[HK] Katong @ Elements

Monday, December 10, 2012

It had been quite a while since we wanted to try Katong located at Elements Shopping Mall. The name of the restaurant itself would certainly make any Singaporean reminisce the famous Katong Laksa. To those unfamiliar with the name Katong, it is actually a residential area in the east of Singapore near the seafront. Katong's rich cultural mix has contributed to its unique cuisine, particularly Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine. Having lived away from Singapore for a couple of months now, an impromptu decision to dine at Katong left us with great excitement and anticipation!

Special Singapore Prawn Laksa ($78/-)

Tasting this Peranakan noodle dish would usually lift a smile on my face. This made me recall our last visit to the original Katong Laksa also known as 'Janggut Laksa' in Singapore quite a while ago. This bowl of laksa was almost three times more expensive to the one we had in Singapore and unfortunately, the taste was nowhere thrice as superior. There were the usual ingredients to the dish such as cockles, shrimps, and shredded fish cakes, but the traditional way of enjoying the 'Katong laksa' was to scoop up the shortened noodles with a spoon and slurp it down. The coconut curry soup base carried a slight tinge of fragrance, though it tasted too mild, inclining towards bland. Despite the smooth and al dente texture of the noodles, the soup lacked the gritty texture owed from grounded dried shrimps and spices. At $78, I would have expected more prawns and cockles but once again, we were left disappointed. With that being said, the dish was not horrible. Personally I would have thought that someone who was not familiar with how the traditional Singapore Katong laksa should taste like would actually consider this a decent dish. It was simply lacking the 'oomph' factor to win my tastebuds over.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Singapore Bak Kut Teh (Small - $78/-)

This was yet another classic Singapore dish, though not really pertaining to Peranakan cuisine which would have a closer correlation to the name of the restaurant. The name of the dish translates literally to 'meat bone tea', which consisted of pork ribs simmered in a complex broth of herbs and spices for hours. The traditional method of enjoying this simple dish would normally involve a pot of strong Chinese oolong tea served alongside the fat-laden soup in the belief that it would dissolve the fats and aid digestion. 

Quite frankly, this was one of the poorest version of 'Bak Kut Teh' that I had ever tasted. The broth tasted bland and too diluted. You would be able to taste the presence of herbs and spices in the soup, but the fragrance and flavour was too weak to make any impact. The pork rib was not simmered long enough, which explained the stiffness of the meat. There was barely less than three large pieces of pork ribs in the soup, coupled with a few miserable pieces of fried tofu puffs. At almost three times the price of what would normally cost you at a food joint in Singapore, it was one of the biggest letdown on the table. If there was any room for credibility, the offering of chopped chilis, dark soy sauce and crispy fried fritters was a close concoction of the original 'Bak Kut Teh' in Singapore. I would have scored this dish a 'Don't waste your calories' grade, though on hindsight, it might briefly provide a glimpse of how the dish actually looked and tasted like for non-Singaporeans interested in our local cuisine. Much work would need to be in place to improve the flavour and authenticity of the dish.

Verdict: 5.5/10

Signature Hainan Chicken ($88/-; Chicken Rice charged separately for $18/-)

This was my first time having to pay for a bowl of chicken rice, for it would usually be part of the 'chicken rice'. It just seemed rather ridiculous to me to just have the Hainanese chicken without the rice. Moving on, the chicken meat tasted 'okay', tender and succulent, but nothing excessively impressive. The dish was served complete with minced ginger, dark soy sauce and chili, which added a touch of authenticity. The chicken rice was however a complete flop, tasting too hard and dry. There was a complete lack of oiliness and moisture to the rice, which was supposed to enhance the aroma and fragrance of the chicken-flavoured rice. Once again, the pricing was too exorbitant for a simple dish which could be easily enjoyed at any food centres in Singapore. The only saviour to the dish was perhaps the chili sauce, which possessed a relatively strong degree of heat to it. The added lime juice and sugar were of the right proportions, resulting in a balanced dipping sauce for the chicken.

Also, when the steamed chicken was first served, there was still some blood close to the bones and we requested for them to further cook it. Well, semi-raw chicken meat should never be served to diners anyway. The server took away our plate and returned less than 3 minutes later and to be honest, I did not spot any difference, for the chicken was pretty much left in the same state as before.

Verdict: 6.0/10

Char Kway Teow ($88/-)

This version of 'char kway teow' (CKT) was close to what you could get in Singapore, though the taste, flavour and 'wok-fire' lacked substance. The salinity of the dish, owed from the dark soy sauce, somewhat transcended the original intended saccharine base as commonly tasted in Singapore. It could do with some tweaks to the dish, starting with the use of more sweet and tamarind sauce. The 'wok-fire' could also be improved upon to impart a stronger flavour and taste to the simple-looking fried noodle dish. Like the other signature dishes, this was not bad, but it was not great either.

Verdict: 6.0/10

Pepper and salt bean curd ($58/-)

This dish tasted more 'Cantonese-style' rather than Singapore, with salt and pepper as the primary ingredients forming the pre-eminent taste and flavours. The exterior surface of the bean curd was deep fried to a beautiful golden-brown and had a crisp texture to it, complementing the soft inside of the bean curd perfectly. The seasoning was optimal, with the correct balance of salt, enhanced by the heat and spiciness of the chopped bird's eye chilis. Personally, I have a rather strong tolerance to salty dishes, so this was 'okay' by my books, but more neutral-tasting diners could possibly find it a touch too strong.

Verdict: 7.0/10

Beverages (From left: Pear & Apple honey ($26/-); Barley Water ($26/-), Calamansi Juice ($26/-)

Each of the three types of drinks ordered were passable and tasted rich and strong. It was a fair touch above my expectations, especially the calamansi juice, which was acidic and gave a refreshing burst which stimulated my taste buds and awoke my food senses. In fact, all three drinks were recommended on their menu, and you could not possibly go very wrong.

Verdict: 7.5/10

My overall impression of the restaurant was not terrible, despite the relatively low ratings for the dishes. Being a Singaporean and a self-professed foodie, I am very particular about my food, especially my own national cuisine. That being said, I would think that the dishes served at Katong were mostly pedestrian-standard, lacked authenticity and failed to impress. If you are however interested in a glimpse (and I meant vaguely) of how Singapore food taste like and do not mind the rather exorbitant prices, then it would be worth a visit.

Shop 2100A, 2/F, Elements
1 Austin Road West
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: 2196 8086

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