Chilli crab is undoubtably our National Dish. Ask anyone what is Singapore cuisine, more than half would say chilli crab. The other half would say black pepper crab. And to add to the irony, the crabs are from Sri Lanka.
Owner-Chef Elton was formerly a private chef for hire and ran a private dining 私房菜 experience at his own abode. Then he decided in 2017 to dive into the brick and mortar world and opened HolyCrab in Tan Quee Lan Street. And in expansive move, he opened in the heritage building in Capital Arcade.
Make no mistake, HolyCrab is all about crabs. From the giant crab legs sticking out of the wall, to the styrofoam boxes that hold the crabs from Sri Lanka, everything surrounds the decapod crustacean.
The menu has many items not relating to crabs though. But, crabs are the main attraction and they offer it in many different styles. They even have the “Naked” versions that serves only the crab meat, saving you the hassle to work through the hard shells. We order three styles of Sri Lanka crabs around 1.1-1.2kg, two males (more meaty) and one female for chilli crab (it’s the season when the female crabs are filled with roe), and a couple other dishes to complement the crabs.
1/ Crab Tree & Evelyn 发财树
This item has an Instagram icon next to it. And when the waitress served it to our table, she reminded all of us to take out our smartphones to take picture.
Crab Tree & Evelyn is a play of words on the Chef’s favourite toiletry brand. In short it is a broccoli dish with crab meat sauce. But unlike most iterations of this dish, Chef Elton did two things out of the ordinary. First, he served the entire stalk of broccoli. The broccoli was poached and then torched before it was sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. It was then served standing on a bed of sauce, like a tree.
Then there’s the sauce, which was a rich and velvety sauce made from crab meat, garlic, and chai poh (preserved radish). That’s why it was nicknamed the “Prosperity Tree” dish aka 发财树 fa cai shu. While the presentation was unconventional, the creamy crab sauce was almost like a chowder filled with chunks of meat. We scoped up every last bit of the sauce.
2/ Black Panther 漆黑好蟹
Talking about sauce, we were shocked when the first crab dish was served. Firstly, it was really quick – less than 10 min from order to serve. Usually it took a much longer time in other places. Then, there was the black pepper sauce. We were used to drier version of this crab.
The Madam owner explained that many customers loved this wet version because they could mop up the sauce like the National Dish. We were just shocked as this was the first for all of us at HolyCrab, we were just not schooled to take in this reality.
After a while, the black pepper sauce grew onto me. It was an excellent dip for the crab meat, as well as a pour over for the roe of the male crab. While the male crab does not produce eggs, we call them roe because it is better than saying we are eating sperm.
3/ Singapore Chilli Crab 红油添香
It was the National Dish to come next with the fried mantou. Their version of the Singapore Chilli Crab was sweeter, though the heat can be turned up upon request. It has a strong curry leaves and lemongrass flavour, which some may not like (like Princess, she hated lemongrasss).
The fried mantou, which was soft inside and crispy outside, came in handy to mop up all the sauce. The mantou used was unconventional as well. It was the 合嘴包 hup chwee bao that we usually use for eating braised pork belly in the Hokkien classic kong bak bao 扣肉包.
4/ Orgasmic 流沙千里
Not sure about you, but I don’t get orgasmic eating salted egg.
Salted egg crab was next. We had to order this because it was the flavour of the century. Everything can be given the golden treatment, from deep fried fish skins to lava buns. It was rich but I wasn’t impressed with this flavour. Besides salted egg flavour, they also prepare the crabs with balsamic vinegar, otak otak (Indonesian spicy lemongrass coconut fish sauce), green chilli (as oppose to red chilli), Cantonese ginger and scallions, and creamy butter sauce. Or you can just order them steamed.
5/ Smoking Pot 金鸡煲味
The Smoking Pot aka Chicken ClayPot Rice was recommended by the order taker. This comfort food was supposed to be given that luxurious treatment, adding pan-seared foie gras to the pot, but she told us that they were out of foie gras, so they would give me a discount on the claypot. However. I would tender, juicy chunks of chicken meat.
Claypot rice is usually a very hands-on affair, pouring the cooking oil and dark soy sauce onto the marinated chicken that was cooked together with jasmine rice in the earthen pot. As we were working through our crabs, the server helped us to mix and mash the ingredients together.
This was a very properly made claypot rice, comparable to the experts like Geylang Claypot Rice or Golden Mile claypot rice. The much-loved crusty rice, once mixed with the rest of ingredients, releases an explosion of umami flavours. It was missing salted fish and Chinese sausage, or else it would be perfect.
It was not a cheap place mind you, I was warned even before they moved from Tan Quee Lan. But was it worth the money?
I would simply say, Yes. The food was solid and the portion was generous. The service stood out from the rest of the seafood restaurants that I have been to in recent times. But most importantly, it was dining in the comfort of a much better ambiance and hardware than places like No Signboard Geylang, so I would recommend to come here if you are with guests.
Arcade @ The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore
13 Stamford Road #01-85, Singapore 178905
Tel : +65 8444 2722
Visited in Apr 2022