Ponggol Seafood returns to its old location with mixed results

Ponggol Seafood returns to its old location by the sea with food that ranges from good to bad

Seafood mee goreng. -- PHOTO: PONGGOL SEAFOO
Seafood mee goreng. -- PHOTO: PONGGOL SEAFOO
Ponggol Seafood. -- PHOTO: PONGGOL SEAFOO
The crispy baby squid is tasty but the chilli crab (above) is less appetising. -- PHOTO: PONGGOL SEAFOO
The crispy baby squid (above) is tasty but the chilli crab is less appetising. -- PHOTO: PONGGOL SEAFOO

The news that Ponggol Seafood has moved back to its original location on the Punggol seafront - reported in this newspaper on Aug 31 - certainly brought back memories.

After the land was acquired by the Government in 1994, the restaurant moved to various locations including Marina Country Club nearby.

But back in the mid-1980s, my colleagues and I would make our way to Punggol Point for seafood at the two restaurants there. Choon Seng was our favourite but we would go to Ponggol Seafood next door for a change sometimes.

It was a bit of an adventure as the drive there was along a long, dimly lit road flanked by dense vegetation. And when the smell of nearby pig farms started to waft into the car, you knew you were near the end of the road.

And it was literally the end of the road, as it stopped abruptly in front of the Punggol jetty. SBS bus service numbers 82 and 83 would have to make a three- point turn on the narrow road to get out and it was always a wonder to me that the restaurants' customers sitting near the entrance or walking to their cars parked on the roadside never got hit.

Going back to the area last week, everything was different.

The road now ends in a cul de sac where bus No. 84 makes an easy U-turn. Ponggol Seafood, which used to be in a rundown shack, is now in a spanking new restaurant complex a stone's throw from its old spot.

The restaurant's Chinese name translates to Ponggol Hock Kee Seafood but its English signboard still says Ponggol Seafood.

The drive on the narrow tree-lined Punggol Road is much shorter, as a section of the old road is now part of the Punggol HDB estate. And, of course, the pig farms are long gone.

What is the same is the view from the restaurant - of ships anchored offshore and nearby Pulau Ubin as a verdant hump on the horizon.

That view is best enjoyed in the day, preferably from inside the air-conditioned dining room. At night, however, it can be pleasant to dine outdoors, weather permitting, though you can hardly make out what is on the water except for the lights on the ships.

The menu keeps many of the old dishes that I remember from the 1980s. The chilli crab ($55 a kg) is a long-time favourite among diners here but I find the sauce flat with no acidity. A few drops of vinegar would perk it up and make it more appetising.

Also, the crabs taste like they are cooked separately and added to the sauce just before serving. The meat has none of the flavours from the sauce.

I much prefer another old-time favourite, the crispy baby squid ($12 for small). It's not as inky as I remember but it is still as delightfully crispy and tasty, with a sticky sweet and slightly piquant sauce.

I also like the seafood mee goreng ($8 for small). The ketchupy noodles are delicious, and come with squid, prawns, wedges of tomato and crisp slices of onion. The small serving is tiny though, barely enough for a one-person meal. So if you are in a group, order a large one.

The fried kangkong ($8 for small) is pretty good too, with the sambal spicy enough and the vegetable crisp.

But stay away from the lala beehoon ($14.80 for small), unless you are a pepper freak. There is so much of the spice in the dish that you cannot taste anything else. In fact, after a few spoonfuls of the broth, I feel the pepper burning my throat. So the dish stays half- finished at my table until it is cleared by the server.

Other dishes I try are not as bad but not great either. The prawns in salted egg yolk ($21 for small) are below average, with little of the rich yolk flavour one expects. There is no wok fragrance either.

The roast chicken ($15 for half) is also mediocre.

Service is bad. When I arrive, it takes me at least five minutes to catch the attention of one of the staff members - many of them walk past me and ignore my attempts to catch their attention.

After I finally get someone to check my reservation, she takes a look at my table and says some people are already sitting there.

Not taking that lying down, I get the squatters to move to another table, after which there is another long wait for someone to take orders. Even then, one of the dishes never gets to the table, despite two reminders.

It is a busy night and the restaurant is understaffed, but that is the situation many other restaurants also face. Yet I have not experienced service as chaotic as this.

So will I go back? Hmmmm.

Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

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