There was a time when Mr Tan Kue Kim was famous for frying his signature Hokkien Mee while wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a shiny Rolex watch.
Cars would jostle for space outside his restaurant in Changi and fans queued up for his signature noodles topped with fresh oysters.
Some of his eateries have opened, then closed.
It is the Joo Chiat Place one that I go to on a Sunday afternoon, an air-conditioned space with sheets of water running down one wall. Apart from that, it is a pretty no-frills place.
We order the famous XO Hokkien Mee ($12), a spicy version. It is not as good as I remember it to be. The chilli does nothing to liven up the overcooked noodles, which used to have such depth of flavour.
Only the fresh seafood saves this dish. The prawns and oysters are excellent. So, indeed, are the crispy cubes of pork lard, placed at the side of the plate so fat-phobic diners can simply ignore them if they want to.
Naturally, we do not, and the guilt-inducing but too-good-not-to-finish lard bits add some oomph to the noodles.
Another dish of Sweet & Sour Pork ($10) is a complete dud. I order it only because a friend is looking for a good version. Well, he will not find it here. The pork chunks are too small, and the sweet and sour contrast is not sharp enough.
Our meal is not a total loss though. The other dishes are good, if not great.
A simple one of black fungus and baby bok choy stirfried in superior soy sauce ($12) is cooked perfectly. The little nuggets of vegetables are crisp tender, the fungus retain some crunch and that simple seasoning of soy sauce tastes wonderful with the vegetable juices mixed in. I ladle spoonfuls of the sauce over my rice and think I could have that dish alone for lunch.
Another good one to order is Crispy Fish Skin With Salted Egg ($6), a pile of what looks like salmon skin lightly coated with the preserved egg. It is expertly done - the skin crisp and greaseless, with just enough egg so diners do not feel too guilty about crunching through a plate and ordering another.
We also order Kim's Fried Beancurd ($18), generous pieces of tofu cut into diamond shapes.
I have had this dish in several zi char places but the one here is delightfully fluffy inside and is studded with bits of carrot and spring onion, all chopped finely. However, I can do without the beige coloured sauce, bland and totally without character.
The best dish in the meal, however, is one of Green Wrasse In Miso Soup ($12). Unlike Japanese miso soup, this one is not quite as salty.
It is a pleasure digging out nuggets of meat from the bone and then digging into the bowl for tofu and shimeji mushrooms, succulent after a soak in the broth.
Licking our lips after that feast, we leave, vowing to return.
KIM’S PLACE SEAFOOD
43 Joo Chiat Road, tel: 6742-1119
Open: 11 to 3am daily