British Hainan is exactly the type of restaurant most people would fall in love with the moment they rest their eyes on it (I did!!!). Looking almost like a museum filled with vintage collectibles from yesteryears, its irresistible charm further contributed to the rustic laidback allure of this quiet stretch of Carpmael Road within the Joo Chiat estate. Time seemed to have stopped and we were transported back to a bygone era while lazily enjoying our meal of traditional Hainanese Oxtail Stew (and many more). British favorites like Fish & Chips are also offered on the menu as part of a collaboration with home-grown British-inspired food label, Streets of London.
It's easy to go "ooh aah look at this! look at that!", feeling all nostalgic as we went around spotting retro items which we identified with our childhood days. Old television sets, fans, phones, clocks, typewriters and numerous paraphernalia dotted the entire restaurant in both the air-conditioned indoor and alfresco area. Very nice, but the CMI undomesticated me had a very practical question: "how to clean and keep all these dust-free huh?".
It turns out that the owner, Frederick Phua, has been an avid collector of these treasures for over 40 years, and as explained by his daughter, Vanessa: "My dad is the Chef Maintenance Officer; very experienced already!"
Dad Frederick and his wife, Jessie, are not the only contributors to this family business. In fact, Vanessa and her two siblings, Amelia and Clinton, have all left their jobs to focus on running the restaurant full-time. The Phua family had wanted to do something together and when the opportunity to realize their dream came, British Hainan is born. I think the unity of this family is pretty amazing, don't you think so too?
While the rest of the family members exercise their efforts in areas of serving, marketing and accounting, Amelia is the self-taught cook who helms the kitchen along with another chef. The menu features mainly western-fare with a good selection of starters such as the hearty Wild Mushroom Soup ($6) and ever-popular Truffles Fries ($10), along with mains like Bangers and Mash ($12.90), Dijon Mustard Pork Chop ($14.90), IPA Baby Back Ribs ($25.90) as well as pastas and pizzas.
Food are all prepared without any use of MSG and the variety certainly seems suitable for the wider audience. For instance, Fish and Chips ($13.90) is always a safe and pleasing choice when the fish fillet is fresh, wonderfully crispy on the outer and retains a moist inner. British Hainan does their beer-battered dory version competently well and it's generously portioned for its price. I liked it.
Of course we also had to try their signature Traditional Hainanese Oxtail Stew ($24.90) too. Well-executed to tenderness after hours of braising, the chunks of oxtail were infused with the rich flavors of beef and wine. Very appetite whetting! The gravy can do with less sweetness though, same goes for the Braised Lamb Shank ($28.90), which is another main dish of satisfying hearty portion completed with potatoes, carrots and bread.
IPA Chicken ($13.90) is dish which you must order at British Hainan because it's simply so so so tasty. The cut of boneless thigh was grilled to a perfectly succulent tender bite, with bursts of aromatic charred flavor at the edges. Sauce was again a tad on the sweet side but it's more balanced here with the subtle beer taste of Indian Pale Ale. I will come back again just to eat this.
We almost missed the SOL Sambal Wings ($8 for 6 pieces) until my still-hungry tummy told me to look at the menu at the end of our meal (I had left the ordering earlier to my dining companions). The wings were an absolute delight! Juicy, superbly well-marinated with a comfortable level of spiciness evenly coating my favorite mid-joint part. Best, it came deliciously piping hot! Yummy!
British Hainan's coffee is brewed using beans from Toby's Estate. Vanessa was very kind to allow me a go at baristaring my own cup of Latte ($4.50) and patiently guided me through the whole process from pulling the espresso, to making the perfect foam and finally integration to create beautiful latte art.
Wah, it's very difficult! I tamped down too hard on the coffee grounds the first time, only getting it right on the second try. My hands were both shaking as I attempted to make the most basic heart design! Haha I failed big time, my latte belongs to the 'can still drink (it was slightly bitter) but no art to see' type. The cup you see below is made by Vanessa. Thank you, sifu!
Dining at British Hainan may not bring you to the extreme heights of gastronomic pleasures but there are dishes worth coming for such as the IPA Chicken and Sambal Wings. The sincere warmth and hospitality of the owners made us feel right at home and it is not something which can be emanated without a passionate heart for the business. Being humble also makes them open to our feedback and I believe improvement is something which we can expect next.
Overall, it was very enjoyable afternoon with unforgettable memories! :)
Address: 75 Carpmael Road, Singapore 429812
Contact: +65 6336 8122
Opening Hours: Mon 11.30am-10pm / Wed-Sat 11.30am-10pm / Sun 6pm-10pm / Closed on Tue
Prices are nett with no service charge and GST.