Tsui Wah at Clarke Quay is the first Southeast Asian outpost of the Hong Kong cha chaan teng (cafe) established in 1967. It has 60 outlets in Hong Kong, Macau, and China; and this Singapore outlet is a joint venture between Tsui Wah and Jumbo Group. The menu in Singapore is mostly similar to the counterparts at Hong Kong. Some ingredients are imported from Hong Kong; and some Hong Kong chefs will remain in Singapore to ensure a similar standard of quality.
A good Hong Kong cafe should serve good tea and bun and Tsui Wah’s are great. The milk tea with condensed milk ($3.50 hot, $4.50 cold) uses tea leaves imported from Tsui Wah Hong Kong and is kept for a maximum of 30 minutes to prevent it from being siap siap (tannin-astringent). Because the strong tea isn’t sweet–so strong that my vision turned HD–it goes exceedingly well with the very sweet, very buttery, and very satisfying crispy bun with condensed milk ($4). I highly recommend taking a bite of the bun and a sip of the tea. The bun, in my opinion, is one of the best dishes here.
The signature pork chop bun ($7.50) consists of lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a mayo (?). The pork patty is thin, but tender and marinated well, almost comparable to Tai Lei Loi Kei’s version.
We tried two rice dishes. One of the most expensive items on the menu, the lamb chop curry with steamed rice ($29), uses Australian fresh (not frozen) lamb rack with a curry recipe that dates back to the 1960s. The curry–from a paste imported from Hong Kong–is stewed for over 6 hours with more than 30 spices. The curry is strange; not as aromatic or sweet as Singapore’s version. And it doesn’t go well with the weird mash which we suspect is made from powder. The redeeming factor is the lamb chops are super delicious: a nice medium, tender, and not gamy.
The other rice dish, braised abalone rice with diced chicken and kale ($14), is much too salty and there is a nicer version at SG Braised Rice.
Noodles are better than rice here. Dry noodles come with a delicious peppery fish soup that tastes like bak ku teh. On the table, there is an excellent chilli (like duck rice chilli or chwee kueh chilli) that goes with the noodles.
The king prawns noodles ($11) is tossed with a localised XO sauce which neutralises and masks the alkaline of the noodles; tasty.
The Kagoshima pork cartilage, which is stewed for hours to achieve a tenderness suitable for the toothless, has two versions, soup or dry. For the soup, they use mixian ($8.50), a rice noodle that has a better, springier, al dente texture than our local chu mi fen.
The dry version of instant noodles ($9.50) utilises a recipe by a Japanese chef, and it is umami.
The French toast ($9.50) has a beautiful grainy surface. People at my table complain about the cheap vanilla ice cream–but I like the retro/nostalgic emotion it conjures. Furthermore, the purpose of the ice cream (and chocolate syrup) is to provide a sweet counterbalance to the savoury eggy-ness. If they use a more expensive (and likely richer) ice cream, the richness will throw off the balance of the dessert. I like it as it is now.
We are pleasantly surprised at the high quality of the ingredients used at Tsui Wah. Worth coming here now and then.
Tsui Wah 翠華
Clarke Quay #01-03, Block 3A River Valley Road, Singapore 179020
tel: +65 6250 9270
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Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.