Old school Hainanese Western food at Prince Coffee House

The first thing that came to mind when I walked past Prince Coffee House for the first time was the theme song from the K-drama “Coffee Prince”, staring Yoon Eun-Hye and Gong Yoo. It’s one of those songs that refuse to leave your brain once you hear it, and the la-la-la-la refrain kept replaying in my mind the entire day.

If you think I’m exaggerating, just listen to it and see how long it sticks. The duration will be positively correlated to how many times you’ve seen the show, and how much you enjoyed watching the super adorable My Chan.

Anyway, we were in the neighbourhood one afternoon and The Wife remembered reading online somewhere that the orh kueh (i.e. yam cake) from Prince Coffee House was very good and we dropped by to buy some home.

We’re quite fussy when it comes to orh kueh and it’s hard to find really good ones in Singapore. The ones sold outside are usually quite stingy with the amount of yam used and therefore taste very plain and uninteresting.

The next morning, we steamed up a piece and had it for breakfast. It was the best yam cake we’ve ever had — huge and generous chunks of well distributed yam, together with pieces of lup cheong and slices of shitake mushroom. There was no mistaking the fact that this was yam cake, with a capital Y.A.M.

Since then, every time we’re anywhere nearby, we’ll drop by to buy some home. We also had their chicken pie, and The Wife is a huge fan. I found it good, but not fantastic, because my taste buds have been conditioned by average chicken pies with more filling than actual chicken bits.

The one from Prince contained a ridiculous amount of chunky chicken pieces, and there was no mistaking the fact that this was chicken pie, with a capital C.H.I… well, you get the idea. If you, like The Wife, like pies with more chicken than filling, then you’ll definitely love it.

After dabao’ing their orh kueh and chicken pie numerous times, we finally decided to sit down and have a proper meal there to try their famous Oxtail stew, Hainanese pork chop rice and Beef hor fun.

Looking in from the outside, it’s clear that the restaurant is old school all the way. The signboard features photos from its heydays in the 1970s, where it apparently was a popular hangout place for the popular people, when it was located near Prince Cinema in Shaw Towers.

Those days are long gone and the only things that have remained constant at their current location at 249 Beach Road are the décor, the food and Uncle Jimmy.

Uncle Jimmy is always there, and he’s always friendly and welcoming. You can see the smile in his eyes even when he’s masked up, but there’s also this undercurrent of stoicism that’s not immediately obvious. The years have not been kind to Prince Coffee House and, despite its long history, business is clearly not great. But Uncle Jimmy somehow finds a way to keep soldiering on.

It was late evening and still bright outside when Uncle Jimmy led us to our seats inside and handed us the menu. Once upon a time, the tables and chairs were brand new. But those days were a long time ago, and we sat down to well-worn but still functional furniture. The checkered red-and-white plastic placemats completed the old school feeling.

We already knew what we wanted to order for dinner that night, but it was interesting to see what else was on the menu. The Hainanese in Singapore are famous for their local rendition of Western dishes, the most famous being the Hainanese pork chop rice, which feature on the menus of other old school restaurants like Chin Chin Eating House (down the road along Purvis Street) and Shashlik (located in Far East Shopping Centre).

In addition to other Western staples like oxtail stew, steaks and chicken chop etc, Prince also has a wide selection of tze char dishes such as sweet and sour pork, beef with kailan and hotplate bean curd which looked tempting for future visits. But for that night, we stuck to our original plan.

We placed our order and looked around as we waited for the food to arrive. The décor may have been old and dated, but it still managed to impart a cosy and homely vibe.

There was only one other table of customers at the time, and so our food arrived quickly. The beef hor fun came first and it lived up to its reputation. The wok hei was dominant, the beef slices were smooth and soft and goopiness of the sauce was just right.

The oxtail stew arrived next, with chunky pieces of soft and beefy meat drenched in brown sauce and accompanied by steamed potatoes and vegetables. Given the fall-off-the-(tail)bone-ness of the meat, it was obvious that it was slow-cooked for many many hours. The sides were, as expected, boiled to death but were still delicious with the slightly peppery brown sauce. Because good brown sauce makes anything taste good.

The pork chop rice was the last to be served, and thankfully the portion was not too big. I was surprised that the pork chop (and its friends) were not drenched in the tangy tomato-based sauce, like how it’s typically served in other restaurants. Instead, the sauce was just enough to give everything a nice coating without drowning them. It was definitely one of the nicest versions I’ve had.

As the meal progressed, it became clear that we had over-ordered given our relatively small appetites, but being trained not to waste food, we pressed on. Uncle Jimmy walked past and he could see that even though I was struggling, I was trying my best to finish everything on the plate.

“Good, don’t waste food”, he said in encouragement, with a big smile under his mask. Uncle Jimmy is old school, like our parents, and appreciates it when nothing goes to waste. I was stuffed, but I was happy that I managed to not let Uncle Jimmy down.

Before we left, The Wife ordered an orh kueh for takeaway, and since freshly-baked apple pies were cooling down on an adjacent table, she bought one as well. When we ate a slice the next day, it was jam-packed with apples. When it comes to ingredients, Prince Coffee House is definitely not stingy.

I want to make a return visit soon, to try their grilled tenderloin steak served on their cow-shaped hotplate and some of their tze char dishes. It’s one place that I will always remember, because the Coffee Prince theme song pops up randomly, but fairly regularly, in my head. And when it does, so will Prince Coffee House.

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