Monday, 16 April 2018

Kok Sen Restaurant of Keong Saik Road. Recommended by Singapore Michelin Guide

Dinner at the legendary Kok Sen 国成 restaurant at Singapore Chinatown's Keong Saik Road.

The bright, simply furnished restaurant occupying two narrow shop lots was full house this Sunday evening. Many families and groups of friends eating together. The atmosphere was cosy, casual, and filled warm camaraderie. I like it that as busy as Kok Seng is, it still has the laid back feel of old 1960s Singapore.

Kok Sen has been located on Keong Saik Road, the brothel strip of Singapore Chinatown, since the 1950s (when it was known as Kau Kee 球记). For decades, brothel clients and staff had been Kok Sen's regular customers (until the red light district was rezoned from the 1990s). Third generation Kok Sen has a wider clientele now, especially since clinching the Bib Gourmand Award in the inaugural Singapore Michelin Guide 2016.

According to legend, the founder of Kok Sen was a gambler. One day, he lost all his money and could not buy any supplies of meat, fish, poultry, etc. But, his hungry regulars showed up as usual, waiting to be served.

In his desperation, he whipped up a dish with hor fun, eggs and small dried shrimps 蝦銀 i.e. whatever there was in the pantry. 滑蛋蝦銀炒粉 was an instant hit and many customers came to Kok Sen just for it. It was the dish that launched the legend of Kok Sen.

I came looking for this humble hor fun with small dried shrimps. Sadly for me, it was no longer on the menu. (A created in Singapore heritage dish disappeared, now existing only in food lore.)

The in-thing they have now instead, is Big Prawn Thick Bee Hoon Soup 大蝦粗米湯 - a much more well endowed, much gentrified dish reflecting Kok Sen's prosperity and clients' affluence. It was a big bowl of thick rice vermicelli with indulgent big prawns and some greens in thick savoury spicy stock.

The stock was thick and heavy with robust savoury salty spicy taste. It reminded me of savoury spicy Sarawak laksa but with a lot more grounded dried prawns for more body. The umami from the dried prawns was pronounced.

There were several large fresh prawns in the bowl, served halved with shell and head on. I am not sure how many prawns there were, but three of us couldn't finish this.

The prawns were fresh, the meat had a soft crunch. But, I couldn't really taste the prawns' natural delicate flavours as it was overwhelmed by the robust savoury spicy stock.

The generic thick bee hoon went well with the robust savoury salty spicy stock. This 大蝦粗米湯 is an interesting dish which is unique to Kok Sen but I will be a bigger huge fan, if there was less of the large prawns (which made the dish rather expensive at $36).

蝦醬雞 Har Cheong Gai.

The chunks of chicken deeply infused with fermented prawn paste flavour was deep fried till it was brown outside. It was stiff outside and dry inside. The taste was a flat saltiness.

Deep Fried Frog with Ginger.

The fresh (live?) frogs were marinated with a savoury sauce and deep fried till browned outside. The slightly crisp outside sealed the juices inside. The savouriness was moderate and I was still able to taste a bit of the frog's natural delicate sweetness.

Seafood Hor Fun.

There was some toasty wok hei but not much. Buddy who is a weekly Kok Sen regular said they were a bit off form today.

But, I actually enjoyed this hor fun. I like the mild savoury sweetish eggy taste of the thick smooth sauce. I like it that they use broad rice sheets i.e. hor fun instead of kway teow. The hor fun's gentler flavours actually provided me some relief from the robust savoury spicy flavours of the other dishes we had that evening.

👉 Kok Sen is a restaurant with a long and colourful history as it is located in one of Singapore's most storied streets. I need to come back to try more dishes and suss out the lores of this historic eatery.

Have you tried Kok Sen? Which dishes do you recommend here? Do you have any Kok Sen story to share?

Restaurant name: Kok Sen 国成球记餐室
Address30 Keong Saik Rd, Singapore 089137
GPS1°16'48.9"N 103°50'29.8"E | 1.280256, 103.841609
Waze: Kok sen restaurant
Tel6223 2005 (reservations is advised)
Hours: 12:00pm - 2:00pm | 5:00pm - 11:00pm

Date visited: 15 Apr 2018

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1 comment:

  1. Jill Chua said on Johor Kaki FB: "I always eat the same signature dishes there. Claypot YTF, Kum Hiang Prawns, Fuyu Yau Mak and Fish belly with bittergourd. Always nicely executed with its signature culinary finesse."


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