Old Chang Kee (Singaporean Curry Puffs) – London
The historical roots of Singaporean brand Old Chang Kee stretch back to over 60 years.
Making their European debut in London early this summer, this eatery’s menu revolves around curry puffs whose original recipe is so coveted that it’s literally kept under lock and key in a Singaporean bank vault.
The exact combination of the secret spices that make our curry puffs special has been passed down from generation to generation of Old Chang Kee chefs.
But perhaps this level of security might be justified given that only recently, food critic and television presenter Giles Coren declared these puffs to be the “best pastry in London. No question at all”!
Despite the curry puff’s humble beginning in a small kopitiam (coffee shop) by the famous Rex Cinema way back in 1956, today Old Chang Kee sells over 1.5 million of these every month in over 100 outlets across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
As for its equally humble 15-cover restaurant in Covent Garden, then in addition to said puffs, there’s also some regional dishes available on the menu that include the Singapore chicken curry, the nasi lemak, and a Singapore laksa.
Roasted in caramel and butter, this Singaporean Coffee, or Kopi, had a wonderful rich aroma, with the balance of the sweet, courtesy of the condensed milk, and the bitter being finely achieved. A soothing beverage that we’d recommend all the way.
- Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Puff, £2.80
- Curry Chicken & Potato Puff with Egg, £2.80
- Curry Chicken & Curry Potato Puff, £2.80
- Singaporean Chilli Crab Stick Puff, £3.20
- Black Pepper Tuna Puff, £2.90
NOTE: Each one has been marked with edible dye for identification purposes.
If the secret behind the original recipe accounts for the texture of the pastry itself, then no wonder it’s being safeguarded the way it has. Entirely understandable given its soft, buttery and ultra-crumbly texture, which didn’t so much break apart when bitten into as crumble and dissolve. Truth be told, it was so good that we’d have enjoyed the pastry alone!
With that said, however, the filling itself, while creamy enough, appeared to lack that deep, earthy mushroom flavour one would expect of the classic British pairing of chicken and mushroom. As such, it was satisfactory without being memorable.
Contained within the to-die-for pastry was a chicken curry that was gently spiced, with soft diced potatoes, along with chopped hard boiled egg, all of which made this a tasty little munch.
While this was similar to the curry chicken and potato puff with egg, the removal of the egg culminated in this being more flavourous, perhaps owing to the potato also being additionally curried. Whatever the case, this was arguably our favourite of the five.
Although this was the hottest of the bunch, with solid heat and a good aroma, the crab, we felt, didn’t really bring much other than texture. Nevertheless, a flavourful puff considered by us to be second after the curry chicken and curry potato.
This simple black pepper tuna puff was decent when it came to taste, but has potential for so much more.
Hence, despite the fish being soft and plentiful, with the warmth of the pepper apparent and chopped onions running throughout, we were imagining the distinct flavours of Singapore being used to better effect.
With the jasmine rice at the bottom of the pot and the curry contained in a separate compartment bowl at the top, the setup was straightforward enough – the idea being presumably to add in as little or as much as desired.
We, of course, had no qualms in throwing the contents of the entire curry in for good measure before diving in.
What we encountered, other than the tender chicken, diced potatoes and thin strips of garlic, was a Singapore Chicken Laksa that was mildly spicy, with a touch of sweetness, that ultimately lacked any real depth of flavour.
This was also rather one dimensional, and could have done with some contrasting ingredients to break things up.RECOMMENDED
Essentially, it was the strength of the spices, thanks to the dry nature of the curry perhaps, which made this the most interesting one of the lot.
Not only did it deliver a firm chilli kick, which soothingly lingered thereafter, but there was a good balance to the whole dish which kept us interested right till the end.
The jasmine rice was decent enough, but nothing outstanding.
Given the assortment of elements that make up this classic dish, Nasi Lemaks always prove to be an interesting affair; and Old Chang Kee’s wasn’t any exception.
Hence, while one Lion enjoyed the spicy-cum-fruity wallop delivered by the intensity of the sambal sauce, his colleague thought the strength of the chilli to be overpowering resulting in a “messy dish”, and accompanied by “stodgy rice”, all of which proved to be “dissatisfying”.
The other two Lions, however, disagreed, enjoying how the tofu was beautifully saturated in the spicy mixture which, when had with the crunchy fried salty anchovies, the peanuts, the vegetables, and the hard boiled egg, not only helped to dampen said heat, but made for a satisfying eat overall.
Although we’ve had far better laksas, with more depth and body, this certainly succeeded in raising a debate among the three of us.
As for the other two, then despite one of his colleagues being left unimpressed, the remaining Lion appreciated the al dente cooking of the noodles, the softness of the prawns, the butteriness of the broth, with the hint of lemongrass coming through, and the idea of raising the temperature through the use of the sambal sauce.
With a varied number of condiments, this was, at the very least, an interesting laksa that split the crowd.
This box of stir-fried laksa prawn noodles was subtly spiced, well cooked, and accompanied with slices of hard boiled egg.
A simple box that will certainly make for an adequate takeaway.
Accompanied with a simple salad was half-a-dozen gently marinated and rather meagre-looking wings.
Despite being decently cooked, we expected more for the price tag. As such, this wasn’t so much Chomp Chomp Chicken as nibble nibble nuggets!
The Fish Ball Skewer was a decent little snack too offering a distinctly fishy taste along with a good bite.
As for the Lobster Ball Skewer, then it was a tad satly, with a subtle spicy aftertaste, though nothing special.
- NO/ NO
- CITY PANTRY
- TOO GOOD TO GO
So, was Old Chang Kee "shiok" or not? Well, when it comes to the curry puffs, then there's no denying the quality of the pastry - undeniably good, with an assortment of fillings, the best of which for us is the Curry Chicken and Curry Potato. As for their mains, then these ranged from the good to the decent, with a couple splitting the crowd. Nevertheless, we might have enjoyed these more had the spices been more robust.
All in all, this new Singaporean eatery is certainly a welcome change to the obvious choices in the area, especially for those looking for a hearty, flavourful meal-on-the-go.
With Old Chang Kee available via Deliveroo and City Pantry, and also being part of the increasingly popular Too Good to Go initiative, don't forget to take advantage of the 10% discount generously put up by them.
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