Welcome to Sin Huat Eating House, the single most old-school of set-ups from owners who have made absolutely no nod to restaurant fads or customer expectations. Why should they? That’s part of the beauty. A small kid was running around swatting flies with an electrified mini blue tennis racket. The stools haven’t been changed since it opened.
On one side of the place they serve Kin Turtle soup, Bubble tea, classic roast meats such as good’ol char siu fan. On the other side is the famed seafood side. The fish tanks are beyond murky. They and their contents look miserable. But I wouldn’t be too chipper either, awaiting death by garlic.
So you sit down and wait and watch Geylang life go by. A ‘fair price’ supermarket and gas station are opposite, alongside a flashing neon sign for notoriously stinky durians.
Peanuts appear on the table and I crack the first of a couple of enormous Tiger beers. From the off, there’s no sign of the legendary rudeness of service. Maybe it’s because I’m the first one there, but an older lady is actually really sweet. She gives me a different ‘proper’ chair (ie one with plastic arms) and a separate stool for my bag.
The menu is basic and no, doesn’t have prices. If that’s a concern, then don’t come here, but I really don’t think they’re in the business of ripping people off, unless you act like a total dick. She suggests I order what looks like a fish slice while I wait. It’s really good, even if it had been heated up in the microwave. It’s full of real fish, spices, some heat. Served on chipped pink plastic plates, it goes down well and sets the mood.
Don’t expect any kind of quick service of food. As the first customer, I waited 55 minutes for my 3 dishes to arrive. But who cares? It’s nice, for once, not to rush or feel you have a deadline.
So I ordered the prawns with garlic, the clams and the kai lan vegetable. The kai lan was stunning – subtle ginger, sweetness, oyster sauce, carrots, garlic, dried shrimp. It was utterly, comically moreish. I don’t know what the sweaty and somewhat-intimidating chef does to it, but it’s a thing of beauty. The prawns next. These babies were enormous. I’ve eaten a lot of seafood in Singapore and elsewhere and these were from Bigtown. The photo doesn’t even do them justice. Eight of the gigantic beauties sat in an absolute riot of garlic. Sensational, if you like garlic. Hell on earth if you don’t.
And so to the clams. Very good too, but not quite matching the prawns. The quality of the molluscs wasn’t top-drawer, with a slightly grainy, gritty texture – to be expected in seafood, I know, but then again the deep, sonorous lull of the sauce pretty well covered these minor indiscretions.
Not that it’s important, but I was the only ‘ang mo’ (foreigner) the whole time I was there, almost 3 hours. No hordes of tourists getting ripped off, as other reviews would have you believe. Next to my table a natty checked paper tablecloth materialized from a bag and group of local male friends, all 60+, started to gather. They bought bottles of decent looking red. Later, wives and kids joined them. They ended up maybe 18, 20, people together, enjoying the very special food and unique atmosphere of the eating house. Living up to its name.
So my bill for all the food and beers was 100 Sing dollars, or about US$80. If you go crab style, it would doubtless go up, but the quallty of the prawns was indisputable. If you were in a miserable corporate hotel hellhole dining room you’d easily drop US$40 for a prawn main featuring maybe 2 or 3 dwarves of the sea. For the experience, for some great food and for a long walk home through Geylang which showed a whole new side to Singapore, it was absolutely worth every cent. As I left, a tiny Buddhist nun with a polka dot suitcase ran past. A fittingly surreal end to my evening.
Sin Huat Eating House – Geylang Road by Lor 35, Singapore +65 6744 9755