Cheap & Good

Restaurant Review: Enjoy fish head curry in a kampung ambience

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 19, 2013

There's good food and free parking to boot at this place tucked away in old Tampines Road.

And those are not the only draws of Good Year Restaurant, which some regulars have fondly called "mini Johor" because of its rustic, kampung ambience. A chicken running around reminds one of some parts of the Malaysian state. Stacks of tyres placed haphazardly in the open area serve to enhance the laidback charm.

I am hooked after my friend takes me there one afternoon to try the fish head curry ($22). The fresh ang ko li (red snapper) is cooked just right - tender enough for the flesh to just come off the fork.

And what is fish head curry if it is not loaded with lots of vegetables? The brinjals are firm, not mushy, and the cabbage and lady's fingers still retain their crunchiness though I would have preferred them softer.

And it is such a delight to drench the white rice with the thick curry gravy with its lovely reddish-orange hue and enjoy it slowly. The gravy was spicy enough for me and it was delicious. Before I know it, I have almost wiped the plate clean.

Curious to find out what it would be like to eat there at night, I return to check out the Pontian bak kut teh ($5.50).

Apparently, one of the three restaurant owners liked the pork rib soup in the small town in Johor so much that he bought the recipe and got a chef to go there to learn to cook it.

The Malaysian version is more herbal, not as peppery as the local one. What makes it different is that a little pepper from Sarawak is used. It is more fragrant, says Ms Janie Lee, 43, one of the partners.

She adds that what is served at the restaurant has been modified after getting feedback from Singaporeans, who like their food less salty. For someone who cannot stomach salty food, I find the soup quite tasty, but those who like the peppery type may find it a little mild.

The sambal kangkong ($7), with its spicy belacan chilli tinged with a slight sweetness and chye poh (preserved radish) omelette ($6) are good accompaniments with the bak kut teh for a simple but lovely dinner.

It is almost like dining under the stars. But if you prefer cool comfort, head for the air-conditioned part of the eatery.