Last Updated: April 8, 2016
Straits Express has a rather unique concept combining 3 different cuisines – Anglo Hainanese, Peranakan and Penang under one roof. It is based off the food in the Straits Settlement which refers to the group of British territories in South East Asia during the early 1900s.
Interesting enough, Mr James Wong (one of the 3 people behind Straits) invested the effort to head hunt his chefs individually, one to champion the face of each cuisine and maintain the integrity of a quality menu. They hold true to the whole Straits settlement theme right down to the use of Pewter beer mugs.
What I like most about Straits express here is the array of food they serve. In which case there is something for everyone across all generations. I was personally a big fan of the Oxtail Stew ($18.50) where it came with a generous serving of meat with green peas and mashed potato on the side.
The best part about this was the soft milky after taste that came with the gravy, sweet and light without being too intense. My only qualm was that the meat did not seem to be cooked with the gravy long enough so the meat did not quite capture the gravy taste as much.
Another thing you really have to try here is the Nonya Mee siam ($8). I was warned that I may not have enjoyed this dish as apparently it was usually a hit or miss with most customers. The soup managed to capture both polarities of sweet and spicy perfectly.
When you first taste the dish, there will be the spiciness before the citrus lime sour taste kicks in. I love dishes like this where the tastes aren’t too heavy (jelat) but faint and light enough to keep you craving for more. You could really see the kind of skill that went behind the dish where something so simple can become three dimensional.
The Nonya Chap Chye ($9.50) is also beautifully done. Different vegetables such as mushrooms, carrots, mushrooms and beancurd skin coming together. While a seemingly rather simple dish to execute, what I liked best here is how the vegetables were not cooked for too long without being excessively soggy but still being able to capture the taste of the chap chye broth.
Another highlight off their Peranakan offering is the Babi Tohay ($18). The Tohay takes almost an entire week of prep-work. The grago, uncooked rice, red rice yeast etc. is grounded and then mixed with Brandy to ferment for 7 whole days before its ready to be cooked.
The Brandy has to be introduced in small amounts so everyday, bit by bit more brandy has to be added and then mixed to ensure the Tohay ferments properly. And you can taste all this in the Babi Tohay where the different tastes come together and melt in your mouth. Absolutely perfect.
The Penang Kway teow ($9) here is also very refreshing with the use of skinny rice noodles instead of the traditional fat ones. The kind they normally use in Pad Thai dishes. Wet without a cloy oily aftertaste, the dishes at Straits Express all have this common theme where they capture the traditional tastes without resorting to drench their dishes with oil (although its debatable whether more oil tastes better).
Seasoned with prawns and squid in between, this is easily one of the best dishes in the restaurant.
The Lorbak ($8) is something worth taking notice of. While admittedly a bit dry, the generous servings of meat with the nicely proportioned mash of chestnuts, 5 spices, flour really brings across a homely feel – reminding me of the same Lorbak my own family makes during Chinese New Year. The chilli dip they serve with this is absolutely divine too. Sweet and spicy without overpowering the taste of the lorbak itself, they go beautifully together.
Straits Express is a place that has managed to capture the traditional homemade taste of the straits settlement (across 3 different styles of cuisines in fact). The way they capture these homely flavors without using ridiculous amounts of oil heartens someone like myself who has a preference for lighter, less heart-attack inducing flavours. Straits Express is definitely a place to take note of.
I can get rather skeptical paying for simple dishes like Kway Teow/Mee siam in a restaurant but here in Straits Express I can definitely assure it is very well worth it. The kind of skill and technicality behind each dish is very well reflected in the cooking. Strait’s is perfect for family or get-togethers with those who have a soft spot for homely cooking, this is definitely the place to be – much less when there are three different cusines to choose from. I very well enjoyed my time here and I am sure you will too.