Same old Kay Lee

Former Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint owner Ha Wai Kay (above right) training the new chef. Despite the rain yesterday, customers were still queuing to get their fix of roast meats at Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint (above).
Former Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint owner Ha Wai Kay (above right) training the new chef. Despite the rain yesterday, customers were still queuing to get their fix of roast meats at Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint (above).ST PHOTOS: JAMIE KOH
Former Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint owner Ha Wai Kay (above right) training the new chef. Despite the rain yesterday, customers were still queuing to get their fix of roast meats at Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint (above).
Former Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint owner Ha Wai Kay (above right) training the new chef. Despite the rain yesterday, customers were still queuing to get their fix of roast meats at Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint (above).ST PHOTOS: JAMIE KOH

Most diners say the flavours have not changed, despite the roast meat joint's new management

A new management took over Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint yesterday, but most of the diners that Life! spoke to did not notice any change in the flavours of its signature roast meats.

Kay Lee - which is famous for its fatty char siew with a charred exterior, roast pork with crispy crackling and tender roast duck - was bought by electronics conglomerate Aztech Group in September for $4 million.

Many customers braved the rain yesterday to queue for their fix of roast meats. Housewife May Chua, 60, says: "I've been eating at Kay Lee for more than 30 years and I don't think anything has changed. I like its char siew - it is juicy, fragrant and comes in thick slices."

Regional sales manager Able Liew, 36, says: "The char siew is still nicely charred. The roast duck and roast pork are still tasty and tender too."

According to Mr Jeremy Mun, Aztech's senior vice-president of marketing, there is "no new recipe" for the meats.

However, not all the regular customers are convinced that the Guangzhou-style recipe has remained consistent.

Mr Andrew Yeo, 36, owner of an advertising agency who dines at Kay Lee at least three times a week, notes that the roast pork and char siew "look different".

On the flavour, he says: "The char siew is not as sweet and it lacks a certain crispiness. The roast pork skin is also not as crispy as it used to be. It also seems less oily and fatty now. But the sauce (for dipping and pouring on rice) tastes the same. I'll have to eat here more often before the lady boss leaves. But I'll give the new owners a bit of time to get the formula right."

He also expresses concern over Aztech's plans to use an automated central kitchen to supply its future outlets. He says: "There are some things that machines cannot replace."

Four more outlets are in the pipeline, to open by early next year in malls, and recruitment and training for the new shops are ongoing. The Upper Paya Lebar outlet remains as Kay Lee's flagship, with operations manager Sam Ng, 54, in charge.

And for diners who are concerned about the taste changing under the new management, Kay Lee's former owners are still there for the next six months.

Yesterday, Madam Betty Kong, 68, was still busy chopping meats, while her husband Ha Wai Kay, 64, was in the kitchen training the new chef - who is formerly from Mandarin Orchard Singapore.

All the staff, including two who have been working with Madam Kong, now don uniforms with the name of Kay Lee.

Other changes under the new management include improvements to the shop's ventilation, a revamped website (www.kayleeroastmeatjoint.com) and a computerised cashier system - diners will now get a receipt upon payment.

Prices start at $5 for a plate of char siew, roast pork or roast duck rice. There is also a selection of double-boiled soups at $4.50 each.

The shop is also open daily now. Previously, it was open only from Thursday to Sunday.

Mr Ha, who was also wearing the new Kay Lee uniform and apron, says in Mandarin: "I've been teaching everything I know to the new chef. I hope he learns as much as he can."

euniceq@sph.com.sg

Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint at 125 Upper Paya Lebar Road opens daily from 10.30am to 8.30pm.