You would notice Sik Bao Sin (Desmond’s Creation) at Geylang is very different from other zhi char (cooked food) places.
There are only 13 items on the menu, dishes are either wok-fried or steamed. All menu items (except 1, find out below which one) are originally from Sik Wai Sin – which should be a familiar one to zhi char lovers.
Plus, no prices on the menu.
Famed for having just one man behind the wok serving up home-cooked meals from the heart, Sik Bao Sin has a Singaporean as its cook (while many zhi char eateries are run by Malaysian chefs).
The restaurant name “Sik Bao Sin” is Cantonese for “eat your fill first” while “Desmond” is Desmond Chia, the chef-owner.
The younger of two sons, he hails from a family of cooks who migrated from China. His father, Chia Kok Hoong, moved to Singapore from Guandong, China in the 1960s, armed with nothing but a certificate issued by the Chinese government to recognise accomplished chefs.
Mr Chia Kok Hoong opened the restaurant Sik Wai Sin (“food comes first”) in 1968, becoming one of the first few eateries in that district.
Desmond practically grew up in the kitchen of Sik Wai Sin, playing while his father cooked and following him in the market. When their father retired, he and his brother Steve took over the kitchen. He manned and mastered the wok while his brother focused on in the steaming station.
Today, supported by his wife Joanna and his son, Desmond Chia continues his father’s tradition of being the only cook in the kitchen, with his own personal, home-cooked touch.
Yes, he is a one-man show and because of this, the wait is longer than usual. During peak hours, waiting time could reach 45 to 90 minutes.
Sik Bao Sin has also received the Bib Gourmand distinction from Michelin Guide.
You won’t find fried rice or horfun, but only dishes that go with rice. Just a note: the menu here doesn’t indicate any pricing. That may make a new diner slightly anxious, enquire and you would find out that prices are mostly either $19 or $26 per dish. (Prices here are indicative, so do ask.)
Among the 13 items, 10 are listed as all-time favourites, with 4 named as main stars: Steamed Fish Head, Tofu Prawns, Ginger Chicken, and Steamed Pork with Salted Fish.
So, what’s the bestseller here?
It is the legendary Steamed Fish Head ($26).
The carp’s white flesh was sweet and smooth, contrasting the salty fermented taste of bean paste, served with plentiful amounts of crispy lard, shallots and chilies.
The Tofu Prawns ($19) was a well-executed dish that comes with large chunky prawns and blocks of deep-fried tofu in a peculiarly sour gravy with silky beaten egg strands. Perfect to spoon over a steaming bowl of rice. Or two.
As mentioned above, all dishes in Sik Bao Sun are from the original recipe repertoire of Sik Wai Sin EXCEPT for 1 dish, the Prawns with special sauce ($40).
Let’s just say this is Desmond’s own signature dish, as he would always cook this for his son at home, emphasizing that this is genuinely home-cooked food.
One of my personal favourites was the Steamed Pork with Salted Fish ($17), neither overpoweringly salty nor oil, and went well with steamed white rice.
Although the younger generation now probably have less contact with salted fish type dishes, it was so comforting-good.
At the end of the day, it was the humble-looking vegetable dish – the Kailan with Beef that left me the deepest impression.
It was fresh, crisp, sweet (thankfully not THAT bitter) green kailan that was stir-fried with wok-hei to achieve its texture, just so the stems snap between your teeth while the leaves remained tender.
With all that said, some of the dishes could be on the saltier side.
Just a note, as Desmond is the main chef in the entire kitchen, the dishes you order may not arrive all at once, but with time-gaps in between. Be prepared for that, especially during peak hours.
Zhi Char is all about variety so dining alone might mean you have to finish an entire platter all by yourself (or saved as a takeaway). Get a squad of 4 to 6 to share the calories and joy.
Make a reservation for big groups (and you MUST be on time) or schedule an early dinner at Sik Bao Sin to secure yourself a seat. If not, be prepared to queue, especially on weekend nights.
Sik Bao Sin (Desmond’s Creation)
592 Geylang Road, Singapore 389531 (Between Lor 34 & 36)
Tel: +65 6744 3757
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:45am – 2:30pm, Dinner 5:45pm – 9:30pm (Tue – Sun), Closed Mon
Google Maps – Sik Bao Sin (Desmond’s Creation)