I was invited to do a review for Famous Kitchen and it turned out to be a fabulous night with plenty of gorgeous dishes and a very generous and knowledgeable host. This restaurant used to be in the East but is now nestled quite comfortably in the Sembawang area. I love restaurants that are not in the city as it somehow gives a less commercialise and more rustic feel to the whole dining experience.
Famous Kitchen at Hong Heng Mansions is pretty aptly named! Once you walk pass the front doors, you’ll see a wall of showcasing the multitudes of celebrities and personalities that have gotten their seafood fix at Famous Kitchen.
In fact, it so happens that the weekday night I was there, local TV artist Ann Kwok was seated at the table behind us with a whole bunch of people celebrating a birthday.
Of course having a wall of celebrities does not necessarily guarantee good food and the best way to judge that is to dig in. We had a full table of tasters to discuss and evaluate each dish that was served up.
Let me walk you through the dishes I had and what I thought of each one of them as well as the secrets I’ve gleaned from the owner himself.
If you read my blog, you would know that I’m allergic to all seafood with the exception of fish. Taken in minuscule amounts it’s alright but if I take in normal portions I’ll get hives and basically start swelling. So for the seafood in this food tasting and review session I only took tiny bites to analyze the taste and the textures of the food. Trust me when I say it’s an absolute torture to taste such sumptuous food and not be able to consume to your hearts content.
The first dish is Pumpkin Chicken. I love the sweet pumpkin sauce with the savory fried chicken. It was a lovely combination and a good starter dish. It’s topped with fried sotong strips which were a hit at our table.
The Coconut Spiced Prawns is a unusual dish. Normally in most restaurants we are accustomed to the usual fare of cereal prawn, butter prawn and such but the chef of Famous Kitchen managed to make this combination work. It’s not fiery hot so it’s pleasant enough for those who can’t take a lot of spice. With everyone at the table going for seconds, this dish was cleared in no time.
When they first set down this claypot of vegetable on the table I guessed it must be sambal kangkong. But Famous Kitchen has a way of twisting the usual suspects and making every dish their own specialty. So this dish wasn’t sambal kangkong. Instead it was Shrimp Paste Kangkong. The dish is not spicy and uses the sweetness of the shrimp to enhance this much loved vegetable.
I am told that the Sour Vegetable Steam Fish is not cooked completely when it is brought to the table. If the fish is cooked throughly before being placed on the table top stove, it would be overcooked. Thus they set it on the table stove just before it’s cooked to perfection and you watch it get heated and cooked for the last 5 to 7 minutes. Once it’s ready you can dig in immediately! It’s really as close as you can get to the “fresh off the wok ” taste! Although the name of the dish might make it sound very sour, the sauce is actually quite unique tasting with a mix of salty and sourness. It is not too overpowering though it is recommend to enjoy this dish together with rice. I love the idea that you can find pretty yummy pork belly in the sauce . A rare ingredient in a steam fish dish.
Famous Kitchen has a huge live seafood selection and you can literally head to the back of the store to pick your own fish for dinner if you wish!
Plum Sauce Spare Ribs was next on the list. It is nice but a tad dry in my opinion. A good dish but paled a little compared to the rest of the dishes we were served that night.
Kumpung Crystal Chicken was one of my favorites that night which I really didn’t expect. It’s such a simple dish of white steam chicken but the specialty ginger sauce and super lean kumpung chicken made it spectacular. These days really hard to find almost fatless chicken. A lot of the time when I see kumpung chicken sold in the markets, they are still fatter than those I remembered from my childhood days. While a little fat is nice, usually too much becomes overwhelming. This dish was lean, super tender and had a well-balanced ginger sauce. Don’t miss out on the chilli sauce that accompanies this dish if you love spice because it packs a mean punch.
Another unanimous favorite of our entire group and the house speciality of Famous Kitchen is the Lobster Bee Hoon. If you like the crab bee hoon from Mel-ben Seafood, then you’ll fall in love with Famous Kitchen’s Lobster Bee Hoon. The soup was extremely delicious and sweet which went perfectly with the bee hoon and (of course) the lobster. Seafood lovers, this is your must try dish in this restaurant. We were informed that the chef had added too much bee hoon in the dish and it should be even tastier if less bee hoon was added but I really didn’t see that as an issue at all because even at the less than perfect quantity, it is already worth raving about.
Surprisingly, the dish that I’m will go back for next week will be this KL Hokkien Noodles. My family loves the Malaysian KL black hokkien noodles and I think Famous Kitchen does a really good version of it. With huge crispy pork lards, this dish rivals the ones I’ve tried in KL and when I’m in Singapore I think Famous Kitchen make a good local quick fix for my family’s craving of KL Hokkien Noodles.
By now most of the people at the table were already stuffed but the food was so good, they excitedly accepted the challenge to taste 2 more crab dishes. The first crab dish is Famous Kitchen Black Pepper Crabs. The black pepper used for this dish is specially imported from a secret location that the owner refused to reveal. He did let on that it is more expensive than usual black peppers and this particular variation of black pepper only makes up 6% of the total amount of black peppers produced worldwide. I had a chance to taste a wide range of black peppers when I attended a tour in Malaysia several years ago and if I had to make a guess, I think it’s possible that Famous Kitchen either used the Extra Bold Indian Black Peppercorn which is very strong is flavor and aromatic or the Sarawak Peppercorn which is also aromatic and has a unique powerful aftertaste. That being said, I’m no pepper connoisseur so if are a fan of black pepper crabs, go try this exotic black pepper crab and discern for yourself if the stronger taste is the extra kick you have been looking for.
Another house specialty is the Salted Baked Flower Crab. Fresh flower crabs are not easily available in most seafood restaurants because they are quite difficult to maintain and keep alive until they are ready to be selected and cooked. Luckily Famous Kitchen has all the right tanks and equipment for all kinds of sea water creatures. These salt baked flower crabs were not baked in an oven. Instead they were baked chinese style using a wok that is constantly put over high heat. The owner revealed that they need to change a new wok every month to do such chinese style baking because the constant high heat burns through the wok and leaves it with holes by the end of a month! The crab is very sweet and fresh and the seasoned shell brings together the full flavor. It’s a dish that requires you to get your hands dirty and eat with a mixture of peeling and sucking.
Last but not least, desserts to end the meal. All the desserts are made fresh daily in house. I recommend you try the mango pudding and the yam paste. The Mango Pudding has a smooth texture and is made with fresh whole mangos and not from flavorings or powders.
The Yam Paste (also affectionately known as Orh Nee) is deliciously creamy without any additional cream or oil added. It’s absolutely oil free and yet manages to bring out the full impact of the yam. Most people these days don’t really eat yam paste but being a teochew, I was brought up having this dessert and I know that good yam paste is really not easy to find. I’m happy to add this to my list of restaurants with good yam pastes.
If you want to give Famous Kitchen a try for your next date with seafood, here’s the address.
No. 54 Sembawang Road
#01-01 Hong Heng Mansions
They are quite full on weekends so it’s always a wise choice to call them for reservations. Currently they do have quite a few promotions with several credit cards and have 15% off deals. Those driving might be happy to note that they offer free valet services as well!