feaSituated in the iconic building which was Old Joo Chiat Police Station that housed Old Hong Kong Teahouse, the building is now part of Hotel Indigo within Katong Square and is home to Baba Chews, the neighbourhood “café” of the hotel.
Being the only F&B establishment to the boutique hotel, Baba Chews operates from 6:30am in the morning to 10:30pm, servicing the hotel guests and the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Decked in a modern Peranakan theme, Baba Chews offers a different menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner with the dinner menu designed to be more aligned with the Peranakan theme as compared to breakfast and lunch. Expect a few individual main courses for the lunch menu such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nonya Laksa and Hokkien Mee while it focuses largely on communal plates for both starters/appetisers and main courses with a few desserts to choose from. There is a choice of specialty gourmet coffee and local Kopi/Teh/Yuan Yang to choose from, with signature mocktails and even alcohol choices in the beverage menu. TWG Tea is also served here, while the specialty coffee uses blends from Common Man Coffee Roasters.
For a start, Peranakan Chips (Belinjau Crackers and Garlic Crackers) are served with a peanut dip and a sambal dip at the side. Some of the garlic crackers felt a little under-fried, for they were stiff and hard to bite though the peanut dip as my dining partners commented was rather fragrant and sweet, as opposed to the sambal which was satisfyingly spicy but a tad too salty. The Peranakan Chips are refillable, and the wait staff was quite prompt in replenishing them as soon as they are emptied before the starters/main courses arrive.
Baba Chews served quite a number of Chef Sam Leong’s signature dishes, such as Chef Sam Leong’s Signature Wasabi Prawns. Perhaps it was how it was being named that I have had higher expectations of this dish, but objectively the dish was decent; plump, fresh prawns in a light fried batter drenched in a wasabi mayo; one that carried a whiff of wasabi flavor right until the point where it was supposed to turn numbing, exuding a creamy end instead. The mango salsa on the side was delicious; fresh, sweet, tangy and was all that is pretty refreshing, though I would prefer eating that alone instead of topping it over the prawns for it seemed to overwhelm the flavours of the Wasabi Mayo pretty easily.
For a main, the Nonya Fried Rice works well for both individual diners or a communal plate to share. Fried with Sambal Belachan, the fried rice might be missing of the rugged aroma of wok hei (especially considering this is an eatery situated within a boutique hotel) but is still immensely flavourful from the broth it was fried in as well as a good hint of spiciness from the Sambal Belachan; very consistent in flavour. Coming alongside is a fried egg as well as strips of grilled Tumeric Chicken and achar; the Tumeric Chicken was flavourful from the marination of the spices though if one were to nitpick, it could be even more tender and moist. For one who is allergic to peanuts, I liked how the achar comes with minimal peanuts, instead focusing more on the tangy pickles instead of the crunchiness and flavour of the peanuts.
Sambal Stingray came with Sambal Chili and Chinchalok. Char-grilled, the Stingray came with a distinct smokiness as compared to usual hawker variants while still maintaining the tender flesh that comes off with a fork that one would expect. Most would agree that one of the draw factors of eating Sambal Stingray would be the sambal chili; the one here was spicy, tangy and umami which keeps you going for more, though perhaps the spiciness seemed to be a little tamer than we expected to perhaps suit the palates of the clientele here. Still, a pretty decent dish to order here.
Yet another one of Chef Sam Leong’s dishes on the menu, the Sweet & Sour Pork Belly featured wok-fried Pork Belly with Green Apple in Sweet & Sour sauce. A dish that I have been introduced and love since I was young, this dish somehow brings it back to the good old days carrying a nostalgic flavour that is a hard find these days. The chunky pieces of pork bore a good texture, carrying just enough bite with a little fattiness for that chew while the sauce carried the right balance of both sweet and sour, unlike the ketchup-y versions we tend to get these days. Conventionally, sweet & sour pork comes with onions, capsicums, and pineapples but the variant here comes with slices of green apples which add an interesting bite and a little zing to the dish. Definitely a dish that I would not mind ordering yet again.
Sounding fancy on the dessert menu was the Nangka Cheese Cake, which features Cream Cheese Cake with caramelised Jackfruit, butter crumbs and “Pulut Hitam ice-cream”. Was a little confused with the Vanilla ice-cream that came along with our portion; perhaps not the best switch for the Vanilla ice-cream was sadly rather artificial and felt out of place with the dessert as such. We liked the smooth and luscious rich cheesecake mousse which was actually rather light in flavour thus not overwhelming as well as the fibrous, sweet caramelised jackfruit atop, but the crumbles at the bottom of the cheesecake felt rather dry, stiff and hard to chew; often getting stuck in between our teeth. Probably not the best dessert to end the meal with; perhaps the warm Banana Cake that came with coconut sauce seemed like a better option over this.
Not sure most seemed to have noticed, but there seemed to be quite a few new openings featuring Peranakan fare during the recent months. It is definitely interesting to see places such Baba Chews reviving the local heritage food culture especially within an iconic building in the heart of Katong where it is a neighbourhood with strong Peranakan heritage and flavour, helping to educate both locals and tourist alike about Nonya cuisine and culture. Food does have its own hits and misses, though most of the food we have ordered apart from the dessert are pretty decent for the price range given the hotel cafeteria setting. Service staff was prompt, though there a few slip ups which were pretty minor that is typical of newly-opened places that are a little short-handed (e.g. water wasn’t served to us till we asked, extra bowls requested took a while to come). Of particular note however, we would have appreciated if they could have at the least informed us about the non-availability of the Pulut Hitam ice-cream for the dessert; we were not told about it being replaced with a Vanilla ice-cream right till the point where we realised after tasting it for ourselves. That being said, Baba Chews is a beautiful place that is good for gatherings; both family and friends in a casual yet relaxed setting n a modern but rustic environment with decent food, and a spot that is a “should-visit” if you are in the Katong neighbourhood.
86 East Coast Road
Web Page: http://www.ihg.com/hotels/gb/en/global/offers/hotel/singapore/restaurant
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/babachewssg