Last Updated: October 20, 2020
The term ‘hidden gem’ refers to a person, a thing or a place that is extremely outstanding and yet not many people know about. Hidden in plain sight at HomeTeamNS Bukit Batok, Cheval Chi Bao is one such gem which I am reluctant to share. Reluctant for the mere fact that if news of this place gets around, I’m afraid that it will be flooded with people and my meals would no longer be as peaceful anymore.
But isn’t it my responsibility as a food writer to share good food? After much self-convincing, here I am, introducing this one place which I feel should be on your radar—especially to all my fellow zi char-loving Singaporeans.
Nestled in the neighbourhood of Bukit Batok, Cheval Chi Bao was once a laid-back Thai eatery called Mooks Thai Bistro which has undergone a revamp after a change in Head Chef early this year. Helmed by a new chef who has had years of experience managing the kitchens of Din Tai Fung, the eatery is back with a brand new menu featuring a kaleidoscope of wallet-friendly zi char dishes.
A row of window panels flood the room with light, giving it a sense of space that is expansive and bright. Cloaked in warm accents of whites and browns, the entire restaurant exudes a comfortable and homely vibe that immediately put me to ease the moment I settled down. With the ability to house approximately 100 diners (with safe-distancing), the space is filled with tables set in twos, fours and fives catering to different groups of customers.
It starts with Grandma’s Prawn Balls (S$13.80), little balls of delight which were handmade fresh, from scratch, daily at Cheval Chi Bao.
Studded with water chestnuts, spring onions and chopped pieces of prawns, these golden-brown balls kicked off my meal to a pleasant start with its fresh mix of flavours and fun melange of textures. In between each bite was chewiness from the prawns and juicy crunch of the chestnuts—savoury and refreshing at the same time.
The Sweet & Sour Pork (small: S$8.80, medium: S$12.80) arrived shortly in a beautiful square dish. Unlike those served in a typical zi char stall, Cheval Chi Bao’s Sweet & Sour Pork were little popcorns of pork balls enrobed in a generous amount of ketchup-based sauce.
Here, it’s the balance of sweetness and acidity that won my heart. Neither of these two flavours overpowered the other. Instead, they were working hand-in-hand to elevate the subtle savouriness of the deep-fried pork. Along with the combination of vegetables, this was a dish that left me mindlessly popping ‘popcorns’ into my mouth one piece after another.
Hainanese Kampung Chicken (S$23.80) is a boisterous crowd-pleaser that earned its place at Cheval Chi Bao’s stellar line up of menu items. Served as a whole and neatly fanned out to look like a bird that is ready to take flight, the Hainanese Kampung Chicken glistened for attention under the light.
Coated with a mixture of chicken oil and soy sauce, the white steamed chicken was texturally sinful to the lips. The meat was unbelievably moist and tender. Yet, it’s the gelatinous skin that I live for—that immaculate fragrant bite which complemented perfectly with the tangy and piquant chilli sauce for that beautiful bright finish.
The Curry Fish With Whole Snapper was a powerful and dramatic claypot for just S$26.80. Bobbing in the thick unforgiving gravy were pieces of brinjal, tomatoes, green beans and okra (lady’s finger) alongside a whole red snapper.
I was smitten by the symphony of aromatic flavours the moment I sipped on the gravy. It was rich, decadent and not spicy till any point of discomfort. Here, the curry plays second fiddle to the red snapper which was steamed before being dunked into the pool of gravy. It had a subtle natural sweetness and was cooked so perfectly it flaked with a sigh.
For a complete zi char experience, Cheval Chi Bao’s Creamy Pumpkin Butter Crab (medium: S$63, large: S$83) is a dish not to be missed. Slathered in pumpkin sauce, the entire dish was reminiscent of a typical salted egg crab minus the heart-clogging cholesterol, so you can feel free to indulge to your heart’s desire.
Choose to eat it daintily with a pair of chopsticks and spoon. But for maximum enjoyment, just get your hands dirty and dig right into the crab with your fingers. Trust me, for every inch of this Creamy Pumpkin Butter Crab was just finger-lickin’ good.
Elsewhere, there is the Chilli Crayfish (S$55) which was nothing short of great but pales in comparison to the other two wonderfully executed seafood dishes that l had prior. Cut into halves, the crayfish were drenched in chilli sauce that seeped through its shell right into the juicy succulent meat.
Albeit spicy, the gravy was balanced with the natural sweet-briny notes of the crayfish. The sauce was not as viscous as I expected which was great, as it got soaked up almost instantly by those delightful deep-fried mantous on the side.
Never leave Cheval Chi Bao without trying their Signature Truffle Fried Rice With Egg & Crispy Shredded Dried Scallops (S$13). This, I would proudly say, is a mean plate of fried rice that deserves the most generous of praises.
Each grain was well-separated and coated with an alluring shiny gloss. Flecked with black truffle bits and pieces of eggs interlaced in between, every mouthful exuded a rich nutty fragrance unique to the dish alone. Crispy shreds of dried scallops enlivened the entire plate with an additional textural profile; the result was a wonderful combination even without the accompaniment of a protein.
The food at Cheval Chi Bao speaks directly to an intense, needy part of my appetite. My meal might not be life-changing but in some ways, it was a comforting feast of perennial favourites that hits close to heart.
With quality zi char dishes at such affordable prices and a comfortable dining environment, Cheval Chi Bao is indeed a hidden gem that is difficult to come by. If you are not living around the area, yet want to have a taste of their mouth-watering dishes, you are in for a treat as the restaurant has a direct online platform that offers free islandwide delivery with a minimum of S$35 spent.
There’s no need to wait any longer; head to Cheval Chi Bao or place your orders online and let the food speak for itself.
Expected Damage: S$20 – S$45 per pax
*This post is brought to you in partnership with Cheval Chi Bao.
Our Rating: 4 / 5
Cheval Chi Bao
2 Bukit Batok West Ave 7, #01-09B, Singapore 659003
2 Bukit Batok West Ave 7, #01-09B, Singapore 659003