Zi Char Review

Restaurant review: Hits trump glitz at Ban Leong Wah Hoe Sea-Food

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 29, 2013

So I go tearing off to Casuarina Road, inspired by photographs a friend had posted of his meal at a zi char eatery there.

Tearing off does not usually pay off, but in this case, it does. My friend and I do not find the eatery I am looking for but there are three zi char places on that short stretch to choose from.

Casuarina Road is where I go for prata, at Shibly, and I must admit I have tunnel vision. The only other place I notice there is Biscuit King, which stocks the snacks I used to crave as a child.

We look at the zi char options and decide on Ban Leong Wah Hoe Sea-Food Restaurant. The outdoor seating looks inviting and a light breeze is blowing.

It turns out to be quite a find, despite the fact that the menu does not list prices. This is pretty outrageous in my book.

I do not quite know what to expect when I order Otah Roll ($8), but when it is plonked on the table, I wonder if I can order it as finger food for parties.

The otah is encased in a crispy wrapper, like crispy Vietnamese net spring rolls.

More filling would be good, to achieve a better otah-to-wrapper ratio, but we demolish the phenomenally crispy rolls in no time at all.

A dish of Thai Style Dried Beancurd ($8) also turns out to be unusual.

Many zi char places have seafood tofu on their menus these days. They add ground-up squid or other seafood, together with little bits of carrot and scallion, to beancurd mixture and then fry them up.

Here, the cooks stuff the mixture into tau pok or beancurd puffs, deep fry them and serve on a bed of lettuce with blanched cuttlefish.

The dressing looks unappetising, being a translucent beige. But my eyes pop when I have a taste. It is tart, a little sweet and aromatic with finely chopped ginger flower. I would like to have jars of it on hand for everything - to use as salad dressing and to accompany grilled fish or steamed prawns.

Needless to say, it goes wonderfully with the tofu too.

How a dish like that can be $2 cheaper than a simple stirfry of Taiwan Vegetable ($10) is beyond me, however.

The vegetables turn out to be dou miao or pea shoots. There could have been more wok hei but the shoots are tender and young. Anyone who has ever had stringy dou miao will surely appreciate this.

We also order Braised Fish Maw ($20), a gravyish casserole with strips of puffy maw, slices of roast pork, braised shiitake mushrooms and a melange of vegetables.

I am glad to be spared the usual gloopy brown sauce.

A steamed Soon Hock ($25) or marble goby done Hong Kong-style is a bargain at the price.

It is a small fish but a very fresh one. The sauce does not have the appetising aroma of top-grade superior soy sauce but it is good enough, and with fish steamed perfectly, sauce is superfluous.

Ban Leong Wah Hoe looks a lot less glitzy than the other zi char places on the street, but I have learnt never to judge a zi char place by its appearance.

hsueh@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/tanhsuehyun


BAN LEONG WAH HOE SEA-FOOD RESTAURANT

122 Casuarina Road, tel: 6452-2824/ 6455-4013

Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5 to 11pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 11am to 2.30pm, 5pm to midnight (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays)

Rating: ***1/2