RESTAURANT REVIEW

Monster crab stands out

The Alaskan king crab goes well with white pepper despite the slight burn the spice leaves in the mouth.
The Alaskan king crab goes well with white pepper despite the slight burn the spice leaves in the mouth.ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

This eatery in Toa Payoh serves dishes not usually found in a typical neighbourhood joint

Sometimes, there may be good things right under your nose and you do not even realise it.

Monster Crab is one of them. The seafood restaurant opened a year ago in the Toa Payoh North industrial estate next to my office and I have often walked past it. Some colleagues had also arranged a meal there last year but I could not join them.

Happily, it was brought to my attention again recently by my editor's secretary, who lunches there occasionally.

"You should try it," she urged, and each time she saw me, she demanded to know: "Have you gone to Monster Crab yet?"

So I went for lunch two weeks ago and she was right, the food was good. I returned for dinner last week and, except for a couple of dishes, that was good too.

The restaurant is part of a canteen which serves the workers in the industrial blocks within the estate, but it has been renovated to be a proper restaurant with air-conditioning. The layout is simple but pleasant, with colourful crab figures stuck on one wall as the main design feature.

The kitchen is walled off from the dining room by frosted glass, which gives the place a more contemporary look than most housing estate eateries.

However, what makes it stand out is the food, a lot of which you would not find in a typical neighbourhood joint.

Monster Crab specialises in Alaskan king crabs, which are big, weighing 2 to 4kg, with long legs which can span more than 1m from one end to the other. They look like something out of a monster movie, which is how the restaurant got its name.

Most of the meat is in the legs and it has a subtle sweetness that is rather different from the taste of mud crabs - which the restaurant does not serve, by the way.

For a table of four, a 2kg king crab cooked two ways is enough.

The menu lists seven ways you can have it cooked, including with white pepper and stir-fried with ginger and spring onion.

However, there are more, which you find out when you probe the server. I have tried one with a kimchi sauce and another where the crab is fried with dried chilli and mushrooms in a sweet sauce.

But because the flavour of the crabs is so delicate, they are best cooked with mild sauces. My favourite is the stir-fry with ginger and spring onion, where the savoury gravy has a mild sting which actually enhances the crab's sweetness.

The crustacean goes well with white pepper too, despite the slight burn the spice leaves in the mouth.

The kimchi sauce is lovely on its own. It is a thick, sourish gravy with chunks of kimchi that will probably work well with squid, which tastes bland and requires a strong sauce. Or even king prawns, whose more assertive flavour will be able to stand up to the kimchi.

However, the king crab gets overwhelmed and while the dish is not bad as a whole, it's a shame that you do not get to savour the crab's sweetness.

Avoid the dried chilli and mushroom stir-fry at all costs. The sauce is so sweet that all you taste is sugar and chilli. It's a complete waste of the crab. And money too, considering that one of the creatures, at $98 a kilogram, easily costs more than $200.

That, by the way, is considerably less than what many other seafood restaurants charge, which is at least $168 a kilogram. The restaurant imports its crabs direct from fishermen in North Asia.

Besides the king crab, the dish to try is the Rojak Prawn ($24 for the small portion). Inspired by the local mixed salad, the dish itself is a rojak of various elements. There are meaty deep-fried prawns and toasted peanuts in a rojak prawn paste sauce. On top are thin shreds of cucumber and, my favourite, crispy deep-fried kangkong. Toss everything up and you get a delicious dish of different flavours and textures which truly captures the meaning of the word "rojak".

Also unique to Monster Crab is LaLa King ($24 for two), a giant clam which tastes like bamboo clams. You have to order at least two, but each can be cooked in different ways.

I like it steamed with minced garlic, an excellent match for the crunchy, sweet shellfish. I also try it steamed with bean sauce, but find that too sweet and strong for the clam.

If you like strong flavours, I'd recommend the Claypot Live Prawn In Indonesian Style ($22 for the small portion) instead. The mid-sized prawns are cooked in their shells in a thick, aromatic curry that calls to be eaten with bowls of steaming rice.

The chilli level is perfect - hot but not burning - and the coconut milk is kept to a level that doesn't make the curry too heavy either.

ahyoke@sph.com.sg

Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.


MUST TRY

Rojak Prawn (from $24)

Adding crispy stalks of deep-fried kangkong to this mix of prawns, peanuts and cucumber strips in shrimp paste is pure genius.

  • MONSTER CRAB SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

  • 1008A Toa Payoh North, tel: 6259-1660

    Open: 11am to 3pm, 5.30 to 10.30pm daily

    Food: 4/5

    Service: 3/5

    Ambience: 2.5/5

    Price: Budget about $80 a person with king crab or live fish, $40 without

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Monster crab stands out'. Print Edition | Subscribe