Truth to be told, I was rather skeptical when I learned that Straits Express restaurant serves Peranakan, Penang Street Food and Anglo-Hainanese cuisine all under one roof. Well, more often than not, places that try to offer a multi-cuisine experience ended up executing mediocre "half-here half-there" food which lose in terms of taste, though winning in variety.
But since I've yet to visit the newly-opened Kallang Wave Mall at Singapore Sports Hub (next to mrt station: CC6 Stadium) and need dinner anyway, I thought might as well just go over to take a look and get the tummy filled. Happy to say that some of the dishes at Straits Express turned out to be highly enjoyable! :D
If you've already been to the mall, but somehow Straits Express escaped your attention, it might be that its entrance is located on outside of the building (facing the scenic Kallang river). Design-wise, it takes on the railway theme of an imaginary luxury train that journey us back in time to savour food from the Straits Settlement era when Singapore was part of British colony, hence the name "Straits Express".
"一山不容二虎, one mountain cannot accommodate two tigers" so goes the Chinese idiom, but one kitchen can certainly accommodate a few master chefs haha. At Straits Express, each cuisine served has its own dedicated chef.
Anglo-Hainanese cuisine throws me back to my Hainanese roots. My grandpa was one of the many Hainanese who served as cooks in the kitchens of many British households in old Singapore, and created a unique style of western food with a Hainanese touch.
We tried the Mulligatawny Soup ($4.50) which was not too unlike minestrone, but with hints of curry flavor. Toad In A Hole ($10.50) got its name from the way the pork sausages peeped out from its baked batter, but other than the tongue-in-cheek name, the dish was forgettable in most parts.
While the Oxtail Stew ($18.50) was not perfect, it was one of the better dishes from the Anglo-Hainanese menu with meat that was cooked to lovely tenderness. Though the oxtail itself can do with a tad more flavor, the shortfall was mitigated by the rich and lip-smacking gravy which it was smothered in.
The Penang Street Food menu throws up quintessential favorites such as the pleasing Lor Bak ($8), rolls of chopped pork collar wrapped and deep-fried in beancurd sheet, as well as Assam Laksa ($8), thick rice vermicelli in hot and sour fish gravy. The latter was adequately spicy and sour, but somehow lack the robustness similar to what I've tasted before in Penang town itself.
My vote of recommendation went to the Penang Fried Seafood Kway Teow ($9)! The skinny flat rice noodles stir-fried with generous amount of prawns and squid in a spicy, savory sauce was a hit with everyone at our table! One element that catapulted it from decent to delightful was the coveted wok hei (breath of wok) which held our attention till the very end. This was easily one of the better renditions we can find in Singapore.
Of all the three cuisines, the one which left the most impression was the Peranakan. While the Nyonya Mee Siam ($8) was exceedingly sourish for me, the rest of the items we tried was really good, and beckoned for plates of white rice to make the ambrosial experience complete.
I was hoping to eat my favorite Babi Pongteh ($14), braised pork belly cooked with mushrooms, bamboo shoots and potatoes, but tried something even better, the Babi Tohay ($18)! It seems that Babi Tohay is kind of a "forgotten" Peranakan dish, as we seldom see it served in most restaurants nowadays.
Requiring meticulous preparation work, the mixture of red rice yeast, brandy and a host of ingredients has to be fermented for 7 days before it is used to cook together with the meat. Oh my goodness! The resulting dish was richly deep in flavors, yet well-balanced and delicate without any surfeit afterfeel. Those slices of pork belly retained an enjoyable slight bite and its fats were simply melting in the mouth. The first time experience of trying Babi Tohay was certainly delightful and I can see myself returning to Straits Express just to relish in this pork belly goodness again.
The Nyonya Chap Chye ($9.50) was another homely classic not to be missed, and Prawn Belimbing ($18) will appeal to you who love the firm bite of the crustacean and its appetite whetting tangy taste.
Desserts could be the weakest link, as both the English Apple Pie ($4.50) and Assorted Nyonya Kuay ($3) was passable at best. Perhaps an order of icy Nyonya Chendol ($5) to cleanse the palate after this heavy meal would be a better idea.
Straits Express is opened daily from lunch onwards, and come evening time, the adjoining bar comes alive with live band performances. This is quite a suitable place for group gatherings, considering the food, bar drinks, music, soccer screenings and even a pool table to keep the entertainment going.
For me, just the Penang Fried Kway Teow and Babi Tohay are sufficient to lure this PinkyPiggu back.
Address: Kallang Wave Mall, 1 Stadium Place, #01-24/28, Singapore 397628
Contact: +65 6702 2964
Opening Hours: Daily 11am-10pm