251 & 253 Outram Rd, S169049. Tel: 9790-5682. Open daily 5pm-10.30pm. Last orders at closing.
We adore crab bee hoon. But crab bee hoon that’s both amazing and affordable is hard to find. The one at Sin Huat Eating House, run by hawker nazi Danny, fries up some of the most divine crab bee hoon to meet our lips when the testy towkay is in a good mood. But he also charges an arm and a leg for it. So our current next best place is Long Ji at Outram Road, popular for its tasty enough, fairly-priced crab bee hoon. It appears to be the go-to spot for many lovers of the dish too, since it’s absolutely heaving this Sunday night. Well, the place is not exactly new. Its first incarnation was a stall in Bukit Merah View Hawker Centre in 2013 before it moved to an airy Tiong Bahru coffeeshop in 2014. It also briefly had a second branch at a grimy kopitiam stall in Havelock Road last year. Confused yet? Don’t be. Its more ‘glamorous’ new digs at Outram now seems to be permanent. It occupies two shophouse units and is, to our relief, fully air-conditioned. Affable Malaysian chef-owner, Mac Kong, 41, started out as a cook specialising in crab bee hoon and other zi char faves for four years at Golden Spoon restaurant in Tiong Bahru, before leaving to set up his own shop cooking, well, pretty much the same stuff. “I was the one who created the recipes for all these dishes,” reasons Mac. Fair enough.
THE LOOK: The 140-seater is by no means fancy, but it’s several steps up from its previous outlets by virtue of the fact that it is air-conditioned. Hallelujah, no more sweating while cracking crab shells. The flooring comprises tiles of a nondescript tawny colour, and the chairs are mostly red plastic (with a few maroon cloth-draped ones). The only fancy touch here: the white tablecloths, and you’re served pickles and nuts the moment your bum hits the seat.
THE FOOD: Prices here are slightly steeper than at Mac’s prior kopitiam joints. You’re paying for a comfier setting, after all. The first dish to arrive is the signature Crab Bee Hoon ($60 per kg; previously $55). Today, we are lucky chef Mac is busy in the kitchen instead of schmoozing, so the noodles are on point. The bee hoon here is so wet, it even has a moat of gravy surrounding it. This took us some getting used to initially, since the crab bee hoon we usually love is only gently moist. The rice noodles are moderately smoky, its flavour derived from being immersed in a soupy-thick stock made by simmering the crab with cabbage, and oddly: oyster sauce (but with no added MSG, says chef). Its flavour is sweet and robust, due largely, we suspect, to secondary ingredients like the cabbage and oyster sauce more than the crab juices since there’s so much of that gravy. Reserve larger crustaceans if you can, for the heftier Sri Lankan mud creatures possess firmer, more succulent flesh (be warned the larger ones cost $70/kg). Otherwise, the crabs offered hover around a modest 1kg – 1.2kg.
Another signature dish here is the Fermented Pork Belly (from $15). Wobbly meat shot with a mellow, pleasantly funky fermented beancurd marinade, then deep-fried to form a crisp coat. Irresistible when hot, slightly soggy as it cools. So don’t dawdle, eat it quickly.
The Green Dragon Vegetable ($12 for small), apparently coveted chives from Cameron Highlands, are stir-fried with bean sprouts. Garlicky, crunchy and good, if a touch greasy.
There are also some new dishes at this branch, and a clear favourite at our table is the Golden Corn ($12). Crunchy deep-fried kernels tossed in salted egg yolk sauce that pop in the mouth in little bursts of sweetness and brininess. Popcorn has nothing on this.
VERDICT: **** This crab bee hoon isn’t the dreamiest version we’ve had, but it’s dependably good, fairly priced and generously portioned. Just like your lovely boyfriend with a dad bod (vs. a hot and flashy but unreliable fling. Cough, Sin Huat). $$ - $$$
Classic Golden Spoon
62 Seng Poh Lane, S160062. Open daily 11am-2.30pm; 5pm - 10.30pm. Last orders 2.15pm & 10.15pm. Tel: 6536-2218
It is ironic that we discovered Classic Golden Spoon by chance some months ago. “Hey, the crab bee hoon here looks exactly like Long Ji’s,” we remark in surprise to our makan partner in crime. “And they even have the same green dragon vegetable!” Turns out this was the place chef Mac Kong from Long Ji used to work before he became a towkay. He cooked here for about four years till it closed down in 2013. “Because our landlord saw how good our business was, so he decided to open a similar restaurant in the same space, but it failed. So over a year ago, I moved back here and reopened Classic Golden Spoon (he added ‘Classic’ to the original name),” says owner Alfred Ku, 50, during our incognito visit. The man is chatty and affable despite the somewhat intimidating religious amulets around his neck. “Now, I have another chef, but I’ve been in the F&B business for a long time, so many of the ideas for the dishes come from me,” he claims. Classic Golden Spoon is right opposite famous zi char joint Por Kee in Tiong Bahru.
THE LOOK: While this place boasts a slightly more ‘swish’ dining room than Long Ji, with dimmer lighting, pale pink tablecloths and Oriental paintings on the walls, it smells — how should we put this — a bit like a temple. There’s an altar by the entrance where joss sticks constantly smoulder.
THE FOOD: If Long Ji’s Crab Bee Hoon is masculine because it is smoky and robust, then Golden Spoon’s version ($70/kg) is its feminine counterpart. It looks almost the same; an orange specimen perched atop a hillock of lard-speckled bee hoon and gravy river simmered with crab shells, Jinhua ham, chicken bones and cabbage. But the noodles here are more subtly flavoured, with just a hint of wok hei and umami. It’s also less greasy and heavy. Pretty moreish on our first visit, but sadly under seasoned on our second. At least the medium-sized Sri Lankan crab itself is juicy, fresh and sweet on both occasions. The Green Dragon Vegetable ($16) here is regrettably bland though it boasts great texture.
And the off-menu item of Dried Oyster, Salted Egg and Prawn Fritters ($8 a piece) would’ve been quite special if it weren’t strangely under-salted for something with salted egg yolk in it.
Meanwhile, the Marmite and Honey Pork Ribs ($15) are sweet, savoury, and quite yummy, though our mother-in-law declares “I don’t taste any Marmite in this”.
VERDICT: *** Think of the crab bee hoon here as the slightly healthier version of Long Ji’s ’cos it seems to be cooked with less salt and oil. Usually pleasant, but unfortunately somewhat bland if the chef is having a bad day. $$ - $$$
Hold the gravy
If you prefer crab bee hoon dry-fried with no gravy, and in posh surrounds, the one at Seafood Paradise in MBS has your name on it.
There are crab bee hoon purists who are of the opinion that too much gravy in the dish — like the one served at Long Ji — dilutes the sweet flavours of the shellfish. In a way, they’re right. The Wok-Fried Bee Hoon with Sri Lankan Crab (currently $80/kg) at the elegant Seafood Paradise, which relocated from its flagship outlet at Defu Lane to Marina Bay Sands where Santi once stood, should please this camp. Its cooking method is unique. Instead of first softening the bee hoon in water before frying it with the crab and some stock as it’s traditionally done, the dry rice vermicelli here is stir-fried straight from its packet with the crabs and a little bit of pork stock. This results in each strand being saturated with all the liquor of the shellfish, with no unnecessary water to interfere with its umami flavour. It also boasts an assertively springy texture and is extra peppery (we wish the chef was less enthusiastic with the spice). The crabs, incidentally, are nice and meaty. But the real star is the bee hoon: rich with smoke and the soul of the sea
Seafood Paradise at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Ave, #02-03 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, S018956. Open daily 11.30am-3.30pm; 5.30pm-11pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing.