fantastic seafood and zi char at this casual chinese restaurant nearish the singapore expo – really, it’s rather out of the way (for us), but it’s now become my family’s go-to place for crabs and the like, and well-worth travelling to. the place has been packed to the rafters even by early evening (we popped here on two consecutive sundays because it was so good) – but the prices are reasonable, the food is absolutely commendably executed, and service is both sincere and quick.
if you’re not from around here – then zi char refers to a rather casual style of dining-out, where you get local home-style chinese cooking spanning nearly anything you could want – meat, seafood and veg – with some stalls so expert as to provide restaurant-quality cooking at more accessible prices.
let’s start with their simpler dishes – we’ve spanned quite a bit of the menu on both visits, and there hasn’t been a dish we didn’t like. bright greens stir-fried simply with garlic, a deeply dark and appetising rendition of dark KL-style fried hokkien noodles, and piping-hot claypot tofu with ground meat. our favourite dishes are two of their recommended specialties: a fried tofu swamped with a golden pumpkin sauce (so much that the waitress accidentally upended a little on the table – not a bad problem at all) and topped with fried enoki – how have we never seen fried enoki before! (I discount tempura renditions that don’t serve the same purpose) – smooth, silky tofu and crunchy prawns; as well as a flatish pancake of beancurd skin wrapped around some seafood paste. the latter is a typical offering, but not at this quality – I don’t really enjoy fried foods but this had discernably large prawns that made it worth eating, even if I think it could have been a little better-drained.
but their seafood is the reason we come – we do have pretty good zi char options near home – their crabs are always cooked perfectly, and I think their many customers help turn over their produce regularly – so it’s all fresh and the crabmeat isn’t mushy or sticks to the shell. the chilli crab comes in a flavourful viscous sauce with large bits of barely cooked egg and a satisfying punch of heat; my favourite is steamed crab – I rather like its clean purity – with moist flesh and lots of ginger for fragrance. maybe it could be improved if it came with steamed egg at the bottom, but that’s a minor quibble.
we’ve also had prawns two ways: spliced open and stuffed with garlic, steamed in a sweet soy sauce, and more simply boiled in broth with lots of ginger and cilantro. both are good – the first is a little salty without rice, but the garlic isn’t pungent and very easy to eat.
having spent a few years away, I’ve gained newfound appreciation for places like this one – where you can viably decide not to cook and pay a little more for a balanced meal: this isn’t really an option you often get in london – not such variety at equivalent prices, anyway.
the food here is great – and it draws large crowds despite occupying two shop spaces in an obscure location, so I recommend reservations, and also that you head down for a spot of great seafood no matter where you are. it beats those too-crowded options at the east coast – you know which ones I mean – in price, service and quality.
Big Eater Restaurant (Upper Changi)
34 Jalan Pari Burong
tel +65 6245 7268
p.s. on a tangential drift, is anyone else watching the taste, starring the lovely nigella? I caught a bit of an episode last night and while I truly have an aversion for reality telly – I love how polite and gorgeous she is (and how eloquent and down to earth!).