Baba Chews is the latest addition to the increasing hip and happening Katong food strip. Located as part of the new Hotel Indigo Katong, it serves a mix of contemporary Asian dishes and Peranakan fare, plus an enticing menu of craft cocktails which should lure the younger crowd in. But did you know the heritage building it is in was once the Joo Chiat Police Station? Built in 1928, it was in operation all the way to the late 80s at least, if not early 90s, if my memory serves me well. Growing up in Katong, that was a prominent landmark for me. Passing it in the car, I knew I was halfway to my grandma’s house at Amber Road.
But of course, apart from the exterior, much has changed inside. No longer the austere police station with apartments for the police chief upstairs, Baba Chews, on street level, has been turned into a pretty restaurant with evocative retro furnishings complemented by opulent tiles and Peranakan-esque accents. The bar is eye catching and so are the huge windows that give you a view of the heritage shophouses across the road. Baba Chews is a name inspired by the wealthy landowner Chew Joo Chiat, who owned swathes of land at the turn of the 20th century.
Chef Alvin Leong heads up the kitchen here, and turns out a creative menu of Peranakan fare with a contemporary twist, tipping a hat to the deeply rooted local flavour of the neighbourhood. Amuse bouche was a little sponge with salted egg kaya centre, coloured blue with the butterfly pea flower — a very suitable start which set the tone for lunch at Baba Chews.
For appetisers, the otak siew mai was a slightly spicy, juicy morsel that combined Peranakan and Chinese flavours well, and the flavoursome chilli crab cake, filled with juicy fibres of crab meat. The pongteh soup was a hefty serving, sweet with bamboo shoot and minced pork. The only comment I have is that there was way too much soup for the two meatballs, and it would have been much more enjoyable served with sambal chilli. Come to think of it, it should have been made available as a staple on the Peranakan table but was glaringly missing.
For mains, I would suggest the beef short ribs rendang ($25), melting tender in a rich unctuous gravy, and topped with coconut serondeng which was fried with gula Melaka. The panfried seabass with chilli ($29) was lovely too, cooked just right with house made rempah, and the chap chye, while predictable, was enjoyable too. A sparkling sour plum granita with lychee pearls was served before the mains as a light palate cleanser.
For desserts, have the nangka cheese cake ($12) served with pulut hitam ice cream.
Meanwhile, let’s not forget the rather impressive cocktail menu, which sensitively gives due respect to the unique Katong vibe, and nostalgia of the neighbourhood. Heading the list is Katong Sling, a twist to Singapore’s iconic cocktail with Courvoisier VSOP, lemon juice and fernet.
The white negroni was a lighter version of the classic using Martini bianco and Martini Dry instead, and for a touch of nostalgic, Hemingway daiquiri ($18) made with Bacardi, amaretto and lime juice. In place of dessert, you could also have Chews Laksa ($18), a cocktail made of rum, Malibu coconut liqueur, pineapple, gula Melaka and laksa infused whipped cream, and which gives a nod to the famous laksa which that Katong strip is so famous for. They have a good list of spirits particularly gin and whisky, and for non-drinkers, coffee here comes from Common Man Coffee Roasters. All in all, highly recommended, and a great place to bring out-of-towners.
86 East Coast Road, #01-01 Katong Square, S(428788)
Tel: 6723 2025