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Fuss-free, reliable Teochew cuisine
Zui Yu Xuan Teochew Cuisine
130/131 Amoy Street (within Far East Square)
Tel: 6788 3637
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm
WELCOME to a Teochew restaurant whose name you might forget the moment it passes your lips. Not because the food is bad - it isn't. Rather, blame it on our primitive grasp of the Chinese language and a brain that can only process rhythmic two-syllable names like Chao San, Huat Kee or at most JB Ah Meng.
Still, we'd rather stumble over the name Zui Yu Xuan than breeze through something like 'Jumbo Teochew' - after the Jumbo group of restaurants that own it. It rightly decides that an ethnically appropriate moniker gives the food and its surroundings - a certified heritage building complete with traditional Chinese roof in Far East Square - more gravitas than that of the original circus elephant.
Although new in the CBD, Zui Yu Xuan isn't a newbie to the Teochew restaurant scene as it's sister to the eight-year-old Chui Huay Lim in Keng Lee Road, named for the clan clubhouse it sits in. The menu is largely the same, although it's hard to deviate much from the usual suspects of braised duck, pig's trotters jelly, ngoh hiang, oyster omelette and orh nee.
We're not card-carrying Teochews so authenticity is not something we can vouch for, but overall enjoyment is a universal yardstick that we can use.
The restaurant itself has aspirations to be modern-elegant but ends up somewhere between 80's retro and 90's restraint, when Chinese restaurants realised they didn't need to be completely red to be true to their heritage. So you have muted creams with red sashes on the chairs, understated artwork on the walls, punctuated with antique Chinese tunics displayed like tapestries at the staircase landing of the two-storey building. The VIP rooms are quaintly archaic with the names of the customers on door plaques like bosses' offices of old. Service is efficient and friendly, and diners are mostly regulars whom the staff are familiar with.
The food lends itself to the environment - down-to-earth but not cheap; unrefined but comforting; a restaurant that sits above homey but stops short of haute.
We stick mainly to the tried-and-true, starting with Braised Duck with Beancurd (S$18) - fanned out slices of tender breast meat covering a layer of crinkly-skinned wobbly beancurd, bathed in its distinctive long-simmered gravy with a slight herbal influence. It's a decent rendition of the classic dish, perked up with the chilli vinegar dip.
But it's even better if you order a bowl of rice porridge just for the simple joy of tongue-scalding plain gruel with lashings of gravy.
We skip the ngoh hiang for the liver rolls (S$15) which is really the same thing except for the more pronounced liver mixture wrapped in deep fried beancurd skin. We're ambivalent about this, partly because of the slight gaminess of the liver, which a good dousing in sweet sauce helps to mitigate.
Braised Fish Maw Soup with Crab Meat (S$45) serves four, but our kind server manages to get the kitchen to reduce it to two single servings of thickened broth filled with chewy bits of cartilage and maw, and scant amounts of crab. It's nothing fancy, but it does hit the spot for those with a fondness for hearty soups.
Braised sea cucumber (S$24 for one person) gets an unusual twist here with a crispy deep-fried crust so you get a crunch before sinking your teeth into the familiar plump, resilient texture of the sea creature. A predictable brown sauce and thick mushroom are its sidekicks.
Homemade vegetable beancurd (S$6.80) is also comfortingly pleasant with its eggy texture topped with a fine vegetable layer, almost buried under a thick gravy of bouncy egg white and crabmeat which taste almost alike.
The Oyster Omelette (S$13) comes with a 'Gooey Style' description but it's the crispy, crunchy flip side that we're attracted to, rather than the underwhelming gooey-ness below and the not-so-fresh oysters.
If you relish a good wok hei in noodles, the deceptively plain fried kway teow with diced kailan and preserved radish (S$18) seems to have that fragrant smokiness infused in each strand of chewy white noodle seasoned with the radish and given extra bite with the meticulously diced vegetable.
For dessert, there are two sweet spots - tau suan (S$5.20) with perfect whole tender mung beans in sweet syrup with gingko nuts and slivers of yutiao; and velvety smooth yam paste (S$5.20) with a shimmering layer of syrup and a slice of pumpkin.
Zui Yu Xuan may be a mouthful to say, but if you're happy with fuss-free, reliable cooking that doesn't try to be anything else, no words need to be uttered.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.