Saturday, 24 April 2010

Rasa Sayang Revisited

Wed 21 April 2010

Following this very unflattering review, I am heartened to say that instead of just pacifying me with a gift voucher or something along those lines, I was contacted by the manager Fee Bee Chong with an apology and invited back to dine personally with her and the two proprietors of Rasa Sayang (Ellen Chew from Singapore and Teddy Chen from Malaysia) so they could gain honest feedback face-to-face.

In what turned out to be a very productive and insightful evening, it emerged that they have since introduced more training sessions to improve what they know is a serious recurring problem with their service staff. I did not ask nor did they mention what directly happened with Ms Fungal Infection, but seeing as they had CCTV footage to go on (news to me- many Chinatown restaurants apparently have them) I trust they identified and dealt accordingly with the correct person.

In terms of their menu it also seems to be a continued aim (and challenge) to meet both Malaysian and Singaporean expectations of what constitutes "authentic" versions of our cuisine, the startling differences of which to date I had been unaware of (being a Malaysian who has only ever stepped foot in Singapore once). For instance, Singaporean Hokkien Mee refers to a white, non-soupy version of what Malaysians call Penang Prawn Mee, whereas Malaysian Hokkien Mee will no doubt shock Singaporeans with its fat udon-like noodles stir-fried in a thick black sauce and crispy rendered pork fat. I also learnt that the sweet Mee Goreng which my partner and I were so appalled at (as Malaysians used to a spicy, robust mamak style) is what Singaporeans would call accurate, that Singaporean Char Kuay Teow is wetter with none of the smoky charred characteristics we deem essential and so on.

The sense I get is that labelling itself both a Malaysian AND Singaporean restaurant may be in itself contradictory, the inherent obstacle responsible for Rasa Sayang's hit-and-miss menu as far as a Malaysian is concerned. One thinks that perhaps they would benefit from choosing one style and sticking with it, rather than risking a compromise and pleasing neither.

It is only right however that I give credit where its due to the other dishes I got to sample on this return visit. As a hardcore Hainanese Chicken Rice fan I thoroughly approve of their new improved version (it is thankfully a dish that Singaporeans pride themselves on and isn't wildly different from what Malaysians like), and the chef's handmade taufu starter also impressed, deep-fried until crispy with a soft silky interior and a sweet sour mango sauce. Indian rojak was of an acceptable standard, though I found the other starter of otak-otak (spicy fish mousse in banana leaf) rather tiny and far too firm. To round off the mains, the admittedly Anglicised version of Nasi Goreng (to give Western tastebuds an easy introduction) was still tasty and enjoyed by my Malaysian friend, particularly the meaty sticks of satay that accompanied it.

To its advantage, Rasa Sayang's dessert menu is far larger and more varied compared to other Malaysian joints in the area. We enjoyed the warm bubur pulut hitam (black glutinous rice), though we found the handmade cendol and sago gula melaka (tapioca pearl pudding in coconut milk and coconut palm sugar) rather small in portion and slightly odd in flavour- perhaps Singaporean palm sugar is different? The rest of the menu offers intriguing one-of-a-kind items such as roti bakar with homemade kaya (toast sandwich with coconut jam- see my recipe/description here), Milo Dinosaur (Milo= a much-loved chocolate malt drink, Dinosaur= an ice-blended frozen smoothie topped with extra Milo powder) and kuih ketayap (pandan crepe filled with toasted caramelised coconut), which looked good in the pictures though I cannot yet personally attest to how good they are.

The juggling act between fulfilling Malaysian and Singaporean tastes is a challenge I don't envy, and whilst the food may not be firing on all cylinders (in my biased Malaysian opinion) I do applaud their open mind in accepting customer insight and the efforts they have put in thus far to improve. Upcoming plans include a 15-item taster menu for those unfamiliar with the cuisine, as well as offering the uniquely Malaysian/Singaporean yee sang during Chinese New Year (a salad of shredded vegetables, crisp crackers and fish that is tossed high to symbolise prosperity and health). It is a fairly new establishment after all, and given their constructive attitude I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

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