I must admit I actually never heard of Kay Lee until it came into the limelight after it was sold to a conglomerate for S$4 million in 2014. How impressive the food must be, I thought to myself, that anyone would offer such an enormous sum of money for one of Singapore’s favourite hawker foods.
Apparently, Kay Lee’s 珠江 (“Zhu Jiang” a.k.a. Pearl River) style of roasting originated from Guangzhou, China with a recipe that existed since 1940. They prided themselves on their succulent roast duck with crispy skin and caramelised, well-marbled char siew.
The husband and I were in the vicinity of Kay Lee’s original flagship outlet on Upper Paya Lebar Road some time back. When I first saw how ‘black’ and ‘charred’ the char siew was, I wasn’t really tempted to give it a try. The husband seemed very interested though because he’s such a big fan of roast meats so we decided to stay for an early dinner.
Hubby ordered Roast Duck and Char Siew Rice ($7)…
…while I had Roast Duck and Roast Pork Rice (S$7) with an additional braised egg (S$0.80 if I remember correctly) to share.
All it took was one mouthful to lead us to extreme disappointment.
The char siew didn’t taste caramelised at all like what Kay Lee claimed. In fact, its bitterness was somewhat repulsive. If it was tasty, I wouldn’t mind the charred exterior but this just wasn’t worth consuming those carcinogenic chemicals. The meat inside did have a layer of fat but the texture was just overdone and dry.
The roast duck skin wasn’t crispy too. And the meat was tough and dry with not much flavour to it.
The roast pork skin was hard and chewy and though there were some layers of fat, the meat was dry and overall it was clearly lacking that smoky flavour and seasoning too.
It didn’t help that the white rice was a bit stodgy.
I guess the only saving grace were the braised egg (a hard-boiled egg wouldn’t go very wrong, would it?) and the plum sauce dip but we wouldn’t just come here to eat eggs and plum sauce, would we?
Overpriced hawker food. Poor quality roasts. Absolutely not worth it at all. I think it’s really pointless to have all this talk about preserving Kay Lee’s heritage because of its traditional recipe and its long time reputation in the local roast meat industry. If there isn’t any consistency in producing good quality roast meats and delivering tasty food to customers, doesn’t it defeat the purpose?
Well, at least I had tried it once which would also be my last time. For roast meats, I’d still recommend Fatty Cheong at ABC Brickworks Food Centre.
Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint
125 Upper Paya Lebar Road
Tel: +65 6594 2205
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kayleeroastmeatjoint/
Opening hours: 10.30am to 8.00pm daily
Everyday: 10:30am – 8:00pm