On days when I am craving fish, I am faced with the usual Western food stalls in hawker centres offering deep-fried and grilled fish. With the sweltering weather, I cannot think about digging into a piping-hot bowl of fish soup noodles, which would leave me in puddles of sweat.
That was why I did a double take when I walked by Whathefish, a month-old stall in Tanjong Pagar Plaza that serves poached cod.
Poached dishes, which involve immersing ingredients in a liquid that is brought to a gentle boil, are a rare sight in hawker centres, and so is cod, compared to more wallet- friendly options such as dory and mackerel.
Like me, the stall owners, Ms Laura Chiu, 30, and Mr Bobby Kee, 40, who became friends after meeting at flea markets, where they ran a Thai milk tea and tiramisu pop-up business respectively, think the variety of fish dishes in hawker centres can be more interesting.
Ms Chiu, who used to work in the healthcare industry, says: "It is always either fish and chips or grilled fish, which turn out dry, so we were looking for ways that could make fish stay nice and moist."
That is where Mr Kee's cooking expertise comes in. He worked as a cafe and restaurant chef for five years and has come up with a modest but impressive menu. There are four main dishes; each of which comes with one or two side dishes such as a refreshing and zesty tomato salsa or mashed potato salad. For dessert, there is tiramisu in flavours such as sea salt caramel and mao shan wang durian (from $5.50).
Block 1 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, Kah Meng Eating House, 02-04, stall 3
Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5 to 8pm (for takeaways only, starting from Tuesday), closed on weekends.
Call 8644-8652 or go to www.facebook.com/ whathefish.sg
Rating: 3/5 stars
I order the poached cod ($8.50), which comes in a broth infused with white wine and truffle oil, wrapped in an aluminium foil pouch. The two slabs of cod, which come from the Northern Pacific Ocean, are cooked sous vide and then poached to plump and tender goodness. The freshness of the fish is apparent in every milky-white sliver of delicate flesh. However, the broth is too briny and the truffle oil scent can be stronger.
For a more full-flavoured meal, go for the flame-seared salmon with saffron cream sauce ($8.50). The slender salmon slices are lightly torched, which inject a light smokiness, but they could be thicker, so that the fish is more juicy. It is served with a buttery saffron cream sauce, which is good for tossing with aglio olio pasta, one of the side dish options.
Ironically, the stall's most popular dish is the salted egg yolk pasta ($5.90), which comes with salmon chunks and a side dish.
The noodles are gooey from being tossed in a salted egg yolk sauce that is light and not grainy. Thankfully, the spiciness from the chilli padi slices and curry leaves lifts the dish, giving it a savoury oomph. However, the salted egg yolk flavour is too light for my liking.
Still, I am more excited by other fish dishes that Whathefish plans to roll out soon, including baked fish pie and seafood stew, and a return visit is in order.