Sometimes, all you need is just one good idea. And new seafood restaurant Crab In Da Bag certainly has a very good idea.
The three-week-old eatery in Big Splash works on a simple concept - shellfish boiled in a transparent cooking bag with a choice of sauces.
You need to just follow a four-step sequence when ordering. First, choose your shellfish, such as clams, crabs and lobsters. Then, if you want, add corn, potato or chicken bratwurst sausage to the seafood.
Next, pick a sauce from Garlic Butter, Mum's Special (onion rings and garlic in a sweet-and-sour brown sauce), Ultimate Curry (curry mix stir-fried with curry leaves and chilli padi) to The Whole Caboodle (local and Cajun spices cooked with garlic and butter). Then choose how spicy you want it: Hot, Hotter or Hottest.
Your order goes to the kitchen and while you are waiting, someone places a clean sheet of white paper over the table.
When the food is ready, it comes out in a bag swinging inside a pail. The server grabs the piping hot bag, throws it on the table and snips it open to reveal the steaming shellfish.
There is no crockery or cutlery. You dig into the food with your hands, which is really the best way to enjoy shellfish. When you're done, you throw the shells on the table. Manners and table etiquette lessons are temporarily forgotten as every bit of attention is focused on getting all the meat out of those shells.
Children will love it. They can make as much of a mess as they like and no adult will mind, since he is having too much fun behaving like a messy child too.
And the food is worth it. My dining companion and I had excellent clams ($13) cooked in the Ultimate Curry sauce. The clams were done to perfect timing, every one of the shells open and the meat still juicy.
The sauce was more like a Malaysian-style sambal than a curry, and was delicious. We asked for the medium level of spiciness and it was just right, with enough kick to titillate the taste buds without burning them.
A Sri Lankan crab ($45) cooked in The Whole Caboodle sauce was also wonderful. The crab was not big, about 600g and enough for two, but it was covered in a delicious mix of spices and minced garlic.
Our server suggested some steamed rice ($2 a tub) to eat with the sauce, which seemed a good idea. But the idea of eating rice off the table with my hands proved too much of a challenge and I asked for a spoon.
Perhaps it was that but the sauce-covered rice did not taste as good as expected. Or it was just that the rice diluted the flavour of the spices too much.
Whatever the reason, I enjoyed another side order - sweet potato fries ($7) - much more. They were crisp and sweet, and tasted good on their own without any ketchup or chilli sauce. And they felt light too, without the floury heaviness of normal fries.
Still feeling hungry, we ordered some yabbies ($25) cooked in Mum's Special sauce. This didn't fare as well.
The yabbie shells were hard to remove, making it difficult to get at the sweet meat inside. And the sauce, which lacked strong flavours, could not penetrate the shells. I enjoyed the accompanying onion rings more.
Another criticism is that all the three sauces were very oily. You were not expected to drink them up, but the sight of the oil slick was still rather alarming.
The eatery had been opened just a few days when we were there and the staff offered us a dessert, Fruit Boat ($5), on the house. It was a slice of honeydew melon with a piece of red agar agar on top. The contrasting colours were pretty and the jelly, which had bits of melon in it, was refreshing after the spicy sauces.
If you are in a group of six or more, get the Caboodle Boil ($299). It is a large pail of mini lobsters, Sri Lankan crabs, king crab legs, yabbies, prawns, clams, sausages, corn and potato boiled in a mix of herbs and spices. All that is poured on the table and everyone helps himself to what he wants. It's a very happy sight.
A word of caution: Don't hold your first date or business dinner here. You are not going to look elegant.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
CRAB IN DA BAG
902 East Coast Parkway, Big Splash, Block D, 01-25, tel: 6440-0091
Open: 4pm to midnight (Tuesdays to Thursdays), noon to midnight (weekends). Closed on Mondays
Price: Budget about $50 a person
Sweet potato fries ($7)
These are sweeter than normal potato fries and not as heavy.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 29, 2013
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