill Restaurant. I was told the chef at Keng Eng Kee was a lad of 30 or so, and that he took pains to work at his wok technique. His mastery of heat control showed in the perfect ‘doneness’ of the liver. However, the liver slices were insufficiently uniform and were definitely too thin such that they lacked bite. I only wished the chef could have lavished as much time and effort on the knife as he did on the wok. It would have made him more rounded as a traditional Chinese kitchen master. He should have been more generous with the ginger and Chinese wine too.

The finale was a dish I was so looking forward to – Moonlight Hor Fun or 月光河粉. To begin with it was a dish that never fails to receive raves on the Net, and deservedly so. Secondly I had been on the hunt for a truly good specimen of it ever since the famous stall at Zion Food Center closed. Maybe I had set my hopes too high, but what I was served was utterly disappointing. The dish was lukewarm, with a raw egg nestled in the middle of hor fun that lacked any wok hei – and this from a chef who was known to be good at ‘throwing smoke’. The lack of heat in the dish actually raised the specter of Salmonella in my mind as I tossed the noodles.

Keng Eng Kee is a restaurant I would gladly return to, but it has its its rough edges, some glaringly so. The chef has much of his career ahead of him, and would do well to take all the accolades hurled his way, in stride. He obviously has a lot to learn, but his heart, as far as cooking is concerned, is in the right place.  

Keng Eng Kee Seafood
Blk 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Telephone: 6272 1038