Kopi Tiam Singapore Restaurant
A comment about Nasi Kandar was posted this afternoon at a very fortunate time: right when we were thinking of getting something fast, cheap, and yet still unique, so we hopped on down to Swissotel the Stamford to take a look. I didn't even realize until we got there that the suggestion was in reference to an actual restaurant named Kopi Tiam (I thought it was about the food court chain called Kopitiam...until I realized that the food court here was run by the competing Food Junction people instead). After finally sorting it all out, this place (2 Stamford Road Level 2, 6431-6221) turned out to be a hotel restaurant serving local food...a bit like the infamous Chatterbox at the Meritus Mandarin, or maybe even the StraitsKitchen at the Hyatt. And while they were indeed running some Penang promotion, it was split into three phases, with the final Nasi Kandar phase not arriving until the 16th. Today, they were still on the first phase, or Penang Hawker Fare. We still went in anyway.
Each of the three phases featured about six menu items from each guest chef, so we went ahead and picked the quintessential Penang Kway Teow, as well as an item from their "normal" menu: the Nasi Goreng Istimewa. We added a couple soups as well to round it all out. It proved to be a mixed bag, with a general inclination toward the worse. The Penang Kway Teow, while featuring some very fresh shrimp, was a bit of a bore compared to the salty/grimey plate that I remember from Penang (and oddly, they threw in things like crab meat and Chinese sausages here, perhaps to partially help justify that relatively high S$14, or US$8.25, price tag?).
The Nasi Goreng Istimewa arrived a bit cold (especially the egg, which was a bit of a turn off), and just reminded me of that nasi campur stuff I once had in Indonesia, with nothing to get me going either. And while the fish maw soup came came out pleasantly hot and savory, the tom yum soup was just a disaster, being too salty and hardly even sour or spicy (clearly this was not the right place to order tom yum soup though).
The worst part about this experience was what hit us in the end: the prices. Each of those single-serving soups was S$9 (US$5.30), so add in a couple drinks and those main courses and this became a very expensive meal compared to the much much cheaper stuff that one could get at a hawker center. Then again, that's the hallmark of this genre: cater to hotel guests from out of town that want to try local food but prefer air conditioned comfort instead, and can conveniently charge the higher prices to their expense accounts. At least at Chatterbox, I like the chicken rice enough that I'd be willing to pay for it (despite having much cheaper options out there). But here, there was simply nothing to get me excited, and we left with the remorse of having overpaid for something that wasn't really that remarkable to begin with. Oh well...please keep the suggestions coming though; disappointments are just as much a part of the adventure as good finds are, and at least now I know about Kopi Tiam versus Kopitiam. :)