It's 6.45pm and we’re baffled by the snaking queue outside week-old Mui Kee at Shaw Centre. After all, it's only Tuesday, a work/school night. Meanwhile, across the road lies former flavour-of-the-month Tsuta Ramen… very much queue-less.
A friendly waitress tells us the lines at Mui Kee are even worse at lunchtime. And it's been like this daily since it opened on March 26.
Thank god we booked a table via the good old telephone earlier this morning. Yes, unbeknownst to many (until now, that is), the 50-seater sets aside a few tables for reservations each day.
Still, we’re surprised by the crowd because we weren’t impressed with the watery porridge and wisps of bony, greasy fish the one time we sampled it from its eight-month pop-up stint at Casa Verde cafe in the Botanic Gardens (which the Les Amis Group, responsible for importing Mui Kee from Hong Kong, also owns). To be fair, our bowls were ordered through Deliveroo — the other occasion we tried dining onsite, we were told the “stoves aren’t working”.
But first, some history: Mui Kee started out as a dai pai tong (street stall) in 1979 before moving to its also no-frills stall in Mongkok. This SG branch is a partnership with the F&B veteran group, whose chairman is a big fan of the porridge in HK.
Presently, we push past the hungry horde to enter Mui Kee Singapore’s snazzier home in the space vacated by Caveau Wine Bar. We avoid any eye contact. Unfortunately, we are seated beside the window, where the aforementioned queueing customers stare unnervingly at our every move. As we snap photos of our food, we sense resentment searing through the glass. But we pretend to be impervious (how else would we populate our Instagram feed?)
THE MENU: There’s full table service here, rendered by likeable, on-the-ball staff. While Mui Kee in Hongkong serves just porridge, the menu here is far larger. There are 16 varieties of congee, mod rice rolls (only available for lunch), noodles, claypot dishes (only available for dinner), appetisers, sides and desserts. There’s a lot of spiel about the painstaking way Mui Kee cooks its porridge: rubbing raw rice grains with century eggs for "a smoother texture", then simmering fish bone stock for three hours before the rice is poured in and boiled for another four. Finally, flash-frying ingredients like sliced fish a la minute in rice wine before adding it to the porridge. Will the food at this standalone SG outlet live up to the hype (’cos it sure didn't when it was at Casa Verde)? Well, Mui Kee’s third-generation chef-owner Choi Gok Tung, 34, is in the kitchen till April 11 to oversee the cooking. And he’ll pop by every quarter (a Singaporean chef who trained with him for a year at his HK stall will head the kitchen in his absence). This probably explains why the food is superior today.
Check out the photo gallery above for more tips on skipping the queue and our undercover review of the grub here.
#01-42 Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Rd, S228208. Tel: 6737-2422. Open daily except Mon. 11.30am-2.30pm; 6pm-9.30pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/muikeesg.