Eng Su Singapore is not another Asian restaurant on Bugrashov street. Well, it is in the sense that it’s Asian and it’s on Bugrashov but it’s not just another. We were a bit discouraged to visit there from the opening due to bad reviews on the media. I think the wrote something about a disaster with plastic plates. I don’t care about plastic plates and we were in the neighborhood so we decided to go inside. Thank god we are so brave to try it anyway because we left Eng Su so happy that night. Two weeks after, we came back, and this time with reinforcement: my brother and mother. This post will talk about these two meals combined.
The place is modestly yet tastefully renovated: simplest tables and chairs that look like were taken from a classroom, high ceiling, concrete floor. The decorations derived from the Far East: Asian “lunch boxes”, cylindrical grills, semi open kitchen. Singapore cuisine has influences from all the ethnic diversity that form this country. This is why we can see Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and such dishes in the menu and it’s pretty great! Eng Su’s menu is divided to “small” and “big” dishes with some daily specials. Pricing is very reasonable ranging from as little as 17 ILS for a small dish to 92 ILS for a big one. They don’t have a wine list. Instead they serve a selection of cocktails, each can be ordered in a S/M/L portion. Cute. First we received the local water of the city of Tel Aviv with some cucumber slices in the vase. I find that trend great when starting the meal yet more disturbing going to the dessert. The cocktail we chose to share was the Singapore Ice-Tea. It had an intense lemongrass flavor, with a lemongrass stick as a mixer (47 ILS for the large cup). We were also given a taste of Grape Martini made with fresh grapes. It was great and refreshing so we ordered this cocktail again the next meal (47 ILS).
Now we can talk about the plastic plates. They were actually cute, painted with little roosters and flowers and if anything, for me at least, they added to the authenticity of the meal rather than subtracted from it. We ordered a lot of food, and dishes started filling our table. Our meal delightfully began with the Chili Crab dish: deep fried soft shell crab in lemongrass, tomato, cilantro and hot chili sauce (38 ILS). The soft shell crab did the job of luring me to order it, but the real star of the dish was the great sauce: well balanced, deep in flavor and a great combination with the very generous amount of crispy crab. Of course it was one dish I could not resist ordering again in our second time in Eng Su and it was still lovely. Next came the Papaya Salad: spicy salad of green papaya, cherry tomatoes, green beans, garlic and peanuts with palm sugar and tamarind vinaigrette (28 ILS). There were also a lot of cucumber and spring onions on top which didn’t take away from it. Not bad for a papaya salad. Spicy and well seasoned. Different than the salads we had in Bangkok and different than the salads we tried in Israel. Another small dish had the title of “Our Flag Dish”. Go Taia: Steamed dumplings filled with pork, cabbage and chives with soy, ginger and vinegar dip sauce (44 ILS). Although it was tasty, it wan’t new to our palettes and I didn’t think it deserve the “flag dish” title. And so, next visit we noticed it isn’t mentioned as the flag dish anymore! Continuing with the Ban Casio: Vietnamese coconut milk, rice flour and cumin crepe filled with pork, shrimp and sprouts and served with a selection of leaves and chili pepper spicy-sour naam chok dip sauce and peanut sauce (38 ILS). Great version of this classic dish. Not too greasy, full of flavors, crispy crepe, fresh herbs and two great dip sauces. This version was better than the one we had in 44 Restaurant and the one we had in Kazoku. We also tried the cheapest dish in the menu: Chai Thai Quay: best of Singapore street food, Salty and spicy omelette with steamed kohlrabi cakes, garlic, green onions, pickled daikon and chili (17 ILS). This was also a positive surprise. I thought it wasn’t bad and I love these steamed kohlrabi cakes. My mom loved it and thought it was the best dish of the meal. When the chef (Eng Su himself) joined us later on in the meal, he admitted it’s his personal favorite as well. Last one of the small dishes that we tried was the Lemongrass and Calamari Salad: chopped lemongrass with peanuts, fish sauce, rocket, fried calamari (45 ILS). It hit right to my taste. I loved it and had no idea why and what was in it. I enjoyed every bite and the mystery just made my experience more intense.
We then tried one side dish of Bok Choy stir fried with ginger and shitaake mushrooms (19 ILS). I love bok choy but this wasn’t as good as I hoped. It was slightly bitter and something was unpleasant about the sauce. Barely had room for the big dishes but we did our best and tried some of these as well. Each main course arrived with a big pile of steamed rice, well made, with crispy bacon on top. Why not? Nice touch. We tried the Indian influenced dish called Chicken Curry Hinany: Deep fried chicken, potatoes and cauliflower in a rich curry sauce with coconut milk and spices (59 ILS). Could be a perfect dish if the pieces were cut a bit smaller, but maybe this is why the chicken and the vegetables were so soft to melt in the mouth, with a silky curry sauce – well done! We also tasted the Spare ribs: pork spare ribs Bali style glazed with BBQ soy sauce (92 ILS). This dish was highly recommended by the waiter in both our visits, this is why we were a tad disappointed. It was good but nothing special or new about it, we already seen this glazed spareribs dish in so many places. Asam Fish curry (59 ILS) was spicy and tasty but did not leave an impression. And last, Randang – Indonesian beef curry, slow cooked with galangal, lemongrass and toasted coconut shavings, served with cooked vegetables (59 ILS) was another well cooked curry with interesting flavors.
About the desserts: it’s not the peak of the meal. The Coconut and tapioca banana stew (32 ILS) was a type of banana-porridge style dish that I don’t really like as a restaurant dessert. The Frozen chocolate fudge Popsicle on a cinnamon stick with crushed peanuts and milk and coconut dip sauce (11 per unit) was simple, tasty, chocolaty and nice but seems like a home-children project and not something you wish find in a restaurant.
Before desserts, Eng Su, the Chef, came to talk to us. I really appreciated how he really wanted to know what we thought of the dishes, what we liked and didn’t and just tell us a bit about himself. From what he said, he’s a Singaporean born and raised, moved to NYC where he finished his culinary degree in the FCI (French Culinary Institute) and after several years of cooking trendy food he felt like doing something familiar, back to his Asian roots, simple but delicious. When he first arrived at Tel Aviv he noticed Asian food isn’t our strongest suit. Then he opened Eng Su in Bugrashov street. Right next to Thai House? I asked, and he admitted it have not been easy. People sometime send the Papaya salad back to the kitchen because: “it doesn’t taste like Thai house salad”.
Well, I’m sure it wasn’t easy and I certainty would like for this place to stand long and keep providing delicious Singaporean food for reasonable prices in a fun and casual atmosphere.