Food review: Smith Marine Kelong Restaurant
SINGAPORE — There are times when the simple life calls out to you. But if you don’t have time to cloister yourself in a Tibetan monastery or even go glamping on St John’s Island, the next best thing could be dinner at Singapore’s first kelong restaurant. Kelongs are rustic, they’re a dying breed and they take you back to a time when life was simpler, uncomplicated and all about subsistence (in other words, perfect for the hipsters in our midst).
Smith Marine, a floating fish farm just off Pulau Ubin, is so exotic that its address consists of latitude and longitude coordinates. To get there, you have to ride a bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. The journey is about 10 minutes and costs S$100 per boatload of 12 people (paid to the boatman). Unfortunately, it costs the same even if you have fewer than that, so planning ahead is essential.
The fish farm, which is where your dinner is fattened up, isn’t accessible to the public. But you can fish for your dinner in what the restaurant calls its “sure-catch pond”. It’s S$15 per fish if you want to take it home or S$35 to dine in.
That said, the first member of our dinner party caught nothing after several attempts at different spots. We switched him out, and thereafter, everyone else caught a large fish within minutes, proving that while there may be plenty of fish in the sea, landing a good catch is far from a given. That, and that there might have been an asterisk behind “sure-catch”.
After a bit of chilling in the hammock and a game of pool, we sat down to a Lazy Susan heaving with competently executed seafood dishes that included clam bee hoon (from S$6 to S$12), steamed squid (S$12 or S$18), gonggong (a variety of conch, S$25), mussels (S$10 or S$15), lobster steamed with garlic (seasonal price) and chilli crab (seasonal price) with fried mantou — not forgetting, of course, the snapper and sea bass we caught, which were lightly steamed in soy sauce.
The food was indubitably very fresh — the meat fell off the bones in soft flakes and the lobster had a sweet, springy bite — but the point of coming all the way out here isn’t just to have good zi char, of course. It is to embark on a nautical adventure without having to bring your passport, to have a chill-out day with the children and to quote some Hemingway while watching the sun set over the horizon and wrangling a taut fishing line. Because “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day”; teach a man to fish and he’ll willingly pay S$35 for someone else to cook it. MAY SEAH
Pulau Ubin Coastal Area (01’23’52”N 103’57’42”E).
Pick-up at Changi Point Ferry Terminal, by reservation only. Reservations must be made three days in advance.