I have come across online review(s) condemning Saltwater Café to serve “hawker food” at a hefty price tag. In our humble opinion, we felt that it is important to appreciate the specialties of the Executive Chef and in any buffets it is unfair to rate a buffet on the quantity of oysters, seafood, sashimi along with its price tag and credit card promotions (i.e. as I quote from one of the Executive Chef of a major hotel, the hotel only needs a good logistics executive to source out for fresh seafood at minimum cost).
My main point of such an introduction is to highlight Executive Chef William’s intent of launching the Kampung Lunch Buffet that is, to have three generations to dine together. The main theme of the buffet is to reminisce the carefree kampong days and Chef William has put in the extra effort to bring about the good old days atmosphere by introducing old-school savoury delicacies such as Ayam Gulai, Sambal Kembong Fish and even Kachang Puteh. That explains why the weekend lunch buffet is priced only at $38++ for adults and children below 5 years old get to dine for free while senior citizens (above 60 years) to enjoy a 1-for-1 promotion.
There are several DIY sections (i.e. Kueh Pie Tee, Noodle and Rojak) to incorporate the fun of customizing these local dishes. The noodle station is rotated among Satay Bee Hoon, Mee Sian, Laksa and on our day of visit, this station served prawn noodles with the soup base brewed from lots of prawn heads, giving the soup an intense sweetness and flavor. The soup is different from ones available from food centres and hawker centres for this is not laced with MSG, hence not feeling thirsty after drinking the entire bowl.
This is served to the table to allow families to engage in some fun by rolling one’s own Popiah. Since the proportion of each ingredient has been arranged neatly, the taste is close to a perfect one.
Chef William incorporates ”grandmother’s flavour” in his dishes and uses a lot of shallot, garlic and traditional method of preparation to reproduce his perception of "grandmother’s flavour". Some of his signatures includes Ayam Gulai (a traditional Indonesian Curry, originated from West Sumatra (Padang)), Sambal Kembong Fish (Spicy Fish originally from Sumatra) and even Braised Pork Belly.
In general, the meat is not extremely tender so as to ensure that the presentation will not be compromised but be it the Ayam Gulai or Beef Rendang, each of these dishes is well-braised and the distinctive characteristic of each dish is presented nicely to the palette. Just like our previous visit, Penang Kuay Tiao is still a must-try for the soft and springy Kuay Tiao, evenly coated with pork lard and sweet black sauce.
From the porcelain bowls with chickens printed on it, containers to hold the classic Bandung and Lychee drink to the glass display of the Roast, Chef William put in his effort to bring in the classic outlook we have come across during the 80s and 90s of Singapore markets. The only difference is that being in a hotel; the food served is less oily and not flavoured with MSG, making it very home-cooked.
To relief childhood favourites, Achar, Pickled Mango, Bittergourd, Sweet Corn and Pickled Papaya are introduced into the buffet line. Soup is rotated among Duck with Salted Vegetable Soup, Spaghetti Squash Soup, Winter Melon Soup, White Fungus Soup and Chef William’s signature Pig Stomach Soup (Zhu Du Tang). The soup is something not to be missed, especially for those who are craving for a good bowl of soup prepared at home by our mothers.
With many years of experience and hailed from South India, this station boast one of the most flavourful fish curry we have come across.
Not forgetting the various types of pratas the chef will make at intervals. In general, the pratas are not oily and are fluffy.
Another item that is served to the table upon ordering. With generous amounts of salted fish, the claypot rice is served piping hot. Despite the amount of salted fish put in this dish, this is not salty at all but instead has a nice fragrance. Unlike the ones that has excessive dark soya sauce, this is on the lighter shade and one portion of claypot rice is more than enough for 2 pax but note that this can be addictive, making one full after cleaning the claypot clean.
To bring in more local flavour to this buffet, the outdoor area of the Saltwater Café has live stations of satays and teh tarik.
With pork, chicken, beef and lamb satays available, the highlight of this dish is not only the sweetened, tender meat but the satay sauce with pineapple puree. The pineapple puree not only adds a slight tang to the peanut sauce but also reduce the heatiness of peanuts. According to Chef William, this is how the satay sauce was served in the 70s but most of the satay stalls have omitted this component for convenience.
Unlike our previous visit, Saltwater Café has introduced their very own durian puffs and durian pengat. Durian pengat has a very light texture with a strong fragrance of coconut milk. In addition, sago is added to make the dessert more refreshing and this goes very well with the Ice Kachang Station.
Apart from the Nonya Kuehs, dessert shooters and DIY Ice Kachang Station, one of our favourite desserts in this buffet is the Bo Bo Cha Cha. With sufficient body of the coconut milk, this dessert is generously served with yam and sweet potatoes, but most importantly, tapioca cubes which is often replaced with sago in most dessert outlets.
As a parting treat, Chef William has made his very own Kachang Puteh stand and each serving of nuts are wrapped in magazines paper. To ensure that these paper “funnel” are of the same shape and size, they are all hand-made by Chef William himself.
My only complaint for this buffet is the inaccessibility of the hotel but that is what makes it idyllic. Apart from the tranquility of the surroundings, Saltwater Café also arranges balloon sculptor, children corners and even activities such as cooking and batik demonstrations on weekends.
This is indeed an array of humble fare but at the same time, these dishes will never fade with time. Having being exposed to European cuisines for more than 3 weeks, we were simply excited when we saw our favourites in the buffet line. Moreover, from Yuan’s experience, there are several hotels that feature local favourites but the dishes served in these hotels are definitely not as delicious as what we had that afternoon.
Having to dine at Saltwater café twice, Chef William’s freshly fried Penang Kway Tiao is definitely one of our favourite Fried Kway Tiao and this second visit makes us crave for his Claypot Rice, Chinese Soups, Pork Satays and Ayam Gulai more.
Our heartfelt thanks to Executive Chef William for the complementary lunch and his time to share with us his childhood favourites.
Changi Village Hotel
1 Netheravon Road
Kampong Buffet Lunch is available on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3pm. Pricing of the buffet is as follows,
$38++ (A) or $58++ (A) Free Flow of beer and house wine
$19++ (C) Free flow of juices and soft drinks (12 years and below)
Free for Children (5 years and below) and 1-for-1 promotion for Senior Citizens (60 years and above)