Old Chang Kee to open in London

The Singapore snack chain will open an outlet in the British capital this year

At a recent Old Chang Kee pop-up event in London, 1,200 curry puffs sold out quickly. PHOTO: SANDRA LEONG
At a recent Old Chang Kee pop-up event in London, 1,200 curry puffs sold out quickly. PHOTO: SANDRA LEONG

Biting into a crisp golden brown Hainanese-style curry puff in London will soon be possible.

Home-grown curry puff chain Old Chang Kee will debut in the United Kingdom with an outlet in central London in the second half of this year.

Diners can expect to tuck into popular items such as chicken curry puffs, curry potato puffs, mushroom chicken puffs and curry chicken rice sets.

While the search for a suitable site for the shop is ongoing, it will likely be a cafe that is at least 500 sq ft in size.

Old Chang Kee's London outpost is a joint venture between the chain and Ms Sandra Leong, 35, a Singaporean who has been living in London for the past six years. She approached the chain in the middle of last year with the idea of bringing its curry puffs to the UK.

She says: "The British love a good curry as much as they love a good pastry. The curry puff is an iconic Singaporean snack that is a marriage of these two great things. London is also such a melting pot of international cuisines, so we know there's a place for Singaporean food here."

The former Straits Times journalist adds that the decision to bring Old Chang Kee to London was a "purely selfish" one.

"As an overseas Singaporean, you always miss the food from back home," she says. "This was a decision made with the head as well as the stomach."

Response to an Old Chang Kee pop-up event, which was held two weeks ago in Kentish Town in north-west London, was "overwhelming", according to Mr Song Yeow Chung, 38, Old Chang Kee's group financial controller.

About 1,200 puffs were snapped up in the two-day event. They were sold out within four hours each day.

On taking the Singapore curry puff brand to London, Mr Song says: "With a strong Indian population in London, diners there are familiar with curry dishes in the many Indian, Thai and Japanese eateries. We can offer something different with our Hainanese curry."

He adds that the team is looking for a shop space that receives high footfall as curry puffs are fast-moving items.

"There is a lot of competition among food and beverage businesses for shop spaces in central London and the landlords are sceptical when it comes to a Singapore brand compared with international ones," he says.

To ensure that the quality of the pastries stays consistent, a team from Old Chang Kee will be based in London for two weeks to transfer know-how of the cooking process and operations. The curry paste, which is made from a secret blend of spices here, will be shipped to London regularly.

Like the curry puffs in Singapore, those in London will follow the same semi-automated cooking process.

The dough and filling will be made in a central kitchen, but the puffs will be sealed by hand and fried in the shop.

According to Mr Song, prices of the food at the upcoming outlet will be largely similar to those at the pop-up. At the pop-up, the price of a curry puff started at £2 (S$3.50) and the curry chicken rice set was £6. A curry puff costs $1.50 at its stores here.

On the price difference, Mr Song says that it is due to additional labour and rental costs, and costs of shipping the curry paste.

There are plans to open outlets in other cities, including Manchester and Birmingham.

Old Chang Kee started out as a humble curry puff stall near Rex Cinema in Mackenzie Road in 1956.

In 1986, it was bought over by Mr Han Keen Juan, who has expanded the brand to more than 80 outlets here and nine outlets in Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline Old Chang Kee curry puffs head for London. Subscribe