Friends Kitchen HK Review: New Retro Cha Chaan Teng In Chinatown |
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Friends Kitchen HK Review: Retro Cha Chaan Teng In Chinatown With Legit Hong Kong-Style Dishes

30th June 2023

Friends Kitchen HK is a new Hong Kong cha chaan teng at Neil Road

friends kitchen hk - flatlay

In terms of look, feel, and the dishes on offer, Friends Cafe HK at Springside Walk is one of the closest experiences you can get in Singapore to a legit cha chaan teng, AKA Hong Kong-style cafe. That’s why it’s great news when the brand opened at Neil Road, this time with a bigger setup and a slightly different name—Friends Kitchen HK.

friends kitchen hk - owners

Run by freelance makeup artist Vicky and her husband, Keith, the Hong Kong-born couple decided to venture into the manic world of F&B at the height of Covid-19 travel bans. Back then, they were unable to fly back to Hong Kong and missed the food of their home country. Where Friends Cafe HK focuses on cha chaan teng fare, this newest outlet expands their repertoire to include dai pai dong (大牌档, dà pái dàng) dishes—heartier, zi char-style fare.

Food at Friends Kitchen HK

friends kitchen hk - french toast

Since we hadn’t been to Friends Cafe HK, we started with the quintessential cha chaan teng favourite: Hong Kong-style French Toast ($6.60+), an item that was always a must-order for my brother on our trips to HK. This version sported the requisite frills of deep-fried egg and pat of butter to top.

friends kitchen hk - french toast detail 2

Syrup is, of course, provided on the side, and you’ll find creamy peanut butter between the two slices of bread that make up this sai do si (西多士).

friends kitchen hk - scrambled egg luncheon meat bolo bun

Like a true blue cha chaan teng, Friends Kitchen HK serves Bolo Bun ($5.60+) that’s baked in-house. Opt to add on Scrambled Egg and Luncheon Meat like we did, otherwise go for Ham, Cheese, or a Fried Egg. Each of these add-ons is priced at $1.60+, or you can have it hot with a cold slice of Butter (+$1+).

friends kitchen hk - scrambled egg luncheon meat bolo bun cross section

I wished there was more scrambled egg to go with the heartily-sized bun. The sweet pineapple crust top was a touch harder than I like, but the flavour was just right, without being too sweet. The bun could be softer too, but we did leave it out for a while. You must eat this fresh, or the experience will be lacklustre.

friends kitchen hk - beef brisket horfun

My favourite item was the Australian Beef Brisket Beef Ball Horfun ($14+), which I enjoyed so much, I took away another portion to bring home for dinner. It’s a touch pricey, but there’s so much food in this bowl, you’ll be more than satisfied.

friends kitchen hk - beef brisket beef ball

This bowl of hor fun is loaded with both beef balls—not house-made—and ngau lam, AKA beef brisket that’s braised for hours in a gravy redolent with chu hou paste (柱侯酱, zhù hóu jiàng): a fermented soya bean paste that’s often used in Cantonese dishes.

Only Australian beef brisket is used here, specifically chosen for the even marbling of fat and tendon throughout that gives it that fall-apart, gelatinous finish when cooked well.

friends kitchen hk - beef brisket horfun noodle lift

If you’ve been to Hong Kong and had the hor fun there, you’ll know how silky-smooth it is. Due to its short shelf life, however, Friends Kitchen HK has to make do with locally sourced versions. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great substitute. It’s smooth and sits well in the broth; you’ll just have to fly to HK to know how it compares.

friends kitchen hk - beef brisket horfun soup pour

Forming the base of this ngau lam hor (牛腩河, niú nǎn hé) is a house-made chicken broth, enriched with the braising liquid from the beef brisket. They make a fresh pot of this soup each morning, and it cooks for several hours till the restaurant opens for business.

friends kitchen hk - char siew and egg white rice

My second favourite dish was Charsiew & Egg with White Rice ($12+), even though I was a tad disappointed with how the 滑蛋 (huá dàn) turned out. Literally translated, 滑蛋 is ‘slippery egg’, and is characterised by the silken folds of scrambled egg, very quickly fried at very high heat.

friends kitchen hk - frying egg

Each plate of this has to be fried to order, with slices of house-roasted char siew that’s sweeter than I like—to cater to a more local palate.

friends kitchen hk - pouring sauce char siew egg rice

It’s as simple a dish as can be: scrambled eggs with char siew on plain white rice, drizzled with a house-blended mix of lard oil and soya sauce—but comforting, and so satisfying. I’d even have it without the char siew, thanks to the heady mix of 猪油捞饭 (zhū yóu lāo fàn), or lard oil tossed rice.

friends kitchen hk - baked pork chop rice pork chop

Another classic cha chaan teng dish that we tried on our visit was Baked Pork Chop Rice ($14+), which dates back to post-World War Two Hong Kong. You can’t go wrong with this for the ultimate comfort food.

friends kitchen hk - baked pork chop rice on spoon

Egg fried rice, tangy tomato sauce, a large, grilled pork chop, and melted cheese make this a complete meal in a dish. I did wish the pork chop was thicker and more tender, but the rest of the baked rice makes up for it.

friends kitchen hk - flaming chicken pot cooking

Moving on to Friends Kitchen HK’s dai pai dong selection, we opted for Flaming Chicken Pot ($26+/$36+), which is brought to the table as a large pot on a gas stove. It’s described as something in between the chicken pot at Qi Xiang Chicken Pot and Sichuan-style hotpot, loaded with spices including star anise, bay leaves, and cinnamon.

friends kitchen hk - flaming chicken pot detail

It’s a bit of an acquired taste, with a mild level of heat. You’ll have to let the pot bubble and simmer for a bit before digging in, to allow the toothsome gravy to thicken slightly and cook into the meat.

friends kitchen hk - fried pea shoots

If you need some greens with your meal, consider Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic ($15+), a seasonal item that isn’t typically found on your zi char menus. These verdant sprouts are very quickly fried so they don’t lose their crunch, and come with cashews, as well as bean sprouts.

friends kitchen hk - curry fishball

On the side, don’t miss the Curry Fish Balls ($5.60+), which regrettably are prepared with Singapore-style fishballs that are ultra bouncy, unlike the stodgier and firmer HK versions. The star here is the house-made curry sauce, which is piquant and addictive.

friends kitchen hk - siew mai

You’ll also find Fish Meat Siu Mai ($5+), dressed in light soya sauce—my go-to at 7-Eleven HK whenever I’m there.

friends kitchen hk - drinks

Complete the meal with Homemade HK Milk Tea ($3.60+/$4+), Yuan Yang ($4+/$4.60+), and the piece de resistance for me, HK Ice Cream Soda with Ice Cream ($4.60+).

friends kitchen hk - ice cream soda schweppes

I’ve fond memories of sipping Schweppes Cream Soda in its unmistakable green can as a kid—a drink that has to be specially sourced and imported from Hong Kong. Its sweet cream-vanilla flavour is typically enjoyed with more vanilla ice cream, which you can try that here too!

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Ambience at Friends Kitchen HK

friends kitchen hk - first floor ambience

Like the Springside Walk outlet, the new branch sports a retro aesthetic that recalls cha chaan teng experiences from the 1960s, with mirrors on the mosaic-tiled walls and squeezy booth seats.

friends kitchen hk - ambience second floor

The second floor, with its private rooms, is a little more swanky; it’s got a full bar and drinks list, yet still recalls an old-school vibe reminiscent of 1960s, colonial-era Hong Kong.

friends kitchen hk - storefront courtyard

Should you choose, there’s also a courtyard where you can dine alfresco, which brings to mind an old HK clan house. Friends Kitchen HK is just 60m from Exit 3 of Maxwell MRT Station, a six-minute walk from Outram Park MRT Station, or eight minutes on foot from Chinatown MRT Station.

The verdict

friends kitchen hk - storefront

I’m bringing my family back to Friends Kitchen HK for sure. The food is pretty legit, and tastes really good, as far as cha chaan tengs in Singapore go. Between now and our next trip back to Hong Kong, the fare at this centrally located eatery will definitely satisfy our cravings and more with their exhaustive menu.

While you’re in Chinatown, check out Paaru, a new Japanese-inspired bakery-cafe on Pearl’s Hill. Otherwise, consider Taste of Jiang Nan for curry sheng jian bao and more!

Address: 78 Neil Road, Singapore 088841
Opening hours: Sun-Mon, Wed-Thurs 11:30am to 4pm, 6pm to 11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am to 4pm, 6pm to 11:30pm
Tel: 8621 1125
Friends Kitchen HK is not a halal-certified eatery.

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Photos taken by Ke-ian Leong.
This was a media tasting at Friends Kitchen HK.

Friends Kitchen HK Review: Retro Cha Chaan Teng In Chinatown With Legit Hong Kong-Style Dishes
  • 8/10
    Friends Kitchen HK Review: Retro Cha Chaan Teng In Chinatown With Legit Hong Kong-Style Dishes - 8/10



– Convenient, central location 
– Food was generally very tasty and legit
– Has HK feels


– Scrambled eggs were not silky enough
– Pork chop was a little dry and tough

Recommended dishes: Australian Beef Brisket Beef Ball Horfun ($14+), Charsiew & Egg with White Rice ($12+), Baked Pork Chop Rice ($14+)

Opening hours: Sun-Mon, Wed-Thurs 11:30am to 4pm, 6pm to 11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am to 4pm, 6pm to 11:30pm

Address: 78 Neil Road, Singapore 088841

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