[London] For Singaporeans in London who miss a taste of home, Old Chang Kee in Covent Garden should hit the ground running.
It is set up to introduce foodies in London the Singaporean snack and street food culture.
With established chains like Wasabi and Itsu monopolising the Asian snack food scene, it is about time someone else with an astonishing tradition shook things up.
Having opened in 1956, a small shop that garnered its fame through a piece of pastry, the notable curry puff, Old Chang Kee has grown into a food empire that now has a foothold in Europe.
For those unfamiliar with the curry puff, imagine an empanada or a smaller Cornish pasty with a vibrant, deeply spiced filling of chicken, potatoes and sometimes egg.
It is a pocket of extreme flavour that unites foodies from all over Singapore.
The links between Singaporean and British culture is not inconspicuous, what with their colonial history.
It thus is quite plausible that chefs have been able to unite the two within a single piece of glorious pastry – the spicy flavour bombs of Singaporean cuisine and the baking mastery in Europe.
It has been reported that Old Chang Kee unloads over 1.5 million curry puffs a month, and with its immensely successful popup in Kentish Town a while ago, selling out in approximately four hours, the prosperity of the chain in London is almost inevitable.
Since I visited early at lunch time, I was able to beat the rush into the small restaurant and takeaway, nabbing a corner seat by the stairs that lead down into the small dining area below.
The aromas of the place are absolutely intoxicating, and with the lovely looking puffs and other crisp delectables on show by the counter I was spoilt for choice.
Offering include the Signature Curry Puff (£2.80, SGD5.05), Curry Potato Puff (£2.60, SGD4.70), Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Puff (£2.80, SGD5.05), there are seasonal favourites of Singapore Chilli Crab Puff (£3.20, SGD5.77), and Black Pepper Tuna Puff (£2.90, SGD5.23).
Other than the different style of crimping (and the slightly more than doubled pricing), the Signature Curry Puff was a worthy order with its buttery pastry packed potatoes and aromatic curry spices.
The egg added soft richness to the overall fillings.
Besides the Curry Puff which I absolutely have to order again, I asked for a Dry Chicken Curry with rice (£6.80, SGD12.50) which presented tender, fiery chicken adorned with curry leaves and some steaming hot rice in a bowl.
They come in convenient takeaway containers which is great too.
In the end, I also gave into temptation and ordered some inexpensive Lobster Balls (£1.80, SGD3.24) and crispy chicken (£1.50, SGD2.70) which sent me straight to cloud nine.
If I did not get so full after eating these I probably would have tried the inviting Fish Balls (£1.75, SGD3.15) as well.
Old Chang Kee also offers other Singaporean street food staples like Nasi Lemak with Chicken Curry (£8.50, SGD15.32), Singapore Chicken Curry (£6.80, SGD12.50), and Laksa (£6.80, SGD12.50).
[Additional input from Daniel] And so, I visited Old Chang Kee London, just out of curiosity.
There was a sense of familiarity as the place was decorated like many of the OCK cafe concepts in Singapore, but I cannot help feel that the place felt a bit ‘old’.
I know it is decorated to represent ‘heritage’ but it was perhaps a combination of the colour scheme and how its upkeep was attended to.
The Original Curry Puff tasted almost like how it would at home – the fillings and all, with the exception of the crimping on the edges, which to me is quite an essential part of a delicious curry puff.
If I were to nit-pick, it wasn’t as piping hot as I wished.
There were curious tourists who dropped in and ordered items such as Black Pepper Tuna and Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Puffs. Wanted to just call out, “Nooooooo…” to them, but well, it’s their choice. And whatever that pops out.
If you miss Singapore in London or in need of a quick bite before a show at West End, I still think it is a worthy place to drop by.
* Written by DFD’s London Food Correspondent Leander Dias SaltyCritic. Leander Dias was born and raised in Dubai, a burgeoning city with diverse food culture. Since moving to London to read for his English MA at UCL, he has utterly immersed himself in the local food scene, writing extensively about everything he eats everywhere he goes. Daniel’s Food Diary pays for food reviewed unless otherwise stated.