Not everything is out with the old and in with the new at British Hainan. Renowned as a “little museum” of vintage collectibles, its founder (known fondly as Uncle Frederick), aims to make his customers feel at home in his humble establishment. With every person that walks through those doors, he enthusiastically exclaims, “Welcome home!”
Whether you’re a fan of outdoor alfresco dining, or prefer to dine indoors in British Hainan’s fully air-conditioned antiques and vintage studio as a respite from the tiresome Singapore heat, you will get a good view of many vintage collectibles that the restaurant has. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Uncle Frederick going around telling stories of how he acquired the vintage items!
An event organiser in the early years, (Uncle) Frederick Puah became a collector of vintage items when he retired from that job. He decided to set up a food establishment, where he could showcase all his vintage items on display.
“The older things I display help the older generation, my generation, to reminisce about the good old days,” Uncle Fred explains with a nostalgic smile on his face, “it allows them to take a trip down memory lane.”
But the vintage items lining up the space are not just for the older folks. Uncle Frederick hopes that the younger generation can learn a thing or two from the old inventions, encouraging engagement and discussion. Looking around the store, he points a few of said inventions out to me, sparking quite a discussion about them. To me, it didn’t seem like a lot of time had passed when my food came!
“See, when we’re having a discussion about the items around the store, I diverted your attention from the waiting time,” he chuckles.
As someone who is of Hainanese descent, Uncle Fred serves up some solid Hainanese food, working tirelessly with the national interest to bring back the Hainanese food and culture. He pledges to give more to the Hainanese community and, making sure that, with his ventures, the Hainanese culture doesn’t die out in Singapore.
Of course, no visit to British Hainan could be concluded without a plate of their signature Braised Oxtail Stew that costs $29.90. After just one year of operations at their restaurant in Joo Chiat, their Oxtail Stew was ranked one of the top three in the whole of Singapore. With three generous portions of oxtail that is served with baguette slices, carrots, potatoes, and celery, their plate is topped off with their signature flavourful sauce. The oxtail fell off the bone very easily when I cut it, and the meat melted in my mouth. Take note that this dish is made with no MSG and artificial flavouring!
Hainanese Pork Chop
Next up, we have the Hainanese Pork Chop that costs $14.90, served with tomato gravy and french fries. To emphasise the quality of the pork chop, Uncle Fred mentions that there is no pounding of the meat to soften it. This dish is old school, created by the Hainanese who worked for English households during the colonial era. Very East meets West, and very authentic and delicious.
Last but not least, Uncle Fred introduced me to his iconic Beef Noodle dish. He proudly claims that British Hainan is the first in the world to incorporate grade A4 wagyu beef in a beef noodle dish, which costs $42. If you want ordinary beef, that costs $12. As a collaboration with Wah Eng Beef Noodles which has 72 years of history, Uncle Fred honoured their traditional noodle soup recipe, all while using another secret recipe and herbs to improve the standard and flavour of the soup.
New Outlet at Purvis Street
Despite the shortcomings they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Circuit Breaker, they stayed strong, overcame the pandemic, and emerged stronger in the F&B industry, earning them the Singapore Top Heritage Gourmet Award. One of the ways they did it was by using social media marketing and delivering their dishes personally to customers.
Shortly after, they focused on opening a third outlet at Purvis Street (their second outlet is at Kallang). “Since it’s closer to the Central Business District (CBD), we can expand our business and serve more of the office crowd,” Uncle Fred explains, “and we can serve tourists too since we’re close to a touristy area.”
The interior and decor in British Hainan’s new outlet looks posher, spacey, and makes the restaurant stand out from the rest in the area. With the new outlet rocking the signature vintage and homey look, I have no doubt the restaurant will be swarming with customers, old and new, in no time.
Do pay a visit in early February when it opens. I promise you, the decor does not only look good, but the food also tastes great too. And what’s even better is the homely feeling that this restaurant will make you feel.
So welcome to British Hainan. Welcome home.
Address: 75 Carpmael Road, Singapore 429812
158 Kallang Way, #01-06, Singapore 349245
23 Purvis Street #01-01 Singapore 188600
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 11am–3pm, 6–10pm
Closed on Tuesday
Contact: 9633 8122 (Carpmael Road)
9022 6233 (Kallang Way)
6977 9711 (Purvis Street)