Thursday, November 01, 2012

Straits Kitchen, Grand Hyatt Singapore

Before getting into the review proper, I will explain the drab-looking pictureless post.

When my friends and I arrived at Straits Kitchen at Grand Hyatt Singapore for their hawker buffet, I began taking photographs of their various stations using my trusty Samsung Galaxy SII. After a few snaps, a waitress suddenly appeared and told me "You're not allowed to take photos in here." My expression must have been "???" because she repeated herself, and said that the exception was that if I, or other people, were in the picture as well.

My friend thought that that was silly, and offered to take pictures of me at every station. As much as I would have loved to have pictures in this post (and also because they remind me of the food I ate and the food that is available), I declined because I did not want to trouble her.

Additionally, although I have a few photographs of the buffet in my phone, I have decided not to upload them out of respect for Straits Kitchen's prohibition.

I think that Straits Kitchen's no photo-taking policy is a massive pity though. People want to see in advance what they might get, before they make a decision whether to pay for it. Having a no-photo-taking policy robs a wide audience of the chance to see and get tempted by their spread. I do hope that Straits Kitchen reconsiders its policy.

Anyhow, on to the review.

It was probably the fifth time I had been to Straits Kitchen. I still remember that the first two lunch buffets beginning in 2005 were with relatives, and the next lunch and dinner buffets were with immediate family. So in addition to reviewing their food at present, I am able to detect any changes in standards.

Seven Stations

The Straits Kitchen buffet can be divided into about seven stations:
(1) grilled food, e.g. ayam bakar, ayam panggang, otah, satay
(2) Malay / Indonesian food, e.g. rendang, sayur lodeh, laksa
(3) Chinese food, e.g. omelette, boy choy, chicken rice, roast duck
(4) Indian food, e.g. prata, murtabak, chicken tikka
(5) other hawker food, e.g. poh piah, rojak
(6) fruit and fruit juice
(7) desserts, e.g ice cream, kueh, goreng pisang, ice kachang.

At every station is a plastic placard with the names and a short description of the food offered. The confusing thing is that the restaurant has always chosen to use one placard with a few food names on it, instead of placing one placard in front of each dish. Although my friends and I were able to roughly discern which is what in respect of the Chinese and Malay / Indonesian food, we were lost when it came to the Indian food because there must have been five or six pots of curry-like items which we could not identify.

The Food

My friends and I agreed that the beef rendang was one of the best dishes. It was tender, the strands of meat thoroughly infused with flavour, the gravy was creamy, and I managed to score a few pieces of tendon (my favourite part).

Upon a friend's suggestion that the ikan bakar was nice, I went to get a piece of that and the ayam bakar to try. The ikan bakar had a slight charcoal BBQ flavour, but its texture was kind of mushy / soggy. It did not have much flavour. I really thought that it needed to be grilled for longer under a hotter flame, and to be more "burnt". The grilled milk-fish that I had previously at Resto Surabaya in Lucky Plaza was better by far. I could not quite tell what kind of fish the ayam bakar was, but my friend and I thought that it might be red snapper. It sure had a lot of bones though. 

Even though I chose a small drumstick, the ayam bakar was a bit dry and tough, and like the ikan bakar it tasted bland by itself. I added lots of sambal chilli.

At Straits Kitchen, I was eager to dig into the chicken satay because during my first three visits they had served excellent juicy satay. Unfortunately, the chicken satay failed to impress and did not come anywhere close to how it tasted back in 2005. Back then, the marinade was delicious, and the satay was grilled with fiery charcoal flames so that it was speckled with lovely burnt bits and had unbeatable flavour.

That day however, the chicken satay was not very well marinated and was grilled just enough so that it was cooked. There was a lack of depth of flavour, and it absolutely could not compare to Old Punggol Satay at Alexandra Village Food Centre.

The Chinese station usually serves up oyster omelette, and I overheard some other customers expressing disappointment to find tofu seafood omelette in its place. To me, it tasted "meh", like a home-cooked dish. Instead of having a thin egg-base dotted with egg tofu, squid rings and prawns, I think they should have prepared it so that it would have wok hei (fragrance imparted by the use of a super hot wok), reduced the amount of egg tofu, and increased the amount of squid rings and prawns.

My friends who took the steamed chicken and roast duck did not comment on them. But on a previous visit, my sister said that they were average and that the roast duck at Hong Kong Jin Tian Eating House is much better. 

The laksa was tried by one of my friends, a fussy foodie, and she thought Straits Kitchen's version was not worth her stomach space.

From the Indian Station, some friends thought the cheese prata was pretty good. I had the chicken tikka and the marinade was fine, but the meat was just a little on the dry side. The better chicken tikkas I have had have been from Curry Gardenn at Turf City, and surprisingly Dallas Restaurant & Bar at Boat Quay. The papadums are crunchy and deliciously addictive though.

My most favourite dish at Straits Kitchen is not actually a dish, but more of a dessert... or some might even label it as half a dessert: coconut milk. People would have used the coconut milk in their chendol or oni, whilst I had it plain with some crushed ice from the ice kaching machine. Magnificent. It tasted nothing like the packets of pasteurised coconut milk from the supermarket, but fresh, slightly sweet (perhaps naturally?) and wholesome. It was so good that even though I was getting a bit full, I went back for a second round.

Two other friends feasted on the durian ice cream, which they remarked to be delicious. One of them tried the goreng pisang, but did not comment on it.


Many Singaporeans, especially foodies, have remarked that the only reasons for eating at Straits Kitchen are to enjoy hawker food in air-conditioned comfort and to allow foreign friends to taste a variety of hawker food at one shot.

In 2005 I would have disagreed, mildly. But after experiencing a huge drop in the quality of hawker food at Straits Kitchen, I myself would rather go and/or take my foreign friends to the hawker centres at Old Airport Road, Maxwell and Alexandra Village.

I do note that despite the lack of quality, Straits Kitchen's buffet is usually fully or almost fully booked. Straits Kitchen could very well be resting on its laurels, but I do hope that it will rise to the challenge of serving real quality hawker food, especially in view of the buffet price it is charging.


An hour after the meal, my mouth felt dry and I felt quite thirsty (although not as parched as the aftermath of Song Fa Bak Kut Teh), and downed a litre of hot tea. Some friends felt the same kind of thirst.

Straits Kitchen

Grand Hyatt Singapore
10 Scotts Road
Singapore 228211

Tel: 6738 1234

Opening hours:
- Mon-Fri - Lunch: 12noon to 2.30pm
- Mon - Fri - Dinner: 6.30pm to 10.30pm
- Sat, Sun, PH - Lunch: 12.30pm to 3pm
- Sat, Sun, PH - Dinner: 6.30pm to 10.30pm

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