I am sure that everyone who loves food is familiar with the masterful documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi by David Gelb, where Gelb carefully follows the routine of Jiro Ono, commonly regarded as the best sushi master on the planet. Right before the climax, where Jiro goes on a passionate soliloquy on his love for his craft, his mortality as a chef and his perpetual chase for perfection, he pauses, stares at the camera and simply says, 'I dream of making of sushi.' To dream of food is a indication of love, hard work and devotion; and as one sushi chef in the US said, 'Jiro dreams of sushi, but [I] dream of Amber Heard.' Well, just a few nights ago, I dreamt of Singaporean food.
But here’s the thing, I love Singaporean food. Everyone who has been following Wong Eats Hong Kong knows that I love Singaporean and Malaysian food to a rather frightening degree. I love char kway teow, smoky and hot from the pan, with just a whisper of the ocean from the cockles; I adore prawn mee, where I get to slurp slippery yellow noodles in an umami-rich broth made from prawn heads; and best of all is the mighty nasi lemak, where fragrant coconut rice is married with aromatic curries, the crispiest fried chicken drumsticks known to mankind and a giant heap of pungent sambal. Hell, I even queued six hours in a rowdy, open-air hawker centre just to try Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, the cheapest one-Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. And guess what – even as sweat dripped off my brow and my soles screamed for rest, I enjoyed every second of it. I love Singaporean food so much that one of my filthy dreams is to be abandoned in one of Singapore’s many hawker centres, where I can proceed to gorge myself until my arteries explode. Unfortunately, I am also aware that finding good Singaporean/Malaysian food in Hong Kong is like searching for a needle in a rather large haystack and that the only way I can truly satisfy my craving is to book a plane ticket. However, when I heard that PappaRich, the mighty Malaysian restaurant chain, was opening in Hong Kong, a small flicker of hope rose inside me…
... which was promptly extinguished when the nasi lemak ($72) arrived in front of me. Instead of a beautiful, humble dish, I was presented with rice that was shaped into a cone. As one pointy element was clearly not enough, PappaRich decided to include a conical poppadom as well. It added nothing and was soggy. Similar to sushi, the secret to a great nasi lemak lies in the rice. It should be fluffy and light yet rich with the taste of coconut. Here, because the rice was shaped inside a mould, it was too dense and soggy, and one would struggle to distinguish each individual grain from the rest. It was also overcooked, and save for a faint sigh, there was no hint of the all-important coconut. The rest of the plate fared better. Peanuts and ikan bilis, macabre-looking dried baby anchovies, provided a satisfying crunch and nutty element while the deep-fried drumstick added a touch of luxury but was not deserving of the hefty $35 additional surcharge. The curry chicken had good depth of flavour, providing moisture and a warm, aromatic kick to the dish. Best of the lot was the sambal chilli paste, all spice, pungency and saltiness. It tickled the nose and packed a walloping punch on the palate, demanding to be slathered on everything. Still, this was an underwhelming dish, especially when the price is considered.
Thankfully, the char kway teow ($78) fared much better. Slippery ribbons of rice noodles were tossed in a hot pan with fish cakes, bean sprouts and egg until everything was properly caramelised. It had big hits of soy, salt and fire. Unfortunately, the all-important cockles were missing. This, coupled with sub-optimal prawns, meant that the dish lacked the vital umami punch that really makes the plate sing. Still, with the state of Singaporean food in Hong Kong, this may very well be the best plate of char kway teow on the market at the moment (this realisation made me shed a tear). The pickles and accompanying sauces? Unnecessary and frivolous. Disregard them and dive straight into the noodles.
PappaRich may have slandered the good name of my beloved nasi lemak, but they do make a good char kway teow. So while I am not a huge fan of the restaurant, you will see me sitting at one of the tables regularly slurping up thick rice noodles drenched in soy.
UG/F, The L Place, 139 Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2114 1689