Fresh off the steamboats
THE familiar steamboat is going upmarket as restaurants offer more luxe options to cater to a more sophisticated crowd.
FU LIN MEN DOU LAO STEAMBOAT
16 North Canal Road
Opening hours: 11am-2.30pm, 6pm-10pm daily
Fu Lin Men Dou Lao Steamboat is not quite your regular steamboat joint.
Sure, it serves the ubiquitous tongue-tingling mala (hot and numbing) soup base but managing director Simon Lim is adamant that his restaurant goes beyond that.
His pride and joy is, instead, the tasty, thick and nourishing Signature Golden Imperial Broth ($10).
The soup, created by Chinese celebrity chef Nian Shujian, is a Manchu and Han Imperial Feast classic favoured by the royals during the Qing dynasty. It is brewed for more than 12 hours with fresh red carrot puree, chicken bone marrow, pork shin and dry-aged cured ham. It is presented with gold flakes on the top.
This soup is one of five broths available at the restaurant. Each is created and named after feng shui elements. The Golden Imperial Broth represents gold; wood is represented by a wild mushroom broth; water by a milky tofu broth; fire by the mala broth and earth by a tomato broth.
Each diner gets his own individual hotpot, which is not only more hygienic but also allows him to choose his desired broth.
The focus here is on seafood and includes oysters, lobsters and geoduck clam.
Chef Nian comes up with the ingredients to add to the broth. Fish and squid balls are a must for Singaporean diners so the chef has included them on the menu, but with a twist.
For example, his beef meat ball comes stuffed with cheese while a squid meat ball has a chocolate centre.
A platter of six different flavoured balls costs $7.
His other creation, freshly cultured sea prawns with marbled beef ($18) is also a winner. The prawns are firm and crunchy, and juicy partly from the fat in the marbled beef.
Another beef dish that is worth ordering is the beer marinated marbled beef ($28) that is exclusive to the restaurant.
Here, slices of beef are soaked in Tiger beer before being cooked in broth.
Fu Lin Men has seven private rooms, one of which can seat up to 30 diners. Says Chef Nian: "It's great for corporate dinners where you can dine and then talk business after."
The chandeliers, wallpaper and chinoiserie decor of the restaurant also make it look more attractive than the steamboat joints along Beach Road.
TANG RESTAURANT BAR AND SUPPER CLUB
25 Keong Saik Road
Opening hours: Noon-2.30pm, 6pm-11pm, 5pm-2am (bar & supper club)
Armed with a degree in finance and a master's in international marketing, Zoe Zhang could have easily scored herself a cushy job in the corporate world. Instead, she decided to use her knowledge to start her own business - Tang Restaurant Bar and Supper Club.
Says the 32-year-old: "When I came to Singapore in 2007, I couldn't find a steamboat restaurant that I enjoyed in terms of location, ambience, service and food quality, so I got the idea to open one myself."
She first opened Tang at 41 Keong Saik Road early last year and occupied all three storeys of a shophouse. After struggling with operations for about six months, she gave up and moved out. Now, she runs it on just the first floor of a shophouse down the road.
The restaurant serves three different types of Sichuan-style soup bases - a House Special Soup ($19) made with old hen, pork and fish bones, a House Tomato Soup ($18) for those who prefer a bit of acidity and an Authentic Sichuan Spicy Soup ($21) made with more than 40 herbs and spices.
The ingredients cover a range of high-end meats such as the Japanese Miyazaki A5 Ribeye ($49/100g) and Spanish Iberico pork ($14/100g), live seafood and homemade meat and fish balls ($10-$14 for eight pieces).
The house special, however, is what they call "Translucent Sliced Fish" ($22 for 12 slices), where head chef Zou Bin - who has worked in hotpot restaurants in China for 14 years - shows off his skill at slicing the flesh of raw snakehead fish into delicate slivers.
To make sure the meat and seafood do not get overcooked, either Ms Zhang, her Japanese business partner Ai Terakado or the server Xiaoli will be the one doing the cooking.
HUA TING STEAMBOAT
442 Orchard Road, 01-08 (mezzanine level), Claymore Connect
Hua Ting Steamboat's head chef, the Malaysian-born Desmond Wooi, has his own quiet flair. The restaurant spotlights two of his unique concoctions.
The Sea Treasure Flambe ($36) is a theatrical affair - crabs and shellfish are stir-fried, then doused with flaming Chinese wine before prawn stock is added.
His second creation is a better fit for his mild-mannered mien. The Superior Fish Soup with Winter Melon and Conpoy ($34) is more subtle.
Chef Wooi says the stock is simmered in a raw, hollowed-out winter melon only on ordering so the sweetness of the squash does not muddy the clean Cantonese-style blend of garoupa and dried sole stock.
There are also twists on the usual suspects, such as shark's bone cartilage soup, Sichuan seaweed and even bak kut teh done Klang-style ($20-$28). For the chef, offering a total of eight soup bases is no mean feat, considering that they are brewed every morning with some simmering for six hours.
Adding to prep time is the chef's insistence on making the add-ons fresh daily and from scratch. The extensive menu boasts premium items such as the Black Truffle Fish Paste Noodles ($14). But Chef Wooi also recommends humbler choices such as the crispy beancurd sheet ($3-$6), which also comes stuffed with salted egg yolk ($6-$12). He opts for balance and restraint so the quality of the produce can shine through. The various shrimp and pork balls ($7-$16) are all only lightly seasoned to accentuate their freshness.
For those who prefer spicier fare, Hua Ting Steamboat also offers casserole hotpots (xiang guo). Diners start off with meats such as kurobuta pork belly or sea perch, tossed in spicy gravy, and they can order add-ons as they please.
Chef Wooi says the hotpots are targeted at the lunch crowd. Steamboats are popular in the evenings, he adds, but harried office workers might prefer a self-contained hotpot set lunch - which is why they are priced competitively at $26 per diner (minimum of two).
THE BUSINESS TIMES