Diamond Kitchen is an air-conditioned zi char place opened by two young businessmen, at Laguna Park, at the base of a large condominium complex in East Coast. Don't go expecting atmosphere, as it is along the stretch of shops with a tuition center and childcare, with a very similar space. The ceilings are clapboard, gussied up with the tackiest of chandeliers and there is a mock white brick fireplace in the center, stuffed full of tablecloths and toilet paper rolls.
We were, in any case, there for the food, as part of the Makansutra Dinner outings. These BYO dinners are arranged for a fixed sum, in this case, our 10 course dinner, very reminiscent of a Chinese banquet wedding, was $50. I did a rough calculation on smaller portions of the dishes and you could have paid slightly less, about $40 a head for an ample dinner for 4 people.
The first item on the menu for the night was the appetizer, San Lau Chicken. This is an interesting take on a cold dish, which is usually the first platter in a Chinese banquet. The cold, jellied drunken chicken is shredded and mixed into julienned celery, radish and mu er, wood ear mushrooms. I really liked this dish, it tasted of deep sesame and retained a good crunch. One of the dinner guests commented that the skin had been left on the chicken, which made for some fatty bits which they felt should have been omitted. Dinner had taken a fair while to get started and service was slow and inadequate but as far as food goes, so far, so good.
The second dish was a Superior Chicken Soup, which came in a robust black pot. It was full of soft chicken pieces, red dates and Chinese dried mushrooms. The soup was piping hot and very strong and flavourful. Definitely one of the favourites of the night.
The next dish was the Steamed Sea Bass Hong Kong style. I had read that the managers of the restaurant are so particular that they go personally to select their fish at the fisheries early in the morning. The sea bass was really large and it was impressively cooked, flaky and fresh, however, the taste was slightly bitter and muddied, it didn't have that sweet taste of fish flesh that you hope for. The sauce and condiments were suitably sharp and tasty.
One of my favourites was the Beancurd in golden pumpkin sauce, I really liked how the beancurd was fried, with a good give in the skin and creamy soft on the inside. The pumpkin sauce though, could use some work. I tasted no pumpkin at all and if I had been blindfolded, it would have simply been a starchy, sweet and smooth soup.
The Salted Egg Sotong had really good flavour, but I wish that they would have used a larger sotong, these sotong seemed to have shrivelled into small bits and the coating, while flavourful, was hard. I was disappointed not to have the live steamed prawns that I had seen online, they are thrown into a wooden bucket with hot coals and seem to be the highlight of this restaurant.
The next dish was Champagne Pork Ribs, I was hoping for large, bone-in pieces of pork rib but no luck there! These were small, narrow nibbles of pork ribs but they were very tasty. They had been well marinated and fried to a soft but chewy texture. I am told that Champagne is a partial misnomer, most of the pork ribs are marinated in Seven-Up to get that springy, turgid texture. If I were to compare these and the pork ribs at Ming Kee seafood in Macpherson, I like Ming Kee's coffee ribs about as much as I like these ones, but Ming Kee had large, satisfying pieces, which is nice to have in pork ribs!
The Sweet Potato leaf in Claypot was quite unremarkable, it was fairly spicy is all I remember. The Kam Heong Crab is also one of the highlights of this restaurant. I had never had Kam Heong before and the spicy, dark red paste reminded me of Sichuanese ma la and has the same effect of making your mouth a little numb. The sauce is made from dried prawns, or hae bee, curry powder, birds eyes chilllies, oyster sauce, soy sauce, shallots and curry leaves, basically a mish-mesh of South East Asian flavours. I don't know that I like it, it is really overpowering. The sauce is used for chicken, lala, crab. I've always prefered my crabs plain steamed with ginger, so I'm not a good judge of sauces, but this is closer to a dry black pepper crab than the very wet chilli crab.
I enjoyed the Bee Hoon with Clam in superior stock but some of the clams were slightly sandy. I felt that could have been more attention paid to this, but the soup was very tasty. Again, I read that they boil over 10kg of clams to get this stock and it certainly had a good briney kick of clam flavour. I don't usually like Chinese desserts and I'm not a fan of yam ornee (paste) at all, so I was quite surprised that I really liked their Yuan Yang Yam Paste. I suspect this is not because it was that unusual, but because the dessert was drenched in coconut milk!
The yam paste is not savoury and cooked in lard, which I always find an odd combination, rather the yam and sweet potato had been steamed and with coconut milk added, making it a lighter and more refreshing end to a heavy meal.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable meal with the unusual setting and good company. I am not sure it's a place I would have come out to on my own, nor that I would have found it by myself, within the condo complex. I think it would be booked solid during weekends as there is ample parking, local food at a decent price and must benefit off the large residential hinterland in this area. The staff looked very harried and I really salute the two young people for running a full restaurant with such a wide menu, not an easy ask at all. It's definitely something to be supported, if Singapore's local cuisine is to prosper and progress.
The restaurant's prices are reasonable and I was sorry to not get to try some of their other dishes like the sweet and sour pork ribs. Their pork dishes, for example are $12/18/24 for the small, medium and large portions, as are their tofu dishes and the sweet and sour pork rice or pork rib rice, costs $6 per plate. Definitely worth a try if you are wanting a meal in the East Coast over the weekdays or are thinking of a family treat over a weekend.
5000F Marine Parade Road
Ground Floor Laguna Park, (parking costs $1)