As group CEO of CWT Limited, a Forbes Asia’s Fab 50 logistics company with a reported revenue of $9.9 billion for 2015, Loi Pok Yen is a business leader familiar with the luxuries of high life. But, when it comes to food, the straight-talking Singaporean towkay in him comes to the fore – and admits to preferring an honest, casual meal of zichar, than sitting down to a formal meal at a fine-dining
restaurant where one has to mind his ps and qs.
“There was a time when my wife, Sylvia, and I would travel around Europe on holiday, shopping and seeking out Michelin-star restaurants,” the 46-year-old confesses, recalling the time when they were a newly married couple. “I have passed that point in my life.” These days, happiness for the jetsetter is being on home ground, tucking into familiar local grub – albeit with a bottle of red wine, when possible.
Where does work take you?
For about one-third of the year, I’d be travelling – mostly for work. Sometimes, I plan it such that my wife and our three children join me, and we get some family time. I go where there are investment opportunities for business development, and this could be anywhere, from Asia to Europe.
Is there a city that you frequent so often, you regard it as a second home?
Hong Kong and Tokyo are two such places. I do frequent cities like Shanghai and London too, but the former two are where I feel most comfortable. For Hong Kong, it has to do with the fact that I am Cantonese and speak the language – so it allows me to blend in with the locals. Of course, the fact that I like Cantonese food very much also helps! Tokyo wasn’t a city that appealed to me immediately, but it grew on me and I have come to appreciate its culture – everything from the orderliness of city, the politeness of the people to their dedication to quality and detail.
What are your favourite dining places in Hong Kong and Tokyo?
In Tokyo, the places I frequent include Fukamachi for tempura, Imahan for shabu shabu or sukiyaki, and places like Ichiran and Ippudo for ramen. I prefer visiting casual local eateries when I am travelling. So you would find me at places like Tsui Wah or one of the eateries along Ghough Street in Hong Kong – nothing fancy. But one of my favourite addresses is Sheung Hing Chiu Chow, for Teochew food. We always order the “kow choy hup”, a handmade deep fried pastry stuffed with chives and crabmeat. The crust resembles a cross between that of a pot pie and a curry puff, and the texture is very nice. You dip the pastry in a Teochew-style sweet sauce when eating. We also enjoy other dishes, such as the chilli clams and cold crabs.
Among the places you’ve travelled to, which are your favourite gourmet destinations?
It will still be Hong Kong and Tokyo, because it really is the food that binds me to those cities. Actually, Tokyo would be more exciting a destination, because the population density of the city creates an environment that allows a high concentration of very good restaurants. In Tokyo, there will always some place new to try – be it a new eatery or a much-lauded existing one.
Do you still seek out Michelin-star restaurants?
I find that you can’t return to such restaurants too many times. These days, the only Michelin-star restaurants I frequent are the ones by Robuchon, because they offer such a high level of consistency across the outlets all over the world – and I think that is very hard to achieve.
What do you look for when dining out?
I appreciate places that serve consistently good dishes. Ah Hoe is one such place – I visit it at least once a month and the food quality is always exactly the same. Perhaps it is owing to the fact that the stallholders are Japanese! I have been to so many famous hawker stalls where the food can be outstanding on one visit and disappointing on another – all just depending on the mood of the towkay!
What are other local eateries that you frequent?
We have a group of 12 vinophile friends who frequent zichar restaurants, and we would bring along our own wines – even our own stemware if needed! Some of the places we’ve been include Two Chefs Eating Place at Commonwealth and Sek Tong Gai at Tanglin Halt. The wines we
bring are different each time, though I personally prefer red wines. Apart from just enjoying the food and wine pairing, we also like to taste the wines blind and slowly determine the varietal, style and vintage of the bottle, over the course of dinner.
Do you entertain at home often?
My wife and I do not cook at all – we just eat! So we don’t entertain at home much, but we do enjoy dinners with friends, for which we might take along a dish such as chicken curry from Rendezvous Restaurant. Recently, we were at a gathering where a chef friend – chef Ang Song Kang of
Chef Kang’s Kitchen – cooked empurau fish (also called the “Unforgettable Fish” in Mandarin) for us. It was really as the name suggests – unforgettable!
This stall is one of the bak chor mee outlets run by a Singapore-based Japanese family. This particular outlet is run by a mother-and-son team. Cooked with exacting attention to detail, each bowl is a combination of springy noodles tossed in a light vinegar sauce, and topped with meatballs, minced meat, a dollop of invitingly fragrant braised mushrooms and slices of canned abalone. Block 713, Clementi West Street 2.