Newsflash: The chef of this zi char store famously rejected American chef Anthony Bourdain’s invite to join him as part of a dream culinary team for his giant food market in New York.
I wasn’t aware of this amazing tidbit nor the fact that this nondescript zi char store along Geylang was actually awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2016 (it fell off the list in 2017). I just happened to head there for a last minute dinner because my husband had cravings for San Low Bee Hoon which was sold there (since we couldn’t go to JB, we searched online for a nearer option).
Imagine our surprise when we (with the family) turned up at around 6pm to an insane war-zone of busy wait staff, and disgruntled customers waiting in line for the longest time. We proceeded to stand in line, and patiently waited out at least 45mins for our turn for dinner.
When we finally got our seats (hurray!), we promptly asked for their recommendations which we took and waited another 20-30mins for our dishes. (This is definitely not a place for the impatient or very hungry!)
Well, the saying ” Patience can be bitter but her fruits are always sweet!” is so true indeed. Here’s my breakdown of the dishes we had:
Sambal Kang Kong ($12 – medium) Please do yourself a favor and order this! JB Ah Meng simply proved their worth with this mouth-watering version of this staple dish at zi char outings. Brimming with flavor, it is really well balanced with just the right amount of spicy kick and salty goodness. If I had to just order one dish here, this would be it! Order some rice, and I would happily have this for dinner all day every day.
Salted Egg Prawn Balls ($20/$30/$40) This was a dish that sounded great in theory, but didn’t really pan out when executed. Don’t get me wrong, I mean how bad can anything coated with salted egg taste right? The prawn balls themselves taste okay, but that was it – just okay. I wasn’t blown away by some explosion of umami taste or prompted to stuff my face with yet another prawn. The saving grace though, was the crispy corn kernel fritters that was used to garnish the dish – what a black horse. Everyone was busy scooping the fritters off the plate (super addictive!) that we kind of ignored the prawn balls.
White Pepper Crab (seasonal price)
Remember the dish that Anthony Bourdain tried and wanted to invite the chef to reproduce it in New York for his market – Well, this is it! I can only say, to each his own (sorry Mr. Bourdain!). It’s definitely good crab with super fresh and tender meat, but I can safely say there are many similar standards of crabs out there in Singapore and JB. My family members loved the spicy kick of the white pepper sauce but this is definitely not one for anyone who cannot take spicy food, I only tried a few bites before stopping because the spice was too overwhelming for a chili noob like myself.
Fried Fish Skin ($12/$15/$24)
I spotted a flurry of these dishes sent out from the kitchen and promptly decided to add this onto our order. Well, like it’s namesake, it’s fried fish skin with some zesty achar-like dressing. A very delightful appetizer!
Brinjal Potato with Chili ($12/$18/$24)
When I saw this on the recommended dishes page of the menu, I was thinking to myself, “What a dodgy combination of ingredients?”. But I let my heart get the better of me, and went ahead to order it since it’s a recommended dish – and thank goodness I did. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the night (after the sambal kang kong of course!). The brinjal was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. And the sauce was amazingly flavorful, coating the cripsy brinjal, chunks of potato and chili. Soooooo good. Do yourself a favor and make sure you order this too!
San Low Bee Hoon ($7/$11/$14)
Well, we came to JB Ah Meng specifically for my husband’s craving for this dish, so how did it fare? For the uninitiated, San Low Bee Hoon originated from a restaurant in JB that sold this special dish of stir fried rice vermicelli flattened out and pan-fried to the point of charred edges on the surface. The original version is incredibly delicious with the right amount of wok-hei, soaking up the flavors of the broth and ingredients used to cook it. The Singapore version is nice, but the original is better. For anyone who has never tasted San Low Bee Hoon before, do give this a try! But if you have tried the JB version, I would say just get your passports and head over the causeway because this is not a good enough replica.
Well… so based on the quick dinner I had with my family, is this restaurant truly worthy of the Michelin Bib Gourmand? I would say yes, simply because of the Kang Kong and Brinjal Potato dishes and the fact that everything is really affordable. There were still many other dishes on the menu which I did not get to taste, and I look forward to giving them a try the next round too.
In the meantime, do let me know if there are other dishes there that I should try on my next trip down! If you are heading down yourself, please remember to book ahead or else be prepared to wait it out!