It is key to emotional health, I think, to understand that most things in life will turn out pretty badly. Things will come too early or too late. People will be maddening ciphers, their motivations inscrutable, their signals garbled, their best intentions catastrophic. We must convince ourselves of the ubiquity of unsuccess, so that when we happen upon a place like Char, every now and then, it feels all the better.
(Note: Now that I have your agreement on this, you will not mind that I was unable to take a picture of the char siew at Char. I know, I know. Such is life!)
I’ve heard about Char a while now, from friends and their friends who spoke in hyperbolic terms of the char siew. But they also told me it was ‘modern’. That, and a look at the location, curbed my enthusiasm. Great, I think. I’ll be eating lovely char siew in some half-arsed imitation warehouse.
But no. Instead we get a reasonably conventional Chinese restaurant, albeit with a slightly weird soundtrack (elevator jazz renditions of pop standards). A reasonably conventional menu too, the first page commanding most of our attention.
So is the char siew as good as described? It’s generously sliced, sitting in a puddle of oozing, molasses-like glaze. They use pork belly here, and the fat has been transformed into a thick layer of char, all caramel and smoke with none of the acridity. And beneath that layer lies either tender muscle, or the inner layer of fat, slippery and juicy. All that is a long way of saying ‘yes, it is just as bleeding good as I was told it was.’
The other two members of the tri-mix platter are also glorious in their own way. Somehow, the sio bak has had the fat rendered perfectly from its fatty layers, leaving behind something springy and pleasantly squelchy. Smudged with a little mustard to cut the remaining greasiness, it crackles and snaps in the mouth and makes me happy.
As for the soy sauce chicken, it is perhaps the least impressive of the three, but that’s just because its plate-mates are excellent. It’s still, from its taut, bronzed skin to the supple meat, a well-done representative of the dish.
After the dinner, we walk out into another example of things going wrong – a torrential downpour has overtaken Jalan Besar, and there is no easy way for us to get back to the MRT. But by then – filled with meat and fried rice (pretty good, too) – we’re not all that fussed. If we have to wait, then… well, we have to wait in the cool and refreshing weather. That’s hardly bad.
363 Jalan Besar
Contact number: 6842 7759
Tues – Sun, 11.30AM – 2.30PM, 6PM – 10PM
Closed on Mondays