Starting about a month from the big day, my inner birthday demon start obsessively reviewing restaurant choices, picking party dates and entertaining visions of presents swathed in silk ribbons, annoying everyone within a 10-mile radius of me. By the time my birthday actually arrives, my expectations are sky high, but birthday goodwill near zero, which pretty much makes for misery all around.
Maybe that's why I never get the pony I want.
This year, I decided to mark growing a year older by actually trying to act more grown-up (an odd concept that I'm still trying to come to terms with). No fussing, no inconvenience, no wasteful extravagance, just quiet time with friends and family. Still with decent food though of course. I'm not Mother Teresa... yet.
Feeling quite chuffed with my newfound maturity, I suggested birthday lunch at Charlie's Corner in Changi Village. The far flung location was to accommodate my sis who works in that neighbourhood, but deliberately picking the no frills Charlie's Corner instead of the nearby Ryan's Washoku or La Cantina (no comments on their food, but at least they have aircon!)... I'm a big girl now! (As Philippe would say: shall we call the Straits Times?)
Charlie's Corner was surprisingly busy for a Thursday afternoon. Potbellied guailos with their lady companions, young executives eagerly stripping off their ties, sleepy Changi Village regulars, all seemed to congregate under the Corner's placard and poster covered awning. Set aside from the main hawker centre, however, a sense of space and peace prevails despites the tables being full.
Everyone seemed to be having the fish and chips, which also headlined the menu with the proud moniker "Charlie's Special", so we obediently settled down to 4 orders of this, plus a side of chicken wings and root beer all around.
There's something strangely guilt-inducing about having an ice-cold root beer on a hot weekday afternoon. Maybe it's the cheap thrill of quaffing something that sounds like alcohol but really isn't (wink wink), maybe it's the simple pleasure of beating the heat, or maybe it's root beer's ability to transform even the lowliest office grunt into an authentic cowboy-and-western gun-toting sheriff with attitude. Maybe not. What it probably is is that root beer, being one of the most artificial tasting concoctions on the planet, is just so bad that it's good.
I enjoyed the fish and chips. The fish was decidedly old school, looking very much like it had been pounded flat with one of those meat marinating mallets, but fresh and flavourful. The batter ("crust" might be a better term) was a deep brown and crumbly, much thinner and closer to the fish that the thick, sheet like, pockets-full-of-air version found in fancier establishments. The trick is in playing vinegar virtuoso - a splash too much vinegar and you're left with soggy batter (no fun for anyone), but balance it just right and the rich, golden, heart-clogging taste of lightly burnt oil shines right through.
Not that you have much time to ponder this - the fish makes for quick eating, and even the slowest eater (read: me) would be hard pressed to spend much longer than 5 mins devouring it. Which leaves you with plenty of time to mull over the thick, stumpy fries and sticky wings over (hopefully) good conversation. A side note: the wings, while on sight able to pass off for buffalo wings, seem to be coated with a form of char siew sauce rather than BBQ sauce. Not bad, but takes a bit of getting used to. Separately, I later heard from a regular customer that, in her opinion, the real stars at Charlie's are the steaks, I'll have to head back to try them (although this may take a while as I've just discovered my neighbourhood Aston's.)
Bottom line: Charlie's Corner is a great place if, like me, you're hankering for the old days of the school canteen's western food stall (fish on fridays! everything gets flambed!), but you will be disappointed if you go expecting Harry Ramsden's style monsters on a plate. Prices are extremely reasonable at $12.90 for fish and chips and steaks in the sub-$20 range. As for ambience, it's a good place if you're looking for good food, but want it to take a back seat to laidback conversation and the joys of dining in flip flops.
More birthday blogging to come shortly: How my attempt at birthday frugality got cut (tragically?) short at Akane. No coffee at Coffee Bar K. How Min Jiang's guo tie's could qualify as weapons of mass destruction. And a final whine about how I still don't have a pony.