Rise and fall of popular eatery

Son of Swee Kee chicken rice founder, Moh Tai Siang (left), is suing two brothers, Royston Moh Tai Suan (middle) and Moh Tai Tong (right) in tussle over a house which has been sold for $16 million, at the High Court, on April 18, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant was set up by Mr Moh Lee Twee in 1949, operating in the Yet Con coffee shop in Purvis Street, off Beach Road.

In 1950, the stall moved to "more commodious and hygienic premises" in Middle Road, as described in an advertisement that he took out in The Straits Times.

Fans would flock to 51, Middle Road - or to No. 53, after the eatery expanded to the neighbouring shophouse in 1959 - for another 47 years.

The business - named for the late Mr Moh but for a misspelling of the word "Twee" - was shuttered for good on January 31, 1997, when the property was redeveloped.

Swee Kee was said to be the first restaurant to bill itself as an exclusive purveyor of Hainanese chicken rice - "in the minimum of time with the maximum of care", a 1951 advertisement boasted, "and we are one of the best sellers in town".

This reputation proved a lasting one. Celebrity food critic Violet Oon noted in a review in 1980 that Swee Kee's chicken rice "was unanimously agreed" to be Singapore's best in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1984, the Middle Road shophouse premises was torn down and the restaurant continued plying its trade in the new six-storey building.

That year, the Moh family also rented space in Fortune Centre, down the road, to open an upmarket branch. That venture was a washout and plans to expand into Katong fizzled out.

While not everyone cared for traditional cuts of meat, the eatery was happy to accommodate. Parsi and Punjabi textile merchants from nearby High Street preferred skinless and sometimes boneless fillets, Mr Moh Tai Tong told The New Paper in 1993.

Since Swee Kee's closure in 1997, other chicken rice eateries have given themselves similar names - such as Zheng Swee Kee, Sin Swee Kee and the now defunct Old Swee Kee, all in Seah Street - but none claimed affiliations to the Mohs.

Annabeth Leow

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline Rise and fall of popular eatery. Subscribe