True Singapore Cuisine. It is what Prima Taste boasts about serving, and this text appears on their menu, their business card, and heck even the final bill. The restaurant side of the Prima Taste business empire started up apparently in 2000 and has now spread outside of Singapore to outlets in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, China, the US, and right here in downtown Vancouver. I had been hoping to visit this place for a while after hearing good things, but until this day never quite finding the right time or opportunity. With my most recent visit to Singapore being this past May, it had been a while since I have had a sampling of some Singaporean fare, so I was excited as I stepped inside. After my eyes adjusted from coming in from the bright sun, I was surprised to find a modern looking and clean interior, thinking it would be more of a cafeteria-like setting and perhaps a lot more run down – too many trips to hawker stalls overseas must have formed these pre-conceived ideas in my mind.
With a non-hungry companion in tow, I settled down and scanned the menu knowing that I would not have the benefit of another hungry diner to allow me to try more items. It was clear that well-known dishes such as satay, roti prata, beef rendang, laksa, and nasi goreng appeared on the menu, along with many seafood dishes, and even some platters that centered around one specific meat protein. Rather than risk something that would disappoint, I decided to go with a tried-and-true Singaporean offering in the Hainanese Chicken Rice, and a single small plate appetizer that I could nibble on while I waited, some Breaded Prawn Balls.
For $5.95, these deep fried formations had an interesting appearance, almost like circular shaped miniature Rubik’s Cubes, and were the size of a large gumball. They were a nice golden color and had a crispy exterior but a dense minced shrimp core that really perked up when a bit of the chili-mayo dip was added (I’m finding that this spicy and creamy mixture of flavors as a condiment is making waves across many of the ethnic restaurants in town these days). The portion size was probably just right for a single appetizer serving, though not enough if shared.
The Hainanese Chicken Rice ($9.50) was cleanly poached, and came with a small bowl of fragrant chicken flavored rice, and the important trio of dipping sauces (dark soy, ginger, and chili). For me, it is this first thick sauce with its rich sweet properties that really did it for me on this day, although the others were fine too in creating interesting taste combinations since we all know chicken meat is generally very bland. Back to the chicken itself, I received a completely boneless section, with a thin layer of skin that was not overly gelatinous, with lean meat that was silky smooth, moist and not stringy. Certainly, there are differing opinions on how the chicken should be prepared, finished off, with some preferring a more fatty composition, a thicker layer of skin, and I believe some even make the case on the boned or de-boned debate. Again, there is no clear cut answer to this, and personal taste will come into play, but I did enjoy the offering here at Prima Taste and would definitely go back for this as its probably the closest interpretation in Vancouver that I’ve seen to those I’ve eaten in Southeast Asia.
Service was decent; we were greeted immediately at the door and led to a table by one of the young boys working the bar area. Tea came out soon enough and ordering was fine as we were given enough time to read the menu before being pressed about what we wanted to eat. Its the in-meal service that was somewhat lacking, as it was difficult getting the attention of anyone for refills, extra napkins, having plates cleared as well as receiving the final bill. It seemed that rather than one dedicated server per table, they platoon staff across the floor so each request that I made was in fact, carried out by another server. If that is deliberate, or a way to compensate for the seemingly overwhelmed service team, I am not sure. It just lacked some of the personal attention I thought, given the greater-than-cafeteria setting, I assumed they would want to follow through with a higher degree of performance.
True Singapore Cuisine? Perhaps, but diluted a bit in terms of the wide range that you can get on the peninsula, but that can’t be helped as the menu does have to take into account many factors. Such as the availability (or lack of) many necessary ingredients, the need to condense things to a manageable level, while simultaneously trying to represent the country’s cooking in a single establishment. As such, I would have to rate Prima Taste as succeeding, though additional visits are required to confirm this by tasting other dishes, that I could only visually interpret by scanning nearby tables.
As a treat on the way home, we popped up to the food court of the H-Mart (Korean Grocery Store) located on the same side of the street as Prima Taste, and shared a patbingsu dessert. A refreshing combination of shaved ice and sweet azuki, topped with matcha ice cream, diced watermelon, mangoes, and kiwis; perfect for this hot summer day.
Prima Taste Restaurant
570 Robson Street (corner of Robson and Seymour)
Hours: Mon-Thu, 11:30am to 2:30pm & 5pm to 10pm; Fri, 11:30am to 10pm; Sat, 12pm to 10pm; Sun, 12pm to 9pm