Story and pictures by Alan Teh Leam Seng, New Straits Times, and Good Old Days.
It is very common to hear visitors in Sentosa talk about the exorbitant prices of food. In general, outlets here charge a premium over the same type of food that can be found in other parts of Singapore. The food quality is also nothing much to shout about. So it is a pleasant surprise when I recently found a place that offers authentic local cuisine at very reasonable prices. Furthermore, it is just a stone’s throw away from the popular Siloso Beach!
It is around lunch time when I alight from the Sentosa Express. The Beach Station is the last stop on the island before the elevated train makes its return journey back to Vivo City. It has been several years since I have been here and things have definitely changed. I am taken aback to learn that even the popular Songs of the Sea nightly light and sound show has been replaced with a newer and more exciting production called Wings of Time.
Honestly, I am not excited when it comes to looking for food in Sentosa. However, everything changes when I come across the Good Old Days restaurant, located just opposite the Wings of Time main entrance. Externally, the restaurant looks a bit like a large black and white colonial era bungalow. Coupled with its nostalgic sounding name, this place conjures up images of yesteryears when Sentosa was then known as called Pulau Blakang Mati. This strategically positioned island just off the southern Singapore coast, used to serve as the backbone of the British military command back in the days leading up to World War II.
Being the latest restaurant to open in Sentosa, tourists can now have the opportunity to sample Singapore’s rich culinary heritage here. The menu boasts of a wide selection of halal certified dishes. I decide to order several local favourites just to compare them to the same ones I have tasted outside. I decide on the three Singapore food icons namely Singapore Chicken Rice, South Indian set and of course Singapore Laksa.
While waiting for the food to arrive, I decide to do a bit of exploring. Looking at the framed black and white photographs on the walls is like taking a walk back in time. Together with easy to read captions, these wonderful images tell a spell binding tale of life in old Sentosa before the luxury hotels, theme parks and golf courses arrived. Back then life was simple and laid back. Ahh… the price we pay for progress.
My chicken rice comes in a circular tray with individual compartments for the dishes. I take a spoonful of rice first. I want to taste it plain. The rice grains are fragrant, fluffy and not too greasy. It is comparable to one I tried at the famous Maxwell Road hawker centre. The chicken pieces are juicy and go very well with the dark soy sauce, crushed ginger and garlic chilli sauces. The soup is flavourful though slightly sour. The lightly sautÈed green leafy vegetables in oyster sauce are crunchy and their flavour is further enhanced by the crispy deep fried shallot toppings.
The interior is tastefully furnished with wooden chairs and marble tables. Although these are new but they give diners a feeling like they are eating at a traditional coffee shop. Black and white is the main colour scheme throughout the entire restaurant including the floor tiles.
The laksa arrives in a large bowl and at first look I can sense that it is not spicy at all. The gravy is yellowish unlike the super hot versions that are much redder. I take my first sip. The laksa version here is more towards the ‘lemak’ side which uses coconut milk instead of sour asam as the main gravy ingredient. Foreign tourists and children can handle this dish without batting an eyelid. However, on its own I find it to be a bit bland. I like my laksa super spicy. Fortunately, the serving staff brings me a saucer of red chilli paste to help bring things up a notch. Apart from this, this dish is excellent. The prawns are fresh and juicy. I like their crunchy texture and combined flavour when taken together with the gravy. The sliced fishcakes taste nice when soaked in the gravy.
The South Indian set looks very authentic. All the dishes are served in separate stainless steel bowls just like my favourite banana leaf curry shop back home in Malaysia. I know there is also attention to detail as I can see a small saucer of mango chutney at the side. No self respecting Indian curry meal is complete without this sweet condiment.
Putting the dishes separately is a very good idea. This way I get to gauge the exact amount of curry I want to add to my rice. I recommend mixing a bit of the yoghurt with the curry gravy. The slight tangy yoghurt complements the curry and makes each mouthful a treat for my taste buds. I suggest eating the papadum quickly as this crispy cracker tends to get soft very quickly.
This popular dish was traditionally eaten by pioneers who first came to Singapore from the Indian sub-continent. It comes with a delicious fish curry, okra masala, turmeric potato combined with dry chilli and onion. I am glad that the restaurant uses quality basmati rice infused with a mixture of fragrant spices. This curry meal is my favourite for the day.
I end my meal with hot tau suan. This popular dessert is delicious and I really enjoy the gravy soaked fried dough fritters. I must remember to make another trip here to watch the Wings of Time production. During that time I will plan to arrive early to enjoy the Good Old Days buffet spread here before the show starts.