Restaurant Review: Blissful bites at TungLok Teahouse

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 17, 2013

The TungLok group of restaurants has brought back the familiar TungLok Teahouse name to the CBD area.

The original Tung Lok Tea House opened a decade ago in China Square, offering mainly all-day dim sum but closed down after a few years. The new TungLok Teahouse, in nearby Far East Square, is, however, quite different.

The three-month-old restaurant offers dim sum too, but only for lunch, as well as an extensive selection of main dishes. And for the first time, the group is making a foray into Teochew cuisine.

The selection of Teochew dishes is rather small though, comprising 15 savoury items and a yam puree dessert. The highlight is the range of soya dishes, a signature style of Teochew cooking where various ingredients are stewed in soya sauce and spices.

My favourite is the Soya Pig Intestines ($14), a dish that is not commonly seen on restaurant menus these days because of the work involved in cleaning the large intestines. Here, they are cooked till just the right tenderness and most of the strong smell has been eliminated. Dipped in the accompanying chilli-garlic- vinegar sauce, it is an indulgence any offal-loving diner would find hard to resist.

Other soya dishes include pork belly ($15), egg with beancurd ($10), duck meat ($16) and duck wings and web ($14). You can also request for a combination of different items and the restaurant will price it accordingly. My platter of intestines and duck meat, which comes with beancurd as well, costs $22.

I find the duck meat a tad dry but that is because ducks available here tend to be lean.

Dim sum is generally very good here. Whether it is traditional items such as Steamed Shrimp Dumpling ($5.50) or original creations such as Steamed Truffle Dumplings With Wild Fungus ($4.50), standards are high. I especially like the Teahouse Signature Rice Roll "Cheong Fun" ($6.80), a new creation that has diced mushrooms rolled in a crispy deep- fried beancurd sheet before being wrapped with a steamed rice sheet. It is tasty and the contrasting textures make it more interesting than normal cheong fun.

The bulk of the main dishes are classic home-style Cantonese fare, and the soups are a must. The Double-boiled Soup With Sea Whelk And Tonics ($32), which is packed with chicken and pork, is one of the most delicious Chinese soups I've drunk in a long time and really heartwarming on a rainy day. There is enough for only three rice bowls though.

The claypot dishes are good too. The Soon Hock With Roast Pork And Garlic ($32) is a good choice for both meat and fish lovers. You get an entire deep-fried fish and cloves of browned garlic simmered briefly with chunks of pork in a brown sauce that is so full of umami you want to spoon it on steaming white rice.

These old-time flavours are reflected in the restaurant decor. On the walls are prints of old Chinese advertisements and photographs of colonial-day Singapore. While waiting for the food to arrive, you can while away the time by seeing if you recognise places in the photos such as Lau Pa Sat in Shenton Way when it was still a wet market.

I had the most fun with a poster filled with tiny portraits of Chinese movie stars from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Linda Lin Dai, Betty Loh Ti and Diana Chang Chung Wen. There are scores of them and I guess it is an indication of my age that I can identify more than half of the stars.

TungLok Teahouse is an easy place to like. The food is good, service is warm and the prices are reasonable. Weekday lunches are buzzing with the office crowd from the Raffles Place area but if you are not looking for dim sum, dinner is best for a leisurely meal with friends or family.

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

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