Restaurant review: Surf triumphs over turf at WangJi Seafood

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 20, 2013

Oh, says one of my dining companions when told we are having dinner at Sims Drive, "the parking will be impossible".

Well as it turns out, we did not have any problems. WangJi Seafood Restaurant is tucked away from bustling Sims Avenue, in a HDB neighbourhood.

The brightly lit coffeeshop where the stall is located looks like a beacon among shops shuttered for the day. It is a popular hangout for residents there, who watch one of two TVs hung from the ceiling and drink beer, bottles of which nestle in plastic buckets.

Things can get a bit raucous, especially when they argue over characters in a Mandarin TV series, but all of that adds to the fun of dining there.

The food more than passes muster.

Assam Fish Head ($20), you will be pleased to know, does not come swimming in a generic gravy from some central kitchen. It is, to me, terribly spicy but those with higher tolerance for chilli will appreciate it. Little details matter and the batons of eggplant are lightly charred at the edges. The deep frying helps them keep their shape, so they soak up all that gravy without falling apart.

A retro dish of Yam Basket ($16) tastes old school. The yam, not mixed with much flour, has the natural sweet taste of the root vegetable. The frying here is expert, so the "basket" is not greasy. Chunks of chicken, prawns, broccoli, bell peppers, canned mushrooms and other goodies are piled inside. The yam is the attraction for me, however, because the filling is just a simple stirfry without much character.

The same cannot be said about the Salted Egg Yolk Prawn ($16). I have had countless versions of this dish, but the one here has lots more oomph than at most places. It helps that the crustaceans are shelled before cooking so there are no barriers between prawn and yolk. It has a hint of caramelised flavour too, which is new to me in this dish.

A dish of spinach with slices of bailing mushroom ($12), however, is unremarkable.

We also order one of the day's specials - chicken steamed with wine ($12). It comes with great ceremony, a puffed up aluminium foil package on a hotplate. The server uses a pair of scissors to cut an X in the middle of the package and then peels back the foil. The dish smells lovely, of hot wine and ginger. Unfortunately, the chicken is less than perfect. The breast meat is overcooked, and the thigh and leg parts are undercooked, with blood oozing from one of the pieces I snag. What is left, really, is the broth, full of goodness from the chicken, pepped up with ginger and wolfberries.

Perhaps in this seafood zi char place, surf triumphs over turf.

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