In 2014, the Kay Lee Roast Meat business was sold by the original owners Betty Kong and Ha Wai Kay for S$4 million to Aztech Group. As part of this deal, the original owners would continue operating the flagship store at Upper Paya Lebar Road while also supervising the central kitchen that prepared the meat for its franchise outlets. In the 4 years since, the Kay Lee Roast Meat has since expanded to a total of 8 stores with locations in Paya Lebar Square, Aljuned, Northlink, Waterloo Street, Changi Airport, Bukit Merah and Ubi.
When we were invited to their newest outlet at Paya Lebar Square, we had mixed feelings as we were aware of the multiple reviews stating that the “new” Kay Lee Roast Meat is not as good as the one of old. So we took the opportunity to grill our host (Kevin) as to the changes that were made since the purchase of the brand. Kevin explained to us that the original owners were still making the roast meat at the Upper Paya Lebar Road stall, and that they supervised all the roast meat preparation at the central kitchen.
We were surprised by this revelation as it meant at the very least, the roast meat at the original outlet should be tasting exactly the same. Would the original owners intentionally change the recipe of their roast meat to make it less desirable while still working there? We think not. Nonetheless, apart from the roast meat, we can expect the standard of food at the other outlets to have some variation.
Service and Ordering
Unlike a certain Michelin-starred hawker, the new Kay Lee Roast Meat outlets were not changed to expensive restaurant-style fare. We felt that the Paya Lebar Square outlet was just another typical roast meat stall, selling roast meat at the usual prices. Of course there is going to be a slight premium given the mall location and the air con.
This place is self-service, so you order and pay at the cashier, and collect your food. There is limited seating here, so you may have to wait for a table during peak hours.
Kay Lee Roast Meat – Char Siew
There are broadly two different types of char siew that we are used to seeing. The first is what I would call the Hong Kong-style char siew that is prepared with a quick roast in an oven. This is the char siew that you would see commonly throughout Singapore, with the characteristic pink skin. The second is what I would call the Malaysian-style char siew that is prepared over a longer period of time using multiple cooking processes. This is the char siew that you will get at Oversea Restaurant at Kuala Lumpur (unfortunately their Singapore outlet closed down) and at Char Restaurant along Jalan Besar. The Malaysian-style char siew has the characteristic thick black skin with loads of glorious fat and it usually comes in thick slices.
The dark char siew at Kay Lee Roast Meat straddles a middle ground between the two. You get the delicious black skin without the fat, and it is thinly sliced just like the typical char siew that you will find in Singapore. The result is a trace of that Oversea Restaurant deliciousness with the nice black skin and black sauce, without the sinful fattiness. While we would probably prefer the full-on Malaysian-style char siew, we must say that the char siew at Kay Lee Roast Meat is head and shoulders above the char siew at any normal roast meat stall that you will find in Singapore. We rate the char siew here 4/5. You can get a plate of the Kay Lee Dark Char Siew Rice at S$4.50.
It’s not like you are going to be able to get a plate of char siew rice at an air conditioned mall any cheaper…
Roast Duck Drumstick
Yes, this is my favourite roast duck drumstick. How did Kay Lee’s rendition fare? Not too bad actually. The skin was nice and crispy with the sauce providing the usual oomph that is to be expected from a nice plate of roast duck. We will give their roast duck drumstick a respectable 3.9/5. Unfortunately a plate of roast duck drumstick rice is priced at S$10, so we can only recommend getting this if you order one of their combi platters for sharing.
Kay Lee Roast Meat has some great char siew! Given the number of outlets they have all over the island, this is a place that we would recommend for getting your char siew fix if you are nearby. Given the pricing and the target demographic, you should not expect uber delicious gourmet standard char siew, but we must say that the char siew presents really great value for the price.