CO CHUNG AT BOAT QUAY
Family-run Vietnamese eatery Co Chung has expanded its outlet in Boat Quay, taking over the first floor of the shophouse unit next door at 4 Lorong Telok.
The new space, which can seat 50 indoors and 30 outdoors, is modelled after owner Ly Pham's home in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1970s. The door frame is a replica shipped from Vietnam.
The Instagrammable entrance is flanked by two retro wooden arm chairs on the left. On the right is a corner set up like a provision shop with old-school snacks on display. Ms Pham's aunt used to run a provision shop outside her old home.
Inside are more vintage items - from an old television set to vacuum flasks - all sourced from Vietnam.
The eatery has several new items on its menu.
Impossible Pho ($13.50+) is a vegetarian take on pho which packs up to 18 types of vegetables and herbs in its sweet-tasting stock. Carrot, radish, wintermelon and jicama beef up the meatless stock. Sliced white onion, sawtooth coriander and Thai sweet basil give it aroma.
The minced Impossible Meat Plant Based Beef used in the dish tastes more like minced pork. The clean-tasting meatless stock impresses with natural flavours from vegetables.
Another dish to try is Vietnamese fish with turmeric and dill ($18.96+). In Vietnamese, the Hanoi dish is known as Cha Ca La Vong. Considered a delicacy in Vietnam, it is found in restaurants.
Co Chung uses wild-caught crystal-eyed catfish, a freshwater fish prized in Vietnam. The eatery imports the fish, which is processed in its food manufacturing facility in Ho Chi Minh and air-flown here thrice weekly.
The fish is marinated in turmeric, onion and garlic, grilled over charcoal then placed in a hot plate of olive oil and shallot oil, and flavoured with leek and spring onion. The fish comes with sprigs of dill. The herbaceous and tangy taste of the dill complements the fish's smoky tenderness.
The dish is meant to be eaten with the white noodles and salad that come with the order, but I ignore the noodles and dive right into the fish.
Another dish to try is the stir-fried baby clams with rice cracker ($9.50+). Tender baby clams are boiled and then cooked in a heady mix of onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, pepper and plenty of lemongrass. It tastes rather like a clam and lemongrass-loaded version of hae bee hiam.
Eat the clam mixture with the housemade rice cracker that is dotted with fragrant black sesame seeds.
I cannot get enough of the Vietnamese Nem Nuong ($8.50+ for two) - grilled pork sausages on lemongrass skewers. The sausage is made in-house using fresh pork collar and pork belly which are minced and marinated in lemongrass juice, fish sauce, garlic and shallots.
The resulting grilled pork is addictively tasty with a lovely springy texture.
WHERE: Co Chung, 4/5 Lorong Telok MRT: Raffles Place OPEN: Weekdays, 11am to 3pm and 5 to 9.30pm; weekends, 11am to 9.30pm TEL: 8876-8137
CHINESE WESTERN FARE
REX WESTERN IN ANG MO KIO
First opened in Choa Chu Kang in 2005, Rex Western, which specialises in Chinese Western food, operated in a coffee shop in Hougang Avenue 1 from 2006 till March this year. The stall has since moved to an industrial canteen in Ang Mo Kio. Finding a parking space there is challenging, so go during off-peak hours if you can.
Prices are not exactly cheap, but you get value for money. The Hot Plate Pork Chop ($8.50) makes the trip worth it. You get two generous slabs of bone-in pork chops.
There is an unmistakable fragrance from the use of Chinese wine in the smoky, savoury meat. It is so tasty, I find it unnecessary to pile on the spicy housemade black pepper sauce that comes on the side.
You get to pick two side dishes. The serving of mashed potato is generous and I like the crunchy sweet corn.
I usually avoid ordering hot plate items for fear of overcooked meats. But at Rex Western, I prefer the hot plate items because the sides come heated.
Mr Tong Kwee Hua, 52, who runs the stall with his wife, heats the plate just enough that the meat is served sizzling hot, but remains juicy and tender.
The Hot Plate Chicken Chop ($8.50) is another must-try. The thick slabs of boneless chicken thigh are succulent and the smoky flavours make me long for a full-blown barbecue party.
For serious meat eaters, the stall has a Hot Plate Combo Platter ($17) which looks like it can be shared by two people. But Mr Tong tells me there are customers who can polish off the entire platter single-handedly.
The platter comes with a slab each of chicken chop, pork chop, lamb chop and fish cutlet, and a sunny-side-up egg. The lamb chop is tender but has an overpowering odour that the spicy black pepper sauce cannot mask. If you do not eat lamb, you can ask for it to be replaced with pork or chicken.
The stall also sells Crispy Fish & Chips (Snapper) for $8. Mr Tong uses red snapper instead of dory fish. I find that the dish wins on texture but loses out on taste. The breadcrumb batter is crispy, and you get a generous heap of crinkle-cut fries.
Mr Tong does not season the fish as he says his housemade tartar sauce is sufficient for flavour. I disagree as the fish tastes bland and the tartar sauce - which tastes more like mayonnaise - lacks sufficient tartness and cannot make up for the fish's lack of flavour.
WHERE: Rex Western, Stall 12, 01-87 Block 5023 Ang Mo Kio Industrial Park 2 MRT: Ang Mo Kio OPEN: Weekdays, 10am to 7.55pm, Sundays and public holidays, 9.15am to 6.55pm; closed on Saturdays TEL: 9226-8313