Bee Heong Palace - For old times' sake
If you have missed the food at Bee Heong Palace, the Hokkien restaurant in Telok Ayer Street which closed down two years ago, it's back. It is now in a Housing Board block in Bedok and had its official opening last month.
Chef Goh Eng Gee is back too, dishing out traditional Hokkien classics such as prawn roll and oyster omelette. But there is also a new adviser, chef James Aw, who contributes dishes not found in the old restaurant.
Among these is Flame Gong Fu Chicken ($18), which is the "flaming chicken" dish that is spreading like wildfire among eateries here. Even the zi char stall in the cafeteria next to my office sells it.
At Bee Heong Palace, the roast chicken is brought to the table propped up in a vertical position over a metal tray. A small cup of mei guei lu (Chinese rose wine) is then poured over it and the chicken set alight before being taken back to the kitchen to be chopped up.
It makes for a good video clip for Instagram - though hairspray users would be wise to steer clear of the flames. But the chicken also gets a subtle rose fragrance from the wine, so it is not just for show.
Though the bird looks skinny and dry when it is engulfed in flames, it turns out to be quite meaty after being chopped up. The meat is tender and juicy too.
Another reason you find almost every table here ordering the dish is the $18 price tag, which is lower than what you pay for a bird at a hawker centre chicken rice stall. It is a promotion price and each table is allowed just one order.
BEE HEONG PALACE
218 Bedok North Street 1, 01-01, tel: 6222-9074, open: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 11pm daily
Price: From $30 a person, more if you order expensive seafood dishes
For the rest of my meal, I turn to the old Hokkien dishes the restaurant is known for.
One of them is the Traditional Hokkien Popiah ($12 for a small serving with four crepes), which is served with the ingredients plated separately for you to roll them in the flour crepe yourself.
Unlike most popiah sold here, the filling is not made with julienned jicama (bangkuang), but with thinly shredded cabbage.
The vegetable is stewed with dried cuttlefish and dried shrimp, among other things, until soft and is rolled up with condiments such as mashed garlic, sweet sauce, crushed peanuts and lettuce.
It is not the best popiah I have eaten, but it is tasty enough. How it turns out, though, depends on the proportion of condiments you add.
However, my dining companions all say they prefer the jicama versions because cabbage does not soak up the flavours as thoroughly.
The Hokkien Prawn Roll (from $12) gets everyone's vote though. It has a good crunchy texture from a mix of minced prawn and pork, as well as diced water chestnut that keeps it moist.
I would also recommend the Oyster Omelette Xiamen Style (from $12), which is nicely done with the egg crispy at the edges and fluffy in the middle. And the little oysters are not overcooked.
For carbs, go for the Braised Hokkien Noodles (from $9) - flat yellow noodles stewed in black soya sauce with prawns, pork and vegetables. Its piece de resistance are the crispy bits of deep-fried lard, which gives the dish its sparkle.
For nostalgia, I also order the Fried Bee Hoon With Pigs Trotters (from $12).
Most of my Singaporean friends have grown up eating a version of this dish at home, with the beehoon fried with canned pig trotters. And the version here hits home. The beehoon soaks up the delicious gravy and the skin of the trotters is so soft it melts in the mouth.
While the food is good, service is not one of the restaurant's strong points.
All the dishes I order arrive at the table within 10 minutes of one another. So while we wrap our popiah or watch the server setting the chicken on fire, the other dishes start to get cold.
But not as cold as the staff's attitude, including a waitress whose face the entire evening is so sour, it could curdle milk. Every request we make, even just for some chilli, gets a bark from her in return.
Being a neighbourhood restaurant in an HDB estate, one would expect warmer service even if it is less polished.
But the feeling we get is that the staff just want to dish out everything quickly so that the diners can leave early and everyone can have an early night.
So that is what we do.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.