PRODUCE A PRINT OUT OF THIS ARTICLE TO ENJOY 15% DISCOUNT Ubin Seafood This article was first published in The Business Times on Nov 8, 2008. The sauces for the chilli crabs and mussels are the same. The chilli and other spices are well-blended so that no one ingredient overshadows the rest. It's also to allow the flavour of the crab to be evident. Although you no longer get views of the sea and rustic scenes, you can still be transported back to the past what with the coastal Ubin flavours of the key dishes and old photos of the original Chua eatery, family and friends put up on the walls.
TILL JANUARY 15, 2009.
357/359 Joo Chiat Road
AS local seafood restaurants jostle with one another for space on the bandwagon to a more upmarket positioning, one such establishment is holding firm to its rustic roots.
Ubin Seafood, the eatery set up on Pulau Ubin in 1982 as an extension of the Chua family's fish farm, has relocated seven times since it opened. Yet, the restaurant has refrained from unveiling a dressier look each time - its most recent move to a couple of Joo Chiat conservation shophouses in April, in fact, saw it sticking to its island-informal combination of plastic chairs and al fresco environment.
Says Chua Che Kuang, who was the chef at the original Ubin outlet and who now owns Ubin Seafood with two partners: 'We're going in the opposite direction (from the other restaurants) to recreate a bit of the Pulau Ubin environment and that kampong feel.
'We're catering to people who want something off the beaten track; who want home-cooked food in a casual environment. So when you come into the restaurant, it's all green plants and wood-framed photos of my family and of the old days on Pulau Ubin.'
At Ubin Seafood's new location (it's not to be confused with New Ubin Seafood at Sin Ming, which Mr Kuang says is unrelated to his restaurant), there's plenty of space and a breeze created by fans busily whirring overhead.
Six wood-encased tanks in the middle of the room display live prawns, sea bass, patin, garoupa and other fish swimming lazily around inside. And large round tables easily accommodate the multi-generational families who are tucking into Mr Chua's home-style cooking.
Although the restaurant opens out to the main road, the atmosphere does, to a certain extent, manage to transport one back to a less hectic time. Mr Chua says he and his partners picked Joo Chiat Road because 'it's well-known as a food street and has a very charming air.
Plus we're at the Katong end of the road, where it's more family-oriented, and there's a carpark next door'.
So far, he adds, there's been a good mix of locals and expatriates visiting the restaurant for its 'Ubin recipe' fare. This translates to food that the restaurant has been serving since its early days, such as a speciality of fried bee hoon that's tossed with soya sauce and seafood ($6 for a small portion).
ther signature dishes include the popular chilli crab ($3.80 per 100g, 'there's always a crab on every table,' notes Mr Chua) and garlic prawns ($5.50 per 100g).
While the menu is 'pretty close to what we had in the old days', the chef shares that it's been beefed up a little with the addition of new items such as salted-egg squid and oatmeal prawns.
Dishes such as ngoh hiang and prawn pancake, which had been removed from the menu over the years, have been reintroduced too, and there's a range of imported beer - from Carlsberg on tap to Erdinger and Heineken - to cater to the non-locals.
Still, those changes are relatively inconspicuous in the grand scheme of things. So if you're planning a family outing down memory lane but don't want to take a boat from Changi Jetty, this could be your next best option. (Read SoShiok.com's recommendations below)
Here's the original Pulau Ubin chef - Chua Che Kuang of the famous Chua family seafood restaurant on the island. It was set up in 1982, and like most Ubin families, the Chuas had to resettle on the mainland.
Kuang as he's popularly known among his fans - many of whom are boaters and expat visitors - began cooking at the tender age of 13.
He recounted his wok experience: "My parents were working at the quarry and they need to have lunch and dinner. But Pulau Ubin is not like Singapore which has eateries and hawker centres. So I had to help out with the family meals."
He honed his skills and by the age of 18, he was ready to welcome his first customers - hungry boaters looking for food, especially fresh seafood, which was available in abundance on the island.
Today at 44, Kuang's famous fried beehoon (rice vermicelli) fried with black soy sauce, seafood like prawns, cai xin greens and egg is available in its original form at his new restaurant (he's one of the 3 directors, who include his wife and PR consultant Lorraine).
A humble dish but so delicious. Like another old favourite, Steamed Seabass with Taucheo (preserved soybeans). Perfectly steamed, the fresh fish is topped with the salty beans and swims in a tasty stock which looks deceptively simple but contains secrets which Kuang would rather not reveal.
Chilli crabs which he introduced on the island have seen several recipe improvements, taking into account the tastebuds of cityfolks.
"Our previous Caucasian guests didn't like like dishes which were too spicy. So I did for them prawns with garlic and crabs with garlic and pepper," Kuang explained.
Prawns showered with plentiful crispy bits of deep-fried garlic are available at the Joo Chiat restaurant.
If you're looking for new seafood dishes in his menu, opt for the delectable quid tossed with a salted duck yolk sauce and curry leaves.
For desserts, go for the Teochew yam paste in light coconut cream and sweet corn (Orh Nee). Yup, the Chuas are Teochew.
The soft paste is well swirled with the cream so that it's easy to eat. Unlike heavy versions which get stuck in your teeth and mouth.
Prices fall mostly in the budget-to-mid-priced category. You can enjoy a set lunch at just $6.50.
To get there
If you're coming from Geylang, the restaurant is on the left side of the road. Go beyond the junction of Koon Seng Road and you'll soon find it, next to a small public carpark. The restaurant takes up two units - you can't miss it with the big words "Ubin Seafood".
PRODUCE A PRINT OUT OF THIS ARTICLE TO ENJOY 15% DISCOUNT
This article was first published in The Business Times on Nov 8, 2008.
The sauces for the chilli crabs and mussels are the same. The chilli and other spices are well-blended so that no one ingredient overshadows the rest. It's also to allow the flavour of the crab to be evident.
Although you no longer get views of the sea and rustic scenes, you can still be transported back to the past what with the coastal Ubin flavours of the key dishes and old photos of the original Chua eatery, family and friends put up on the walls.