Chinatown Complex and Food Centre is a formidable temple of Singapore grub: it’s home to a hefty selection of old hawker stalls including the by-now legendary one-Michelin-starred Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, all bidding for the dollars of some of Singapore’s pickiest clientele: grumpy old people who can still remember when char kway teow was dished out on opeh leaves. Into this territory wades Silly’s Western, which opened in June. The storefront features all the hallmarks of millennial businesses: a colourful, cartoony facade, a blackboard menu scrawled with chalk, and a patch of artificial turf plastered on the counter for extra whimsy.
The owners are boyfriend-girlfriend pair Loh Supei, 28, and Zachary Lee, 25. Who’s Silly? No one — the young towkays just wanted a name that was cute and easy to remember. Zachary graduated from At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy with a culinary diploma, and worked as an intern at Da Paolo bistro bar at Rochester and Lime restaurant at the Royal Park On Pickering Hotel. After graduating, he wanted to set up his own business, so he and his girlfriend decided on this low-cost solution at the humid food centre — it’s set up with their own savings. It's Zachary's first job after graduation, and it's a hard, sweaty slog. But the couple shrug off the discomfort. “We like this space because we get to meet all kinds of people, and we can offer affordable Western food [with a twist],” says Supei, the chattier of the two, who left her job as a magazine writer to venture into the world of F&B.
ON THE MENU: Kopitiam-style Western stall offerings with a slightly fancier twist. Think Honey Paprika Chicken Chop ($6.90, above) or Apple Pork Chop ($7.50), with a choice of two sides from a list that includes Quinoa Salad and Sous Vide Eggs.
Crispy Fried Pollock, $6.90
A fillet of battered Alaskan pollock, a firm cod-like fish, served with fries. While the batter is nice and crunchy, the fish within is bland and in need of some acidity (ask for a wedge of lemon on the side). The chips are tasty and decently crunchy, though. In place of tartar sauce, there’s a bizarre dip of mayonnaise topped with chopped Chinese preserved plum that doesn’t quite work. For a side dish, we pick the too-sweet Apple Slaw tossed with yoghurt and apple cider vinegar.
Citrus Salmon Steak, $9.90
This is the best among the dishes we sampled. A thick chunk of Chilean salmon is cooked sous vide then lightly grilled and brushed with a soy and citrus glaze. The well-salted fish is perfectly tender and its zesty lemon and orange glaze gives it a nice lift. Even the side dishes here fare well: crunchy chilled Quinoa Salad with sweet pops of pomegranate, and a rather yummy if generic Potato Salad.
Apple Pork Chop, $6.50
Pork loin is brined overnight then given the sous vide treatment till it’s 80 per cent cooked, before being flash-grilled just to brown its exterior. Despite all that work, it’s still bone-dry. We prefer the cinnamon-dusted cubes of stewed apple that crown it. The sides we get with this are herbed rice made with musty-smelling dried herbs, decent buttery Mushroom Medallions (oyster mushrooms sliced into coins), and a runny yolked Sous Vide Egg.
BOTTOM LINE: Ambitious gourmet flourishes seem to overshadow basic cooking techniques like proper seasoning and doneness of meats in the dishes here. We think this young chef needs a bit more time to hone his culinary skills. That being said, his succulent salmon steak is worth a try if you’re in the area.
#02-100 Chinatown Complex, 335 Smith St, S050335. No Tel. Open daily except Wed. Mon-Tue, Thur-Fri noon-3pm; 6pm-10pm & Sat-Sun noon-10pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/SillyWesternSG