The blogging ennui bug got me for a bit. Hopefully I’ve managed to rid myself of it. Anyway, Tong Ah is a cze char place that I wanted to review for quite a while and I’ve finally got around to it. On all my previous visits here, I left suitably impressed and extremely full. This time was no exception.
Originally located where Potato Head now sits, Tong Ah remains at Keong Saik but relocated across the road. Thankfully, the quality of the food hasn’t changed.
There are a number of signature dishes and across my three visits, I’ve tried most of them (although they are not all the subject of this review).
For starters, we had the Fragrant chicken or (what I think is a rendition of) San Bei Ji.
Simply brilliant. The chicken was crispy at the edges and the meat was tender enough (for a dish like this at least). The main elements of this dish are quite simple really, being soy sauce, sesame oil and and Chinese wine. But as with all things, it’s easy to know the general strokes as the brilliance is in the details. For example, exactly how much of what to add and precisely how long to reduce for. Further, no one really sticks with just the base ingredients – or at least no one whose produced a version of the dish worthy of having repeat customers. I’m pleased to say that the sticky sauce was perfectly reduced, clinging to the chicken like honey from the comb.
Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Dong Po Rou
Named after a famous Chinese poet, I first came to know the name of this dish a couple of years ago when I was in Hangzhou – the birthplace of this decadent dish. I say I came to know the name because belly pork and I had been friends for quite some time by then already.
The main ingredients are, again, relatively straightforward although the quality of the dark soya sauce is usually the make or break factor with this dish. Other critical factors would be braising time, the addition of other ingredients (like red wine…mmm) and, of course, the slicing of the pork. If done properly, dong po rou should come perfectly sliced in rectangular cubes with each cube showing a separation between the skin, fat, meat and more fat.
Tong Ah has a reputation for producing extremely good dong po rou and this time was no different – although the slicing left something to be desired in my book. Still, a consistently good rendition of one of my favourite dishes.
Verdict: 4 / 5
Salted Egg Prawns / Soft Shell Crab
The last time I visited, a friend ordered their salted egg soft shell crab and it was love from first bite. Unfortunately they did not have soft shell crab this time, so we had to settle for prawns.
The distinctive feature here is that rather than simply frying the prawns in salted egg yolk / batter, the dish is prepared with salted egg yolk floss. I have absolutely no idea how they do it – but it works a treat. The prawns themselves were fresh, succulent and crispy but the real show stopper is the floss.
In my humble opinion, the salted egg floss goes went far better with soft shell crab than with prawns – simply because the milt inside the soft shell crab proved a harmony of creamy, crispy decadence – something I could not get with the prawns. So if you try this dish – make sure to ask for soft shell crab!
Verdict: 3.5 / 5 (4.5 / 5 if you have the soft shell crab!!)
Ooo ahhh Cantona! I don’t really know how to describe this dish apart from the fact that it tasted like all things sinful wrapped together and deep fried like one of those monster dishes being churned out of Malaysian kopitiams. Actually, I’m pretty certain the chef is Malaysian – since in my view Malaysian chefs cook the best cze char!
Without really understanding what goes inside this dish, I’m hesitant to say too much. What I would say though is that this should be on your list of die die must try treats.
Verdict: 4 / 5
Claypot Tofu with Roast Pork
Competent if not mind blowing. I’ve tried their deep fried yong tau fu in claypot before with sweet sauce – that was absolutely stunning. This was a little underwhelming and the gravy was slightly on the watery side. Still, if you’re a tofu person this dish is passable, although not one I’d order again.
Verdict: 3 / 5
Fried Beehoon with Sliced Fish
Given the standard of the food overall, this was a little disappointing as the beehoon was slightly too oily (and I think it’s saying something coming from someone who ordinarily has no objections to my food being drenched in oil). The wok hei was also not that apparent. Perhaps the chef had an off day? I might order this again at another time given that I’ve heard that this dish is supposedly a specialty and, accordingly, worth another try. This time though, I was not that impressed.
Verdict: 2.5 / 5
An extremely competent cze char dining destination and well worth the travel / wait, particularly if you’re in or near the central business district. As with all places, there may be off days but who doesn’t? It doesn’t pay to be too unforgiving (unless you have several bad experiences in a row) and, in any event, this was not a bad day by any measure. Definitely a place I can see myself going back to several times more.
All images captured with the Sony A7s & Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH
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