Foodie Confidential

Zi char under the stars

One of Mr Andy Kiu's fondest memories of food is taking in the smoky flavours at open-air zi char stalls

Who: Mr Andy Kiu, 45, general manager of Food Republic, the food atrium division of the BreadTalk Group. The former Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight steward, who is also a trained sommelier, has been Food Republic's general manager for the last five years. His wife Denise Chen, 39, is a housewife and they have two children aged six and two.

How do you go about curating the food offerings at Food Republic?

First of all, we try not to duplicate the brands if our outlets are in close proximity to one another.

Take our outlets at Ion Orchard, Shaw House and Wisma Atria.

At Ion Orchard's Food Opera, for example, we have a Hong Kong roast meats operator.

That is why, when we revamped Food Republic at Wisma Atria last November, we offered herbal pipa roast duck for differentiation, to give our diners more options.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • It would have to be my mother's cooking - a simple home-cooked meal that always brings comfort. It is familiar, there are no surprises and I never tire of it.

    I would want to have her soya sauce chicken and pork rib and winter melon soup with cuttlefish.

Why did you revamp Food Republic at Wisma Atria?

The Wisma Atria outlet is our first - it opened 12 years ago.

We now have a new 1970s theme. Previously, the foodcourt had more of a 1950s feel.

Foodcourts and the brands within can get tired. That is also why we took the opportunity to refresh the mix at the Wisma Atria outlet.

We also try to bring in stalls with heritage and that have never operated in a foodcourt because we want to give them greater longevity and showcase them to a younger crowd.

One new addition to Food Republic at Wisma Atria is The Original Katong Laksa, which has outlets at Roxy Square and Queensway Shopping Centre. It is the first time it is operating in a foodcourt.

Where are your favourite local haunts?

I like Kok Sen, a zi char restaurant at 30 Keong Saik Road. The food looks ordinary, but each dish actually has a lot of complexity.

The ingredients are fresh and the dishes are well-executed. The chefs have strong Cantonese-style cooking techniques. Seemingly simple dishes such as steamed fish, for example, are cooked to perfection.

I also like Kok Sen's big prawn noodles - the broth is always flavourful and aromatic.

The eatery is also one of the few places where you can still request a table in the back alley, which I find very charming.

I head to Hong Lim Market and Food Centre in Chinatown for crayfish hor fun from Tuck Kee (Ipoh) Sah Hor Fun. There is also a Teochew stall that sells good pig trotter jelly.

For Hakka yong tau foo, I go to The Beef House at 217 Syed Alwi Road.

What do you crave after a trip overseas?

The flavour of pork lard.

After a trip overseas and if I arrive in the morning, I usually make my way to Tiong Bahru for mee pok from a no-name stall at a corner coffee shop in Seng Poh Road.

The broth is robust and I like the stall's combination of chilli, vinegar and pork lard - a mix that I feel is unique to Singapore.

Do you cook?

Yes. I make a mean curry. I make it with either chicken or pork ribs. I add chilli powder and plenty of curry leaves for extra punch and flavour.

What is one of your earliest food memories?

When I was growing up, there were all these smoky flavours from the open-air zi char stalls and coffee shops.

I remember seeing food being cooked over charcoal flames - that wonderful smell, the noise, eating under the sky - we don't see this anymore. This is one of my fondest childhood food memories.

What is your most memorable dining experience?

More than a decade ago, while on a trip to Barcelona when I was a flight steward with SIA, I remember eating at a hole-in-the-wall tapas bar called Can Paixano.

The energy of the restaurant, the sounds and smells, people standing around - it was small, but it had so much character.

The memory is still very vivid to me. I like the Spanish food-sharing culture, which has a strong social element to it.

Where do you go to unwind?

I like to go to Japanese izakaya joints after a long day as these places open until late.

My favourite one is Otowa at Cuppage Plaza, which is frequented by many people in the food and beverage industry.

It is a tiny, intimate eatery and I enjoy interacting with the chefs there. And if you are too tired, they give you your space.

It is a great place to unwind over sake and shochu, light snacks and perfectly trimmed yakitori. I usually leave it to the chef to decide what to serve me.

If you could dine with anyone in the world, who would it be?

My wife. There is something very special about dining with your life partner. You can talk about anything under the sun.

To enjoy a good meal, you need to let your guard down and be comfortable with your dining companion.

• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 06, 2018, with the headline 'Zi char under the stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe