Joo Chiat is fast becoming the next Geylang. You know what red-light districts bring? AWESOME food. The second thing Joo Chiat is known for is quaint little boutique cafes and so we went to a cze char (煮炒, or cook-fry) coffeeshop. Naturally.
On a Friday night, the entire world was at Joo Chiat. So haps! There are a public carpark opposite the coffeeshop and legal parallel parking along the road but too few lots. Don’t illegal park; this is notorious summon area. You can park at 112 Katong (newly opened) and walk down. But I parked my lorry at Waraku, just beside 112 Katong because the car queue at 112 was ridiculous and this little princess doesn’t wait for anything. The good thing about parking a distance away is you can exercise before and after the meal. That’s how I maintain my hourglass figure.
Because of the bad traffic, by the time The Ex, Hookerlily, Mao Mao and I (Wise Guy) gathered, we were famished and could eat a shark, which we did.
XO Vegetables (XO小菜 $8). The manager told us that the chef ate this dish in Malaysia and brought it to Singapore. The Ex exclaimed, “Woah, so 厉害, so sharp, eat once only can replicate it.” It is quite similar to tempura: the vegetables–eggplant, ladyfingers, string beans and petai (stink beans or 臭豆)–are deep-fried before they are stir-fried with 美人鱼 (mermaid or plus-size ikan bilis/anchovies), dry scallop shreds, belachan (chili shrimp paste), and a tinge of tomato sauce.
Wise Guy found it unique, original and brave because many Chinese-Singaporeans don’t like to eat gooey vegetables–eggplant and ladyfingers–and this dish features both. However, because of the way the vegetables were cooked, the eggplant and ladyfingers were not at all gooey. Very smart. But Wise Guy thought the absorbent eggplant–who needs tampon?–was oily and The Ex suggested that it would be better if the eggplant were sliced thinner. Old Skool Mao Mao, however, said, “毛毛非常喜欢.” The reason Hookerlily and Mao Mao liked it is because the dish possessed a very kampong, homely feel and at the same time, complex. The flavors bounced off each other very well: the sweetness from the dry scallop, the spiciness from the belachan, and the earthliness of the vegetables. Hookerlily said the ladyfingers were perfect. While The Ex and I believed this dish was pleasing, Mao Mao and Hookerlily declared this was a “must-have.”
The Tofu Salad (沙拉豆腐 $10) is made of deep-fried home-made tofu, consisting of seafood paste and carrots, on top of green apple mayo salad on a cabbage leaf. While we appreciated how the shop tries to be innovative, Mao Mao preferred it to be hot, as hot as Wise Guy (very difficult); The Ex opined the green apple soured the dish; Wise Guy thought that the excess mayonnaise–both on the tofu and in the salad–is an overkill. Hookerlily was traumatized by mayonnaise in general because her mother pronounced it as bayonnaise.
The manager was apprehensive to introduce the Shark Head Cartilage Casserole to us because she said, “Young people cannot really appreciate the dish.” WOW, flattery gets her everywhere. Bring on the shark!
The thick gravy was still bubbling as it arrived. The fragrance was OMG mentally-torturing me as I controlled myself to take the photo.
Mao Mao: Hookerlily, you must eat more of this, full of collagen.
Wise Guy: What are you trying to imply, Mao Mao?
Yes! Shit-stirring scored!
Anyway, back to the dish. It was AWESOME. It reminded me of 盆菜, a casserole dish of seafood delicacies, a “must-have” during Chinese New Year. Obviously, this dish was slightly less sweet than 盆菜, having only shark cartilage. The nature of jelly cartilage had a slightly bitter taste, perceptible only to extremely sensitive tastebuds. But the way the dish was cooked, with the sauce penetrating deeply into the cartilage, made the cartilage so delicious. You must put the gravy over rice. Very, very savory. This dish is a winner, and we four all loved it.
We were confused over Prawn-paste Sea Cucumber (海参虾米 $15). The prawn paste, consisting of 虾米 (dried shrimps), minced pork and minced lard, is usually fried with string beans. Sea cucumber by itself has no taste and absorbs whatever sauce it’s cooked in. So, this sea cucumber dish tasted salty, spicy, porky and lardy. The conservative Ex didn’t like this radical dish. Mao Mao likes lard, so he liked this. Wise Guy was confused: at first he thought sea cucumber should taste more oceany, then he thought he shouldn’t be so inveterate and the dish was rather savory, addictive and the spicy (from small chili) and saltiness went very well with rice and then he vacillated between the two opinions he had. He obviously needs to see a shrink.
Showstopper Curry Crab Bee Hoon. The manager said that people always order the shop’s two specialities, curry fish head and claypot crab clear broth bee hoon. The patrons would extract the bee hoon from the clear broth and add the curry over the bee hoon. The manager discussed it with the chef and ta-da! the 2-in-1 dish is born.
The best way to eat is to eat the crab first and let the bee hoon absorb the curry. Unlike other noodles, the thick bee hoon is a good choice because it won’t become soggy so it’s ok for it to soak.
The crab was amazingly sweet and fresh. After letting the bee hoon simmer in the pot, it got more and more delicious towards the end as the curry infused into the beehoon. The curry was rather spicy and had a kick. It was also very, very lip-smacking; you can taste the spices of lemongrass and curry leaves and the sweetness of the crab even in the heat of the curry. By the bottom of the cauldron, we were converts and all lovin’ it. This dish gets four out of four votes for a “must-have.”
The coffeeshop brews barley, lemon tea and lime juice with sour plum, the last of which goes well with curry.
There are places so competitive that if your food is not good, your shop will close in three months. Chinatown for one. Old Airport market, another. Joo Chiat is another place I can think of. On the outside, Mellvin looks like your average rundown coffeeshop. But the food aims to be innovative and the chef can whip up a wide range of food, each tasting different but equally delicious. We’d like to thank the friendly manager for her hospitality and her stories on how they concocted the food.
Mellvin Seafood Restaurant 龙记海鲜螃蟹王
354 Joo Chiat Road
Rating: 3.899/ 5 shark lips