I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the best, casual and local dining experience in Singapore can be found at the Sin Huat Seafood Restaurant, located at the corner of Geylang Road and Geylang Lorong 35. Of course, for many foodies out there, and especially the local ones, this is hardly news. Sin Huat is a cult phenomenon, a foodie pilgrimage point written about in dozens of international publications from the New York Times to Gourmet. It was also famously featured as “the finest restaurant in Singapore” by Anthony Bourdain in his TV show, A Cook’s Tour, early this year.
S and I first discovered this restaurant in late 1999/early 2000. We had gone searching for it for two reasons. The first was that friends connected with the film industry had told us it was Michelle Yeoh’s favorite place to eat in Singapore–a place that she insisted on eating at on every trip. The second was because of the chef’s most famous dish, a sinful combination of Sri Lankan crabs fried with beehoon noodles. At the time, S was, among other editorial duties, writing the food reviews for 8 Days, Singapore’s highest circulated newsstand magazine. Her article on Sin Huat was, we believe, the first one to publicize Sin Huat and the amazing food cooked by the very cool but very eccentric self-trained chef-owner, Danny Lee. A few weeks after S’s 8 Days article, the 2000 edition of Makansutra, the awesome street food guide published by a friend of ours, KF Seetoh, hit the bookshelves. This edition also carried a rave review of Sin Huat. And just like that, Sin Huat was no longer a secret.
Over the next few months, 8 Days regularly ran short, edited versions of S’s review, ensuring that readers couldn’t help but take note of Sin Huat. Here’s an example that ran in the 20 May 2000 edition:
“Sin Huat’s famous crab beehoon (for four) alone may set you back an eye-popping $72 and six steamed tiger prawns can cost something in the region of $42! Yet, you would hear nary a peep of complaint from their diners, which includes chop-socky goddess of action, Michelle Yeoh, who we understand makes it a point to tuck into the steamed fish here whenever she’s in town. Be warned, though. To dine here, one must firmly believe that ‘all good things come to those who wait’… and wait. Once the food arrives, though, all impatience will dissipate. The fresh steamed gong-gongs (mini-size conchs, $25 a kilo) come with an extraordinary chilli dip, its garlicky spiciness addictive to the last bit. The steamed prawns ($42), gargantuan by any standards, are tastebud-thrillers to the end. The pièce de résistance, the award-winning crab beehoon ($36, one crab), is equally stunning – both in size and flavour. The Godzillian crab bursts with roe and the flesh is firm, as it should be, though the beehoon is a tad too sweet for our liking. Still, we wouldn’t have seafood any other way. Michelle Yeoh is certainly on to a good thing….”
In addition to eating at Sin Huat as often as possible, S and I loved introducing it to friends, including many friends who write about food for a living. Over the past few years, we’ve introduced Danny’s crab beehoon to several famous foodies, including Matthew Evans, the food reviewer of the Sydney Morning Herald and at the time with The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Rob McKeown, then Asia correspondent for Gourmet and now with Travel + Leisure, famed British foodie Kevin Gould, and yes, Anthony Bourdain.
The flip side, however, of all this advocacy, is that Danny’s restaurant is now perpetually packed. Smart and regular patrons dine later and later in order to avoid sitting around for up to an hour waiting for their food. Danny himself, on a recent visit, advised us that the best time to come is after 9pm (he’s open to 1am). Local friends, who had been dining there prior to all the publicity, now sometimes give us dirty looks, blaming us for making it difficult for them to get Danny’s food whenever they want.
Anyway, as mentioned, writing about just how amazing Danny’s crab beehoon is, is hardly news. What is news though (at least to me) is that Danny is now serving up fish head curry at lunch time. Previously, Danny leased space to a fish head curry hawker (he also leases space to a very famous duck rice hawker and another well-known turtle soup hawker). But recently, he decided that the quality of the fish head being sold out of his coffee shop just wasn’t good enough. So, when the hawker’s lease was up, he didn’t renew it and took over the stall himself.
S and I went over last Saturday to check it out. I’m happy to say that it was good. Very good in fact. The curry was tasty and not too spicy. The fish meat was incredibly tender. When I asked Danny if he steamed it first, he grinned but refused to give me an answer. When I asked again and he changed the subject, S elbowed me and told me to just shut up and enjoy my food. Which was damn good advice.
What amazes me about Danny is he serves breakfast (you should try his coffee–made from beans he roasts himself), lunch and dinner every day of the week. He must sleep less than 3 or 4 hours a night. But nonetheless, everything he serves is always excellent.
Sin Huat Seafood Restaurant
659-661 Geylang Lorong 35 (at the corner of Geylang Rd)
p.s. For another good review of Sin Huat, check out this review on Nibble & Scribble