Old Chang Kee, an old Singapore brand famous for its curry puffs , raised quite a few eye-brows in Singapore recently when it announced that it has opened an outlet in London. The price of one of its curry puffs - £2.80 (S$5) - is also more than 3 times what one would pay back in Singapore (S$1.50 a piece). Apparently, according to Old Chang Kee’s CFO back in Singapore, the price tag was justified by the fact that the curry puffs in London are twice the size of those in Singapore (to cater to Western appetites), the curry spice were shipped over from Singapore (?!) and the rent plus labour costs in London are higher.
I’m pretty sure that the curry puff I had this evening was not twice the size of the ones in Singapore. Maybe the size have shrunk since Old Chang Kee was first launched last month. At the time, many of my Singaporean friends who were residing in London, and who made a beeline to try it out of curiousity had complained that the curry puffs had hardly enough filling and seemed half-hollow. The ones I got were certainly well-filled, but they were also the same size as the ones back home in Singapore.
The taste and flavour of the curry puffs were certainly authentic. I really can’t tell if they vary significantly from Old Chang Kee’s renditions back home as, most Singapore will attest, most of us don’t really buy Old Chang Kee curry puffs that often. I know many relatives or friends who’d not tasted an Old Chang Kee curry puff for years, as there are so many other places which make curry puffs better than Old Chang Kee these days.
I was at Old Chang Kee, Covent Garden, with a fellow Singaporean foodie friend who’d been resident in London for the past 10 years, and who also confessed to not having patronised Old Chang Kee for years, but was there with me out of curiousity as well. We decided to get the Nasi Lemak and also Singapore Laksa to see how authentic they taste here.
Nasi Lemak with Signature Singapore chicken curry
The rendition here had all the requisite condiments: coconut milk-flavoured rice with hard-boiled egg, sambal, cucumber, peanut, ikan bilis (anchovies), and I chose the “Signature Singapore chicken curry” as its main side dish. There are 3 other options: tofu and mixed vegetable curry (which will definitely NEVER make it in Singapore), dry chicken curry (not sure what this is - chicken rendang?) and batter-fried chicken.
The flavour of the chicken curry here is fine, and I think they made a good effort to replicate the original Singapore flavours. But it did feel like eating a de-frosted supermarket dinner pack, especially with the take-away box used, irregardless of whether one is taking out, or eating in.
At a jaw-dropping £8.50 (S$15.20), it is also priced higher than what I’d pay for this dish in a good cafe or bistro in Singapore, and certainly not at the tiny, spartanly-furnished 14-seater here.
A good rendition as well - despite the use of processed (canned?) coconut milk here, and the absence of “daun kesum”/laksa leaves/Vietnamese coriander. The flavours and aroma closely approximate Katong laksa flavours. Also priced at a tear-inducing £8.50 (S$15.20), which is 3 times what we’d pay back in Singapore.
It’s worth noting that Old Chang Kee in Singapore is only known for its curry puffs. It used to be a small mobile hawker stall on MacKenzie Road, outside Rex cinema, and started way back in 1956. I never actually tried its curry puffs till the late-80s, when my office colleagues in the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation introduced me to them. Those curry puffs, fried hot & crisp, were really good then - although I never had them more than once or twice in the years that followed. My own favourite curry puffs were the Nyonya-style ones with spiral-shaped pastry shells, especially those from 1A Crispy Puffs in Eunos Crescent.
Old Chang Kee in London had sought to expand its offerings with nasi lemak, laksa, and curries with rice, but these are not its forte.
Everyone else in the shop when we were there, with the exception of my friend & I, were Mainland Chinese.
Old Chang Kee
5a New Row
London WC2N 4PD, UK
Tel: +44 20 7379 9235
Opening hours: 11am-9pm daily