Makansutra Dinner at Red Star Restaurant – By Chef Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai
This is a very special makansutra dinner. Special because two of Singapore’s pioneer chefs – Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai, gathered to cook for us. If you have no idea who they are, both chefs together with Tham Yew Kai and Lau Yoke Pui are known as the Four Heavenly Kings of the culinary scene in the 1960s.
They worked in Cathay Restaurant, one of the best Chinese restaurants in Singapore in the 50s. After their master passed away, each of them set up their own restaurant but are still very good friends. Unfortunately, Tham Yew Kai and Lau Yoke Pui has passed away.
With more than five decades’ experience in the kitchen, Chef Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai have recreated a classic 1960s Cantonese wedding banquet dishes for us that night. These dishes were popular during their Cathay Restaurant’s days, when the chefs perfected the techniques under their mentor Chef Luo Chen, head chef of the restaurant in the 1950s.
The first four appetisers were classics from the 60s era, normally served at wedding banquets and formal functions. The dishes were dramatically presented on gold plated platters with intricate dragon carvings.
Minced venison on rice crust is a lovely snack with crispy rice crackers topped with savory minced venison and assorted vegetables. I nearly got drunk after eating a piece of the Drunken chicken because the tender poached meat was infused with very strong alcohol. Golden Coin Chicken is a very traditional Cantonese roast that involved no chicken at all but this is made with candied pork lard and pork loin that is BBQed.
Influenced by his apprenticeship at Spring Court, Chef Sin Leong’s deep fried chicken liver had the minced chicken liver, chicken meat, and pork were marinated, then packed into a ball with a salted egg yolk at its center. The ball was then deep-fried and sliced into 10 portions.
This was followed by a crowd-pleaser — Double Chicken Soup with Ginseng and Snow Fungus. With bitterness from the ginseng and sweetness from the snow fungus, the double boiled soup is very nourishing and hearty.
Next, we were introduced to a pre-war Cantonese village classic dish – 3 Legged Duck. Why 3 legged? Because it is served with three different types of animal legs – duck web, chicken feet and pig trotter. They was braised to a beautiful gelatinous soft texture.
Steaming a fish really requires skill. Old-style Steamed Triple-layered Garoupa for that night was done prefect, drenched in superior light soy sauce and topped with mushroom, ginger, carrot, cuttlefish and dried tangerine peels.
Stewed Pig trotter with yam takes about a day to prepare because the pig trotter needs to be braised. There is an obvious layer of fat in each piece of meat but unfortunately, I thought the sauce lack lustre that night.
In the 60s, prawns are considered an expensive delicacy and only enjoyed during special occasions. Pan fried jumbo prawns is coated in sweet BBQ sauce. The prawns are real huge and succulent!
Something lighter for the palate after all the meaty dishes is Treasures in Jade bowl. Gingko nuts, peas and carrots were braised in melon bowl, which also absorbs the sweetness from the melon.
And a happy bowl of Celebration Braised rice. This is another celebration dish whereby a newly wed bride will present this dish to her parent when she returns to visit them after the 3rd day, signifying her fertility. It is similar to mui fan with tomato sauce.
And a bowl of Traditional Green bean and barley dessert cooked with herbs to complete the meal. Unfortunately, it was abit burnt that night.
I am fortunate to be able to try the dishes prepared by chef Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai. Many of the dishes are very “new” to youngsters like us but I can see how some of these dishes set the foundation of what we eat today. As they went on stage to explain each dishes in Cantonese, I am truly touched by their passion in culinary.
Red Star Restaurant
Address: Blk 54 Chin Swee Road #07-23
Tel: 65325266/ 65325103
Opening Hours: 7am – 3pm, 6pm – 1030pm daily