You know the drill. It’s a zi char outing and from har cheong gai to cereal prawns, everyone orders their favourite zi char dish. Mine for the record, is hotplate tofu. There is nothing I love better than scooping pieces of tofu and egg from the hissing iron plate and mashing them with rice. Comforting as these dishes may be, the grass is always greener on the other side and there comes a time when you start dreaming about the myriad possibilities that exist beyond your usual kopitiam zi char joint. Well, you can stop dreaming now because Toa Payoh Mellben Seafood is here to prove that zi char is done best with a hot wok and liberal splashes of creativity.
Good things come to those who wait. 15 minutes after we had ordered, our table was covered with plates. The chilled sweet and sour pork ($15) that had tempted us so on the menu was jaw-dropping (and Instagram worthy) in real life. Like candy trapped under layers of ice in Candy Crush Soda, tangy balls of crispy battered pork were similarly buried under a mountain of ice cubes. We rushed to liberate them from their icy prison and were pleasantly surprised by the result. Cool at first bite, the batter gave way with a satisfying crunch to yield a piping hot meaty center. To be sure, sweet and sour pork is delicious whether hot or cold but the restaurant’s take on this classic dish had our taste buds swooning at the combination of hot and cold.
Really giving our taste buds a kick was the sambal kang kong, fried liberally with sambal and red chilies. At $10 per plate, the portion was generous, more so than what you could possibly get at a neighborhood zi char joint. Something else you can’t get? Salted egg yolk lollipop chicken. Topped with a confetti of green curry leaves and tiny red chilies, the drumsticks (6 pieces for $18) came with the meat conveniently bunched at one end, like a lollipop! Just pick one up with your fingers and get to work on that heart-stopping crunchy skin, courtesy of the rich salted egg yolk batter.
Zi char, at its core, is simply dishes wok fried to smoky perfection. This gives the chefs at Toa Payoh Mellben Seafood free reign to hallucinate dishes like Playboy Chicken and Saliva Pork Ribs. It’s hard to imagine what they would taste like, but if the three dishes we tried were any indication, we will prepare to be blown away.
Address: 211 Toa Payoh Lorong 8, #01-11/15, 310211