Diners either love Hong Kong Café or hate it, grumbling about having to pay $7 for instant noodles. Yet this first cha chan teng (tea café) to be opened in Singapore (by a local Hainanese) has more fans than foes thanks to its extensive 100-plus variety of trendy favourites. So it was with pretty high expectations that we hiked to HK Café’s newest outlet. Kallang Waterfront is a warzone. With the demolition of the nearby National Stadium and excavation for MRT lines, you can barely spot the formerly proud structure of the Oasis and its numerous seafood restaurants. HK Seafood has replaced an underperforming Japanese buffet restaurant, which explains the blond wood interiors and long sake bar. The largely Chinese-speaking staff were eager to please, but short on translations for the menu items.
Nevertheless, we ordered two broths for our steamboat: HK’s self-described ‘famous’ satay soup and spicy mala broth, both of which arrived together in a yin-yang-shaped combination pot. The cloudy satay broth was tangy, with chunks of peanut and not a hint of the expected artery-clogging Thai sauce it is named after. And we learned the hard way that the chilli-laden mala should only be ordered by those with a death wish – be prepared to drink gallons of water.
As for the steamboat items themselves, they were fresh and fl avourful – sliced premium beef, mud carp, lamb and dense homemade balls of black dace, beef and mushroom, and crunchy squid. Regular menu items were equally irresistible. When the chilli crab arrived, the gravy was so intense with salty black beans and white eggy strands, that we immediately fell in love with our ubiquitous national dish all over again. And the spicy fried brinjal was so good, we hung onto the dish just so we could scatter the leftover golden fried garlic bits into our steamboat broth and rice.
The dessert menu pulled from the tried-and-tested bestsellers at HK Café: Golden Fantasy Mango concoction, Gui Ling Gao Showhand of fruits and herbal jelly, and smooth-as-silk durian puddings – reasons enough to brave the Kallang construction madness. June Lee #01-02 Kallang Oasis, 50 Stadium Rd (6440 6393, www.hkcafe.com.sg). MRT: City Hall then bus 16. Daily 6pm-4am. Steamboat soup $6-$11; additional meats, seafood and vegetables $3-$19.