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Sotong keluak is closer to squid ink than black nut sauce, but at least the squid is nice and tender.

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Above: Nonya noodles would be quite enjoyable if they had eased up on the cornstarch to thicken the gravy and just let the broth soak in naturally.

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The otah otah, despite an odd rubbery texture, has a pleasing old-school mix of spices and kaffir leaves that's comfortingly familiar.

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Above: The durian cendol is a huge disappointment with its fossilised green worms and the pasty sago gula melaka.

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Above: Commercial cups of kueh pie tee with so little filling, topped with a sliver of shrimp to justify its S$2 a cup price.
DINING OUT

More spice needed at The Blue Ginger

The stalwart Peranakan restaurant's new offshoot fails to rise above the ordinary.
Feb 28, 2020 5:50 AM

NEW RESTAURANT

The Blue Ginger
#01-106 Great World
1 Kim Seng Promenade
Singapore 237994
Tel: 6235-7042
Open for lunch and dinner
Mon to Fri: 11am to 3pm; 6pm to 10pm.
Sat, Sun and public holidays: 11am to 10pm.

TO go or not to go? That is the question we ask ourselves each day in our new Covid-19 reality, as we ponder whether to leave our safe, disinfected homes to enter the chambers of doom, despair and disease that not too long ago were known as shopping malls.

We may not have an answer to the world's viral woes, but at the newly-renovated Great World City, Klang bak kut teh and Penang cendol at its Malaysia Chiak! food court seem to be the bait that's drawing a crowd through its doors. Either that or they're giving away free masks with each plate of Penang char kway teow.

But we're not there for a taste of street food from across the Causeway - although if we'd known beforehand, we may well have gravitated in that direction. Instead, we're headed to the first floor, where the 'new mall' momentum seems to have swept up the escalator and anointed some of the other eateries in its wake -- including The Blue Ginger, the latest Peranakan restaurant offshoot to open in town.

Of late, we've been seeing familiar names like Ivins and Peramakan popping up with branches or casual concepts so it was probably a matter of time - say 25 years - for The Blue Ginger to do the same. It's a blast from the past - one of the earliest nonya restaurants that, even without being on the radar, has stayed in business all this while, which is really no mean feat.

Whether a strong bottomline is commensurate with its dedication to authentic heritage cuisine is another matter. The new Blue Ginger is quite clearly geared towards volume business rather than lovingly frying rempah or slow-cooking broths. It's a mall after all, and big-batch cooking is the key, with the same fast food flavour to match.

If it seems too much to ask for a decent kueh pie tee (S$8) you're right, so you get commercial cups with so little filling you'll need a DNA test to determine if there really is turnip or bamboo shoot in there, topped with a sliver of shrimp to justify its S$2 a cup price. The same is needed for the mystery blended paste that's stuffed into overly salty beancurd skin and fried into ngoh heong ($S14). You can imagine a taste of pork with a hint of shrimp, and the final crunch of waterchestnut before it's smushed into nothingness.

We kind of like the otah otah (S$4) despite an odd rubbery texture - it's got a pleasing old-school mix of spices and kaffir leaves that's comfortingly familiar. And we're fairly partial to the sotong keluak (S$22) which is closer to squid ink than black nut sauce but at least the squid is nice and tender.

Even if we find the chap chye masak titek (S$15) an odd mashup of two different dishes, it's a passable, prawn-based broth with a light touch of taucheo and chilli. It's like something you put together with what you have at home, tossing in cabbage, a bit of black fungus and a mushroom if you're feeling generous, and boiling it till everything slides down your throat with minimal chewing required.

At any rate, this chap chye masak titek is the closest you will get to actual soup, because both the bakwan kepiting (S$7) and hee peow soup ($7.50) compete with each other to see which can get away with using the least broth to still meet the definition. The former has a very slight edge with a vague hint of pork, perhaps because it's extracted some flavour from the otherwise useless pork balls with some slivers of crabmeat scavenged from someplace we may not want to know. The hee peow soup has no such luxury - it has a fishball and some bargain basement fish maw to which hot water and some wishful thinking are added. The hee peow soup has a partner in incompetence - pan-fried satay babi (S$15)that tastes like it was seasoned, pan-fried, rested for a few hours and finished off in the microwave before being served in a pool of its own perspiration.

In the midst of it all, we do enjoy friendly service by attentive, albeit harried staff who check in on us and are attentive to fallen napkins and empty belacan saucers. And if they eased up on the cornstarch to thicken the gravy for the nonya noodles (S$15) and just let the broth soak in naturally, it would be quite enjoyable.

If you still want dessert, skip the durian cendol ($7) with its fossilised green worms and the pasty sago gula melaka in favour of whatever you can find in Malaysia Chiak! instead. The Blue Ginger may have taken a quarter century to come back into the spotlight, but we wish it had taken the time to do more than just the bare minimum with this offspring.

Rating: 5.5


WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN

10: The ultimate dining experience
9-9.5: Sublime
8-8.5: Excellent
7-7.5: Good to very good
6-6.5: Promising
5-5.5: Average

Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.