Understandably a $4 million Recipe
Interestingly enough, Madam Betty Wong and Husband Hong Wai Kai sold the Kay lee recipe to the Aztech group in hopes of immortalizing the recipe in years to come, as well as retiring on a comfortable bank account.
Aztech normally deals with technology, so it was interesting to see them venture into Singapore’s F&B scene, and whether they make that four million investment worthwhile.
Seth and I were invited to the fourth Kay Lee outlet at Tanjong Pagar Road, following their other successful franchises at Suntec City, Ubi and Upper Paya Lebar. The place is set very simply, wooden tables and chairs with air conditioning.
The outlet has a modern touch – not all out pretentious. I like how the Aztech group did not go to the modern overhaul extent that it would rob the Kay lee roast duck franchise of its roots. I would like to remember that it after all, started as a small humble store on its own.
The watercress soup $4.50 was rich and had that pleasant vegetable sweet taste. Vegetables were well blanched without ending up too mushy. If in a big group, I would suggest to have at least one of these soups (other traditional soups like lotus root, white radish, bitter gourd – all $4.50 too are also available) to contrast against the other heavier items.
The meal really got started with the holy trinity, sio bak (roast pork), roast duck and char siew, prices for the roast duck drumstick and roast pork with rice start at $14.50; servings at $32 and $44 are also available for bigger groups.
Not to worry, if you are dining alone, the usual roast duck rice is also available at $4.50 here in the Tanjong Pagar outlet. I was at the Suntec outlet a while back and was told the same roast duck rice was not available. Perhaps because their target audience is for a different crowd.
I have never been to Kay Lee’s prior but the dark sauce’s distinct sweetness, flavored with pork lard no less was both sharp and light; strong enough to flavor without masking the meat. It’s not ‘gao’ (thick), you taste the sweetness but it quickly evaporates so you do not get sick of the sauce – understandably a $4 million recipe.
The roast duck skin was exceptionally crisp giving a nice contrast to the meat. The meat itself is rather lackluster lacking that robust flavor I look for in my roast ducks. Sio bak was good, a very appropriate proportion of meat to fat ratio. Crispy skin but a shade or two lacking in that fleshy fatty flavor, the roast duck and sio bak were a notch better than the average stall but not quite there yet.
The char siew was my favorite of the lot, rich and tender that is slightly charred at the sides with a caramelized honey finish. Very good char siew with an even better duck sauce. Sin on a platter worth loading calories for.
*Seth: Request for a fatter cut of char siew, that really brings the char siew to the next level of yum.
We had 2 servings of the char siew, first with a leaner cut and the latter being fatter, as a result the meat was a wee bit more tender with significantly more fat. This was more popular round the table but personally preferred the leaner cuts. Diners too can state their preference of the meat cuts to accommodate all those around the table. A nice touch of service by the people at Kay Lee.
The wanton noodles – served either with prawn wantons or prawn dumplings (both $5) were springy and Q, wet enough to taste not too dry that it became stale. They were rather typical- I personally prefer Thai style wanton noodles so perhaps why it did not score too well with me. Their noodles come with either shrimp dumplings or shui jiao. On the first round, dumplings were a tad bit undercooked which we sent back to the kitchen for a second wave.
A pity though, perhaps due to their folding technique. I could still pick up a slight flour taste at certain thicker folds in the dumpling. Enough to overlook but I was earnestly hoping for better. Prawns in the shrimp dumplings were fresh enough that they had that bite to it. The shui jiao has some black fungus too for a play on textures.
Overall, the wanton noodles were rather typical and not that outstanding. I was hoping for more. Perhaps they still need to play around with the recipe/delivery process a bit to maintain the same quality cooking process.
Of what we had today, the char siew truly stood out, that touch of crisp and smokiness is unparalleled. With that ridiculously seductive duck sauce, a good mix of sweet and lightness. Their wanton noodles definitely needs some work though.
*Seth: I felt the Sio Bak was pretty good too, just the right amount of cripiness and fat to meat ratio.
I would not go as far to say the Kay lee franchise is worth travelling for but definitely a good to have if you are staying or working in the area. Plus, given the many outlets available queues are a lot more bearable. I say the Aztech group is going in the right direction with their first F&B group.
Expected Damage: $4.50 – $15 per pax
Kay Lee Roast Meat (Tanjong Katong): 283 Tanjong Katong Road Singapore 437066 | Tel: 6594 2204 | Website | Opening Hours: 11am – 10pm