Any visitor to Singapore should try some of the local and traditional favourites like Turtle Soup, Chilli Crab and even Durians before they depart the country. Places to try an assortment of these are aplenty around Singapore, from the streets of Geylang for Turtle Soup or Durians or East Coast for Chilli Crab. Sometimes, to find your own personal favourite, one would even go lengths just to savour the best. However, Old Geylang restaurant at Geylang Lor 23 is finding a niche in bringing back all these nostalgic favourites under one roof. A combination of heritage brands like Turtle House, Old Punggol International Seafood as well as a durian fruit store, this is one place to indulge in an assortment of delights all in a single sitting. And while you are at it, relish at how well each dish is prepared.
Old Geylang : Turtle House, Old Punggol International Seafood, Durians!
Old Geylang is located in the same compound as the Singapore Badminton Hall and is very near Aljunied MRT station. If you do drive, the restaurant provides a free valet service at the roadside. This gives you the luxury of quickly starting dinner without finding a parking spot.
The durian fruit store is located right at the restaurant’s entrance. With the durian season just over, the variety and selection has dwindled. Nonetheless, a very decent selection is still available. From what I hear, the restaurant intends to expand this section even further.
Stepping into the compound, I was greeted by an atmosphere that was casual, laid back and a mix match in terms of what you could see. There was sand covering the ground (Reminiscent of the good ol’ beach), wooden planks forming a boardwalk, and tables located both outside and inside the restaurant. In this sense, the charm of Old Punggol International Seafood is reified, and it gives an impression of a very family friendly dining place.
Mr and Mrs Ong Siong Lee
The brand Old Punggol Seafood has a history of about 40 years. Those who know the place might also know about Turtle House, which is formerly from Geylang Lor 36 and itself with a 60 year history in the area. I was introduced to the owners of Turtle House, Mr and Mrs Ong Siong Lee and was I surprised when I discovered their actual ages. The couple certainly don’t look their age, and definitely spotted a very youthful disposition – much of which we all alluded to the benefits of having turtle soup every other day.
The Herbal Turtle Soup (山瑞脚皮汤 $20, $40, $60) is subtly different from the ones I’m used to in Sembawang and the most recent one at Ser Seng just across the street. The flavour is light, not as herbal, while still collagen rich. The broth was a mild savoury, with a crisp aftertaste that was airy and soothing. I could go for many bowls of these. The restaurant sources its selection of farmed and wild turtles from Indonesia and Thailand. Guests who would love a little more kick in their soup should add in the side of rice wine available. I’d say that it makes the broth a touch richer, with a smoother texture in each sip. Thumbs up.
Turtle Soup with Yam Rice
I ordered a bowl of yam rice to go along with the turtle soup. I thought it was good, and quite decent till the rest around the table started commenting on how enjoyable their bowl of white rice was. I became tempted, and thus for the night, finished two bowls of rice. Still, it was not a venture misplaced as the white rice was exceptionally tasty, fluffy, with a certain touch of shine in each grain. It was very fragrant, and was a superb match to savoury foods as it complements and accentuates the dish’s intense moments. Must have!
I was very surprised with this dish. The Live oyster with salted egg yolk (咸旦生蚝 $8 per pc) is a seemingly simple but exquisite dish that I have yet to come across. The oyster is coated is a crisp batter, and then cooked with a thick gravy of salted egg yolk. The fragrance of salted egg, subtle yet tempting was distinct from a distance. I took the first bite into the oyster and the juices from within just burst out onto my tongue. That was when the blend of caramelized, rough sweet saltiness from the yolk came together with the briny, sea sweet flavour of the oyster. It was sheer delight, and honestly, much past my already high expectations of innovativeness from cze char restaurants. If you love oysters and salted egg yolk, this is highly recommended.
The Crocodile Tail in red braising sauce (红烧北菇绘鳄鱼尾 $12 per pc) is another must order at the restaurant. I wouldn’t be able to identify that this dish was made from crocodile if the restaurant did not explain the dish to me. Old Geylang is the only restaurant in Singapore that serves crocodile tail at this moment and it is truly a delicacy. Each crocodile tail yields only two portions of this gelatinous looking cut, each about three inches thick. The flavours were fresh, savoury, robust, much of which reminds you of the good ol’ braising sauce in Chinese restaurants albeit in a refined manner. The key to this dish however is the tail’s texture. It is collagen rich, with a jelly like texture. Take the first cut and you will almost think it is a piece of high grade konnyaku jelly. Place it in the mouth and slowly revel in the textures, while the piece simply disintegrates in smooth, luxurious fashion.
The restaurant also serves up a very decent portion of Roast Pork and Char Siew (港式烧腊双垪 $12). The Roast Pork is chunky, with a crisp brown skin that carries a unique smokiness in each bite. It goes well with the wasabi mustard though I personally prefer it on its own. The Char Siew is the winner here with a blend of good fattiness along side a cut of sweetened meat. Simply biting through the meat, and then the gentle crunch of the firm fats, while basking in touches of savoury sweetness is almost sheer bliss.
The 10 Head Abalone ($12.80) is currently offered at a promotional price of $8.80 per portion. I thought this was the most lacklustre of dishes as compared to the rest. Somehow the sea saltiness from the abalone didn’t do justice to the braising broth. While the rest of the dish was relatively mild and tender, the sudden touch of salt in the centre was surprising.
The Di Huang Miao was a relatively good dish in overall. The ti wan chye was not overcooked, with a bright green colour that indicated crispiness fresh to enjoy. It was served stir fried with a light soy mix that was a little too oily, yet seductively tasty.
Another signature from Old Geylang is the 自制翡翠双菇豆腐 ($12, $18, $24). The tofu, homemade and prepared fresh daily is very tasty on its own. While the braising sauce all about might leave one with the conception that the dish will be seemingly overpowered in flavour, the tofu’s distinct taste stood out well on its own. The texture was smooth, runny, with a savouriness that reminded me of a savoury stock and egg. It was beautiful.
What is visiting a seafood restaurant without ordering a serving of Chilli Crab (辣椒蟹 $52 per kilo). The chilli crab is foremost prepared quite differently from the norm with a thick, robust gravy that was distinctively bright red. Yet while the visual impression might lead one to think it is absolute fieriness, the gravy was thankfully mild with a prominent touch of ketchup used throughout. It was also not as eggy, but more robust in sea savoury and sweetness. If you are lucky, you can get the female crab for all its beautiful roe. This was a treat for the night, and I definitely enjoyed it.
The dessert of Soya Beancurd (豆花 $3) was served chilled as a pudding. It reminded me more of jelly, and was a little too sweet for my own liking. I would prefer a more traditional serving of tau huay any day.
As a final round up to the meal, it was really great to just go outside and order some durians. If the durians are not exceptionally aromatic, you could even have the durians indoors after your meal. The flavours of durian is quite dependent on how much your budget it. Furthermore, with the season just over, the varieties are limited. Though that itself shouldn’t stop you from enjoying some creamy king of fruits in its entirety.
Chef Meng explaining to us how the dishes were prepared. He certainly comes from a knowledgeable background, with over 20 years of culinary experience!
The gang who enjoyed dinner for the night!
Dining at Old Geylang was very pleasant and a surprise from start to end. I entered dinner with the expectation of a good serving of turtle soup, but left knowing that there is so much more to offer. The dishes like the oyster with salted egg yolk, crocodile tail in red braising sauce and the even the steamed white rice were memories that deserved to be shared. The prices at Old Geylang are also very reasonable, and its concept of bringing heritage brands and flavours together is certainly novel and tasty. I hear that there might be more to come, but the restaurant as it is is already well worth a visit. Fans of Old Punggol International Seafood and Turtle House will also be delighted to make a return visit for their own old favourites. It might be my first visit there, but it seems like I already know the place inside out. A certain sense of nostalgia strikes me even though I might not have tried any of these dishes from these brands before.
Thank you Old Geylang for the invitation.
1 Lorong 23
Reservations : 6745 1248
11am to 2am Daily