Friday, January 10, 2014

Streets of London at British Hainan - Where the Old Ushers in the Young

It was just past 11 in the morning when our trio of yummicraft, smartcard and myself reached the exterior of this very rustic looking eating house.

Greeting us was a similar trio of young bosses, getting ready for lunch service as we intruded upon their prep time. Despite this, the warmth and smiles never relented.

We decided to adjourn into the air conditioned dining hall to let them complete their work, but it was not just a dining hall after all.

Filled with relics from the past, it was a museum of nostalgia. Old gramophones, mixers, statues, hi-fi sets littered the borders of the dining space.

A Nostalgic Room

Yet, the owners managed to squeezed in a number of tables, and having a meal here is really atmospheric, and this is after all right in the heart of Joo Chiat's string of classic shophouses. Even the menus were served in familiar but ancient folders from our schooldays back in the 80s.

Vanessa, the chattiest of the trio and powered with the best PR skills, was on hand to talk us through the origins of this establishment, and how her dad is a collector of nostalgia. She clearly has the makings of a great restaurant manager.

Truffle Fries

She started us off with some truffle fries and it was a great little basket of potato delight. They actually sun dry their potatoes in advance in order to remove any additional moisture and the result was a plate of fries that had a perfect blend of crisp giddiness and beautiful starch textures.

The truffle oil was merely superfluous, and added a bit of unnecessary grease to the occasion. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful way to start off our gastronomic journey through classic Hainan western fare here.

Old School Fruit Salad

The fruit salad was perhaps a little bit too old school for me personally, but they had at least the thought to make it look pretty. Which was one thing I noticed here, despite the relative new age of this place, the chefs behind did take some effort to plate everything neatly and with clarity.

Braised Oxtail

The oxtail was staring at us from the menu as if we were held at gunpoint, so there was no way we could have avoided it. And what a blessing it was to order this, it was hearty and sumptuous. The syrupy sauce had a good consistency and did not possess too much of a flour texture.

The oxtails were a tad too small, and perhaps needed a bit more cooking to get it fork tender and falling off the bone on their own. Nevertheless, the meat was flavorful and fully infused with the wine and the beef stock that had been brewing for hours. To be a bit more perfect, a bit more balance would have been better, with a bit more acidity and a touch less sweet.

IPA Chicken

I was somewhat too engrossed in our conversation to ask what IPA stands for (it actually stands for Indian Pale Ale), but this dish was just so good. The mashed potatoes were perfectly seasoned and had a delicious creamy and buttery flavor to it. The chicken chop was well cooked and still tender on the inside.

The sauce was again, slightly sweet but here, it was less of an issue and had a bit of that teriyaki edge to it, which was just about right. The real surprise here was the saute vegetables, which was brilliantly cooked and superbly seasoned. Yes, something this simple is often neglected, but here it stood out as my favorite component of this plate.

Chocolate Fudge

The fudge was made from scratch and while it was good, the inside was somewhat drier than I hoped and the sponge could have been a bit lighter. Yet, the chocolate flavor was robust and the sweetness perfectly judged. Perhaps the next visit will be perfected.

Coffee Art

Vanessa's husband, Douglas is the in-house barista and while he may not have the most experience in the business, he certainly seems to be very passionate in honing his art. He prepared each cup with great intensity and care and there is a great barista in the making here. Oh, the coffee was brilliant too.

Amelia, who is also Vanessa's sister was hard at work behind the scenes and only surfaced after our meal was done. They have two seasoned chefs preparing and working the menu and Amelia works alongside them.

Despite having no formal training and armed with a megawatt smile that can power an entire HDB block, her enthusiasm and passion is undeniable.

As a working trio, the young family of bosses seem to have put a lot of work in setting up British Hainan and running it. Clearly, the dad has a positive influence over the kids.

The Trio of Young Bosses

Yes, there are areas where the food can be improved. Yet, they seem willing to listen to feedback and listen to every comment with great intent and earnestness. They may have only been in this new location for a few months, but something tells me if they keep working hard, they might just be around for a long time.

It is heartening to see such a young group of Singaporeans attempting the food business in Singapore today, and willing to take over from the previous generation. Sometimes I lament that I only see this phenomenon happening in Johor, so I am happy to say that in this instance I am wrong.

Vanessa, Douglas and Amelia may not have years of F&B experience and they may not have the biggest reputation in this business, but they seem to possess humility, warmth and passion. These are factors more important than just mere skill and knowledge.

Making it in this industry is not easy, and even chefs/owners with so-called great reputations can sometimes close shop after only a few months. But like the Tengs of Twe Kee fame, these new batch of Hainan food makers look destined for greater things.

The setting and the food may hark back to the old, but the future seems ready for the young.

British Hainan
75 Carpmeal Road

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