Troika restaurant



Troika was a popular restaurant that served Russian food from the 1960s to 1980s. The restaurant closed in 1985 due to mounting debts. After Troika’s closure, its staff went on to form two new Russian restaurants: Shashlik and Balalaika Room.

Founding and expansion
Troika was opened on 6 July 1963 as Troika Room-White Bear Restaurant by Tang Ching Yung.1
It was located in a shophouse on Bras Basah Road.2 The restaurant served continental European food with a focus on Russian dishes.3 The Russian recipes were provided by “Mummy Liber”, a Russian chef.4 Tang also tried to ensure that the dishes would be authentic by hiring Hainanese chefs who had worked on Russian ships.5


Troika subsequently moved to Liat Towers along Orchard Road, where it opened on 3 July 1966 with almost 1,000 invited guests present.6 There was a greater emphasis on Russian cuisine at this new location, as seen in the restaurant’s signature dishes such as borsch (vegetable soup), chicken a la Kiev, beef stroganoff, Mongolian barbecue and beef shashlik (kebab). Other distinctly Russian dishes on the menu included Russian salad, blinis (pancakes) with caviar, fish solyanka soup and baked Alaska. The restaurant was described as having “made its indelible mark on the Singapore culinary scene”. However, the food was also shaped by local Chinese influences through the restaurant’s Hainanese chefs. For example, monosodium glutamate (MSG) was used liberally in the dishes, meat tenderiser was applied to the Mongolian steak, while the shashlik was seasoned with soya sauce.7

In 1977, the restaurant moved to a larger space on the 44th floor of DBS Building in
Shenton Way with a scenic view, and added a cafeteria in Clifford Centre that sold lower-priced food. It also had a cafeteria at Shing Kwan House. The DBS outlet had a separate room, known as the Balalaika Room, for diners ordering the Mongolian barbecue to cook their meat so that the barbecue smell would not spread throughout the restaurant. In 1979, another branch was opened at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. Prominent local food critic Violet Oon described the DBS restaurant’s prices as “medium-high to high” but rated the food as “good to above average”.8 This high quality of food was probably one of the reasons why, according to staff members, the restaurant earned S$30,000 to S$40,000 per day at the height of its popularity in the early 1980s.9


Decline and closure
In 1983, Tang sold his shares in the restaurant to Hotel Tanglin Pte Ltd for about S$2 million as he was retiring.10
The new management instituted changes to the restaurant; for example, the Mount Elizabeth outlet began to offer Thai food as well.11


The restaurant soon fell into debt and was forced to close on 31 December 1985.12 Its assets – furniture and food equipment – were auctioned off in January 1986 to pay off some of its creditors. Buyers included some of its regular customers, many of whom had fond memories of the place.13 A few months later, the Malayan Refrigerating Company, one of Troika’s creditors, petitioned that the company be dissolved and its accounts checked.14 Troika was therefore ordered by the High Court on 10 October 1986 to wind-up its operations.15

Employees attributed the decline of the restaurant to a combination of factors, namely: the ongoing recession, high rental costs at the DBS Building and ineffective management. Furthermore, the Mount Elizabeth branch had not been popular due to it being located in a hospital.16

Legacy
Almost immediately after Troika’s closure, its staff opened two new Russian restaurants: Shashlik in Far East Shopping Centre and Balalaika Room in York Hotel. In the case of Shashlik, nine Troika staff contributed S$16,000 each in order to open the restaurant on 23 April 1986 with 10 other staff. Among them were restaurant captain Foo Meng King and waiter Tan Niap Hin, who had been with the restaurant since the White Bear was opened.17
Shashlik was named after one of Troika’s signature dishes as Troika was still registered under the Registry of Companies and Businesses and so its name could not be used.18 Another possible reason for not using the Troika name was because it now carried the negative connotation of debt problems.19 Shashlik offered many of the favourite dishes from Troika, with the exception of the Mongolian barbecue. It also maintained its links to Troika by displaying 10 wall lanterns saved from the auction of Troika’s assets.20 Many of Troika’s regulars thereafter frequented Shashlik. The restaurant is still in operation today, and now serves a new generation of customers who come to experience the nostalgic atmosphere.21


The Balalaika Room, on the other hand, was formed in June 1986 by eight Troika staff. It differed from Shashlik in that it featured only a few of the signature dishes and tried to reduce Hainanese influences in the food.22

Timeline
6 Jul 1963:
The Troika-White Bear Restaurant opens on Bras Basah Road.
3 Jul 1966: Troika opens in Liat Towers.
1977: Moves to DBS Building and opens cafeteria in Clifford Centre.
1979: Opens a branch at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
1983: Owner Tang sells his shares to Hotel Tanglin Pte Ltd.
31 Dec 1985: Last day of operation.
Jan 1986: Assets auctioned off.
23 Apr 1986: Shashlik opens.
Jun 1986: Balalaika Room opens.
10 October 1986: Troika ordered by the High Court to wind up operations.




Author
Jan Yap



References
1.
The end for Troika. (1986, October 11). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2.
Tan, S. (1986, April 22). Where a bit of Troika still lives on. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Eu, G. (2002, February 16). Old world charm. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4.
Tan, S. (2004). Singapore heritage food. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 641.595957 TAN)
5.
Eu, G. (2002, February 16). Old world charm. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6.
1,000 see the Troika open. (1966, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7.
Chan, M. (1986, September 28). Troika two keep up tradition. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8.
Oon, V. (1984, July 1). Truly Troika. Singapore Monitor, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9.
Tan, S. (1986, January 7). Troika falls victim to the hard times. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10.
Eu, G. (1983, February 18). Singapore firm buys Troika Restaurant chain. Singapore Monitor, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Oon, V. (1984, July 1).  Truly Troika. Singapore Monitor, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12.
Chan, M. (1986, September 28). Troika two keep up tradition. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tan, S. (1986, January 7). Troika falls victim to the hard times. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14.
Cheng, N. (1986, September 2). Petition made to wind up Troika. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15.
The end for Troika. (1986, October 11). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16.
Tan, S. (1986, January 7). Troika falls victim to the hard times. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17.
Chan, M. (1986, September 28). Troika two keep up tradition. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18.
Tan, S. (1986, April 22). Where a bit of Troika still lives on. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19.
Eu, G. (2002, February 16). Old world charm. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20.
Chan, M. (1986, September 28). Troika two keep up tradition. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.
Eu, G. (2002, February 16). Old world charm. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22.
Chan, M. (1986, September 28). Troika two keep up tradition. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Best of the Balalaika and the Shashlik. (1986, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Oon, V. (1984, July 8).
Choice of Thai food or self-service. Singapore Monitor, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Shashlik Restaurant. (2007, February 18). The Straits Times, p. 70. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, S. (1999, October 10).
You just can’t beet a flaming good borscht. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as 29 January 2014 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Organisations