Hong Seng Restaurant 鸿勝菜馆

Dinner crowd is over but there's a good flow of of diners during my one hour there.

Dinner crowd was over but there’s a good flow of of diners during my one hour there.

Front: Hor Fun - S$4. Background: Pork Rib King - S$7.

Front: Hor Fun – S$4.
Background: Pai Kuat Wong – S$7.

Hor Fun.<br />A classic dish in cze char, this was prepared with the usual ingredients of prawns, fish, squid but the pig's stomach, an ingredient seldom found in modern day cze char brought nolstalgia to mind. I heard they have opeh leaf hor fun for takeaways, which cost more. Opeh leaf as we locals called it is another old school packaging known as the betel nut frond. It is organic and an excellent enhancer to bring out the natural flavours of steaming hot food wrapped in it.

Hor Fun.
A classic dish in cze char, this was prepared with the usual ingredients of prawns, fish, squid but the pig’s stomach, an ingredient seldom found in modern day cze char brought nolstalgia to mind. I heard they have opeh leaf hor fun for takeaways, which cost more. Opeh leaf as we locals called it is another old school packaging known as the betel nut frond. It is organic and an excellent enhancer to bring out the natural flavours of steaming hot food wrapped in it.

Pork Rib King (Pai Kuat Wong - 排骨王).<br />My friend kept raving how good these were during dinner. I asked him why good and he said they were very tender. I agree they were tender indeed but taste wise, I think they lacked oomph!

Pork Rib King (Pai Kuat Wong – 排骨王).
My friend kept raving how good these were during dinner. I asked him why good and he said they were very tender. I agree they were tender indeed but taste wise, I think they lacked oomph!

Fish Head Soup with Goji (Wolfberry) Leaves - S$5. Goji leaves requires tedious preparation as they have thorny stems and not many cze char stalls sell them. I enjoyed this light soup a lot.

Fish Head Soup with Goji (Wolfberry) Leaves – S$5.
Goji leaves requires tedious preparation as they have thorny stems and not many cze char stalls sell them.
I enjoyed this light soup a lot.

Prawn Tofu a variant of red-cooked tofu 红烧豆腐 - S$10.

Prawn Tofu a variant of red-cooked tofu 红烧豆腐 – S$10.

I doubt the tofu was "homemade" and it would have been very nice but my taste buds have become prejudiced after tasting the silky charcoal tofu from Cafe de hong kong. Gravy needed more seasoning. Perhaps a little more oyster sauce? My two cents.

I doubt the tofu was “homemade” and it would have been very nice but my taste buds have become prejudiced after tasting the silky charcoal tofu from Cafe de hong kong.
Gravy needed more seasoning. Perhaps a little more oyster sauce? My two cents.

Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡) - S$7.<br />Crispy but a little greasy.

Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡) – S$7.
Crispy but a little greasy.

Almost 10pm, there were still new groups of diners coming for food.

Almost 10pm, there were still new groups of diners coming for food.

Not spectacular but decent. Food was fresh and portions were quite generous. We ordered everything in small size.

Not spectacular but decent. Food was fresh and portions were quite generous. We ordered everything in small size.

J told me while we were in Bangkok that there’s a good cze char place in Toa Payoh but was it lorong 4, 7 or? Clueless! Anyway, I got myself mentally and physically prepared to go in search of a crowded-looking kopitiam cze char, and if need be, cruise along every lorong starting from 1. By the way, lorong means “lane” in Malay.

I found a kaki (literally translating as leg in Malay but means partner and in this case “makan kaki” – eating partner) willing to scour the lorongs with me. We drove chronologically tackling lorong 1 first. Midway through lorong 4, my friend said, “I know a place nearby selling good cze char!”

I could not contain my doubt. He saw my skepticism and said “trust me”. You see, my friend is someone who will describe everything he pops into his mouth as “good” and if probed further as to what is so good about the dish, he would say, “it’s refreshing”. He cannot tell the difference between fermented beans like taucheo (brown) and tausi (black). And if dried shrimps were straightened out not curled, he’d be lost. I rolled my eyes and he insisted, “trust me this one time?” Try as I wanted to, somehow it didn’t quite kick in.

It was nearly 9.30pm when we arrived. I’d gone through the day without food and I was famished. I badly wanted tonight’s dinner to be as good as yesterday’s if not better. There seemed to be a good turnover of diners coming and going during my one hour there so I was hopeful. The auntie-waitress came, poised to jot down the orders. She thought we were one of the regulars who knew what we wanted. We asked for the menu and were given a minute to browse. She came again and this time we placed our orders. She helped us on our decision to order Har Cheong Kai and Pai Kuat Wong. We changed our mind later about the Crab Meat Tofu. The cook hadn’t started to cook this dish so we switched to Prawn Tofu for S$2 extra (see the delete line across the price on the receipt). While we were waiting for our food, I noticed a huge claypot on every table of 3 diners or more. We enquired and the kind lady (she looked fierce to me at first but is very obliging) informed it is one of their signature dishes “fish head in claypot” and that it was too much for us. She obviously doesn’t know my appetite but no point arguing with someone who has good intentions.

Heard it from the grapevine that when Hong Seng, one of the oldest cze char vendor in Toa Payoh, operates in the evening around 5pm, all the other stalls, including the drinks stall (a very unusual arrangement as drink stalls are the most lucrative – so you have to buy your drinks from them, too) must cease their business for the day. Hong Seng reserves exclusive use of the kopitiam during their operation hours.

Hong Seng has a loyal swarm of regulars since decades ago and the supporters grew even bigger after the cze char stall was featured in a newspaper article.  Thus, eating at Hong Seng’s especially on weekends can be a nightmare. The modus operandi engaged by the boss and his 3 trusty chefs are to cook table by table. Once your order has been handled, it goes into the order queue in the kitchen. Each chef will cook everything on the order chit for that table before moving on to the next. And you had better order everything you want to eat because any addition of new dish means joining the single-queue ordering system again. So while getting seated is no problem, the order lead time is usually long, about an hour if you’re lucky. Although the waiting time is long, once they start serving, you know all your dishes are on the way and in such a pace you might not have the time to clear the food fast enough especially if the table is small and you’ve ordered many dishes. That can be a stressful dining experience. I’m really thankful we arrived after the dinner crowd. Food came really fast and as mentioned, almost all at once.

Clockwise from top left: Fish Head Goji Leaves Soup, Spare Ribs ( Pork Rib King aka Pai Kuat Wong) and Hor Fun (Broad Flat Rice Noodles).

Clockwise from top left: Fish Head Goji Leaves Soup, Spare Ribs ( Pork Rib King aka Pai Kuat Wong) and Sup Kum Hor Fun (Broad Flat Rice Noodles).

While the quantity was generous (for the price) and food was fresh, nothing is truly outstanding here. Somehow the food just lacked that bit of pizzaz or zing to carry through. I guess the critical thing that needed rectification is the (weak) wok hei. In the end, the best part of the meal was really the cost! I’m really happy to know that in Singapore where food cost is ever rising, there are  food operators, like Hong Seng, who refused to charge exorbitantly.

Although the food was not spectacular, it was decent. I will go back to try their famous claypot fish head even if there’s only two of us!

P.S. When we called for the bill, some shouting was flying across on the floor:
The lady who took our orders: “Did they have drinks?”
Another older lady: “They had one cha and one warm water”
I grumbled, “Are they charging us for warm water?”
Turned out, she didn’t even charge me tea 😉
Thank you for the kind gesture, lady!

At S$33 for 5 dishes, I would say it's cheap.

At S$33 for 5 dishes, I would say it’s cheap.

Hong Seng Restaurant. It is rumoured that when they open for business, all other shops including the drinks operator have to cease operations and close up for the day.

Hong Seng Restaurant.
It is rumoured that when they open for business, all other shops including the drinks operator have to cease operations and close up for the day.

Hong Sheng Restaurant
(Inside Hai Fong Restaurant Kopitiam, opposite SPH)
Blk 203 #01-1121,
Toa Payoh North,
Singapore 310203.

Operating hours:
Tues – Sunday 5.00pm – 10.30pm
Closed on Mondays.

Some of the highly recommended dishes are: Chilli Crabs, Deep-fried Baby Squid, Beef Kailan, Hong Sheng Pork Rib King, Yam Ring, Sambal Kang Kong, Claypot Tofu, Crispy Noodle with Seafood, Sweet & Sour Pork, Bittergourd with Spare Rib in Black Bean Sauce, Beef Hor Fun and Deep-fried Frog Legs. On almost every table, you will see a claypot of (red-cooked, “红烧”) Fish Head. This is Hong Seng’s star specialty! Half a fish head in a claypot of yam, assorted vegetables and slices of roast pork. Opeh leaf for takeaways starting at S$5 is a “novelty”.

Happy eating 🙂

Advertisements
Comments
5 Responses to “Hong Seng Restaurant 鸿勝菜馆”
  1. Isa says:

    I grew up on this sort of food and sometimes in my travels it’s really hard to find… this looks so delicious!

    • Sam Han says:

      Thanks for visiting, Isa. The food was not very spectacular but decent enough to warrant second visits. I’m happy you found nostalgia looking at the pictures. Try cooking some of the dishes if you can find the ingredients in an Asian mart. They are really quite simple 😀

  2. BG says:

    Tried last week. I had the clay pot groupa (whole fish). You can skip it and go hunting for better ones. Their price is good but the fish is not fresh and tasteless. Unlike the usual clay pot fish (or fish head), their version is very watery, almost like a soup. Not nice.

  3. Iris says:

    I like this place too. Wow. Is that really the case? That other shops have to close. Wah…. Worse then sin huat. Ha ha

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s