Saturday, May 23, 2015

Singapore's First Steamboat at Jade Room, Hotel Royal

饮水思源 is a Chinese saying that encourages one to recognize the source of the water he drinks, to bear gratitude for the wellspring from which his good fortune or happiness originates. Likewise, having eaten at numerous steamboat restaurants in Singapore, one must never ignore the first of them all.

With this in mind we made a pilgrimage to Jade Room Restaurant at the Hotel Royal, the first restaurant in Singapore to serve hot pot. Master Chef Poon Sai, from Hong Kong, opened the doors to Jade Room in 1971, just six years after Singapore's independence. Drawing on his culinary training from Beijing, China, Chef Poon introduced Peking cuisine to Singapore. Along with that, he introduced a Peking Style steamboat buffet, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.

Three generations later, a Poon is still at the helm. Jason Poon manages the 50-table restaurant while his father, Chief Chef Sunny Poon Shu Yuen runs the kitchen. To serve another three generations of happy diners, Jade Room introduces three new steamboat sets- the Teochew Style Fish Head steamboat, herbal hot pot with Shirobuta pork collar, and the herbal hot pot with A5 Grade Wagyu beef.

A5 Wagyu beef set
Jade Room sources its wagyu beef from Japan instead of the common origins of Australia and the U.S. You will get certified A5 grade Japanese Wagyu, the highest possible quality available. Only beef that meets the highest standards of fat marbling, colour, brightness, firmness and fat quality make the cut. For $98, you will get a minimum of 400g of the best possible beef, on top of a generous serving of vegetables and mushrooms, in a sharing set fit for 2-3. Heartier eaters or larger groups can opt for up to twice that amount.

New Zealand beef set
Those who can do without the characteristic fat marbling can also opt for the New Zealand beef set that is available in the same kingly proportions for as little as $38. Even though this is for the more budget conscious among you, don't tighten those belts too much, you'll need that extra room for all the food coming your way.

Shirobuta Pork Collar
Shiro-buta or White Pig may be lesser known than the more common Kuro-buta (Black Pig) but it does not fall far from the tenderness and fatty goodness of its darker cousin. The pork retained its fresh, clean flavour, and remained tender long after it was added to the pot.

Teochew style Fish Head steamboats
If you're of a less meaty persuasion, perhaps you may consider the range of fish head steamboat offerings that include Red Grouper, Snapper and a Traditional Teochew favourite, Pomfret.

Red Grouper is typically offered as a steamed dish in Cantonese cuisine and commands a premium for its delicate yet firm, white, flesh. At Jade Room, chunks of this prized fish are first given a light frying to seal in the flavours before being added to the broth. The light frying also helps to ensure that the pieces do not crumble when immersed in the boiling soup. Adding in silken tofu, fresh vegetables and fried yams, the soup became an immensely flavourly mix of tastes and textures.

The stock
After an intense developmental process that stretched across months of trial and error, and jaunts across the island to get an angle on the competition, Jade Room finally found the right complement of ingredients to make the perfect stock. The Herbal broth was fortified to say the least, with generous chunks of dangui (Chinese Angelica Root) and other nutritional constituents that retained their flavour throughout the meal, never watering down.

It took the restaurant team longer than expected to launch the new steamboat offerings as they needed time to ensure that the meats, fish and broths, would all complement each other, perfectly. 

No hotpot is complete without dipping sauces, and at Jade Room, you will only need one- the house chilli sauce. The sauce was bright orange, and zingy, owing to the use of entire limes (rind, pits and all) and the addition of pineapple, which balanced out the spiciness with a much welcomed sweetness.

Jade Room is not just a steamboat restaurant. Beyond the hotpots you can also enjoy selections from the full restaurant menu and its manifold offerings which include traditional Hokkien favourites like Fried Hokkien Mee, Ngoh Hiang and Oyster Omelette.

Jade Room’s rendition of the Hokkien Mee harks back to a simpler time, when the media was not clouded by conflicting opinions on healthy eating, when one could slurp on those yellow noodles filled with succulent chunks of pork and crispy fried lard without feeling the pangs of guilt. The noodles tasted homely, just like how Grandma would do it. 

Another childhood favourite, the ngoh hiang was served full-on, in fat, tightly rolled, morsels of ground pork collar and water chestnuts. Slim pickings they were not.

An interesting accompaniment to the meal was the 塞螃蟹 dish of egg whites, crab meat and a medley of dried and fresh scallops, fried together, to form a thick gravy with the brininess of seafood, and the consistency of tau hway soybean custard.  

We were served a traditional Chinese sweet treat which, at the time is writing, is available in only two restaurants in Singapore, and Jade Room is one of them. 高力豆沙 which literally means “high strength red bean paste” is a bun-like confectionary but made without a single grain of flour. The “bun” is really the result of eggs white being beaten with such intensity (requiring much strength, hence, the name) that they take on a bread like solidity. They are filled with red bean and golden fried on the outside. This is one of the more interesting things we have had the privilege of discovering so do not leave the restaurants without having it. 

Lastly, if you brought along kids, they'll be happy to know there's free flow ice cream available as well. 

Hotpot menu (subject to change, check with restaurant for latest)

Fish Head Hotpot - Small serves up to 4 pax, Medium up to 6 and Large up to 8. 

1. Pomfret
Small $35.00
Medium $45.00 
Large $65.00

2. Snapper
Small $28.00
Medium $35.00
Large $50.00

3. Grouper

Small $35.00
Medium $45.00
Large $65.00

Herbal Meat Hotpot
1. New Zealand Beef 
Small $38.00 (400G)
Medium $48.00 (600G)
Large $58.00 (800G)

2. Shirobuta Pork Collar (Japanese Pork)
Small $58.00 (400G)
Medium $78.00 (600G)
Large $98.00 (800G)

3. A5 Grade Wagyu (Top Grade Japanese Beef)

Small $98.00 (400G)
Medium $118.00 (600G)
Large $138.00 (800G)

Jade Room Restaurant
36 Newton Road, #02-01, Hotel Royal
Singapore 307964
Tel: 6251 8135 / 6254 8587 / 6254 8603

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