Text and images by KF Seetoh @ Makansutra
I was hovering around the Clementi area because a well intentioned soul suggested I try an eatery there for a potential Makansutra rating. Well, the kindest response I have to that meal is – I rather donate that $60 I spent to Mr Koh Seng Choon’s efforts at skilling the disabled in achieving publicly recognised status as being trained hawker food and service professionals in his Dignity Kitchen in Kaki Bukit. And I will, as penance for not doing more for the intellectually challenged. But on my way out of the sad eatery that evening, I came across a loud signboard that hid a very seasoned coffeeshop cze cha stall at another corner block in that Clementi vicinity facing a huge carpark. If their business was good, perhaps it was due to the convenience and location, or so I thought.
They were closing for the night but one item in the cheerful picture menu signboard caught my eye – Fried Duck Roll, a tempura chunk of stuffed boneless duck. I was back for it three weeks later. Three items on the menu had the three thumbs up signature icon and is the stall’s “three treasures”. Firstly, was the pig stomach soup ($10). I did not mind an umami and peppery soup to kick the evening off but the soup came tamer yet was laden with restaurant standard ingredients instead of the usual pig stomach and mushrooms. It had dried pig tendons, soft stewed chicken claws, pork ribs, mushrooms and pig stomach slices and it came gently peppery and in an opague, slow boiled broth. I pressed the “like” button in my head.
Then came the second signature – braised pork ribs ($12). The meat was fork tender soft and it took on the rich warm colour of the thick red-brown sauce – neither sour, sweet, spicy nor bland, just mild bits of everything. Frankly, it did not fail me but it looked better than it tasted. Next, that Fried Duck Roll (from $8). Drumroll please… One nib in and I realised there was a sifu in the kitchen, not just some nicely paid Malaysian cze cha whiz kid who once learnt from other stall chefs. The whole roll had a layer of duck skin and meat outside, and it was stuffed with prawns, coriander, mushrooms, minced “five flower pork” (the type used for good char siew) and deep fried in a batter that was still crispy and loose, even after 30 minutes into the meal. There was no heavy gaminess of the duck and the minced meat stuffing gave it a nice body of texture with garden accents from the coriander and a crunch from the prawns. These things are not easy to assemble let alone inside a de-boned piece of duck. I clicked the “like” button twice. It would have been 3 times, if only they offered something other than the mayonnaise dip it came with. Sambal, sweet kicap, spicy plum sauce or even a wasabi mayonnaise would do the trick, in my opinion.
I had a peep at the full menu and realised they offer some Cantonese restaurant class dishes. I had to chat with the boss Mr Koh Hui Yong. He toiled, disciple style “sometimes the humiliation was unbearable” he says, under many masters but the most illustrious of the lot was the late Mr Tham Yu Kai, the leader of the Four Heavenly Kings of food in Singapore. “The best lesson Mr Tham taught me was perserverence, honesty and sincerity. Don’t cheat customers. No matter how well you present it, no one will come back if the food is lousy.” His menu, and he has a bag of off-menu-item tricks up his sleeve, was intensely vast and not just of the usual garden variety dishes like fried hor fun, black pepper meats or hot plate tofu. He included rare items like nam yu pork, lotus leaf pork ribs, Maggi sauce chicken wings and would you believe.. Singapore Beehoon too…
When asked about continuity, Mr Koh, like many in the industry cites manpower problems. “ If I had to, I will hire, train and guide someone who’s not so bright but honest and sincere about the craft” adding, “ they smart alecks always tend to strike out on their own the second they master three dishes.”.
Well, three ain’t good enough for me and I will be back for the rest real soon.
Hoy Yong Seafood Restaurant Blk 352, Clementi Ave 2, #01-153 Tel: 67782223 5.30pm-10.30pm daily