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In praise of Putien
Putien ION Orchard
2 Orchard Turn
#04-12 ION Orchard
Tel: 6509 4296
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 4.30pm; 5.30pm to 10pm
IF YOU'RE in the mood for a happy meal, McDonald's isn't your only choice. The newly re-opened Putien branch in ION Orchard practically bubbles over in unbridled good cheer and self-promotion - which would be off-putting if they weren't so gleefully un-selfconscious about it.
Self-praise may be no praise, but who cares when it's laid on as thick as the plasterboard used to build this brightly lit, family-style Fujian eatery which is a rambunctious golden retriever puppy compared to its more sedate Cantonese and Teochew neighbours.
For example, "If you have only tasted Japanese eel, taste this one at the Putien Eel Festival before it slips away!", cajoles its enthusiastic menu, driving the point home with a couple of cartoon unagi wearing Chinese padi farmer straw hats. And how can you dispute its claim that 500,000 claypots of stewed yellow croaker have been sold, thanks to "a revolutionary breakthrough!" of stewing the fish precisely within 100 seconds? And don't forget - what's the point of winning a Michelin star for the flagship Kitchener Road restaurant if you can't spread the glitter to all its branches?
Needless to say, we're caught hook, line and sinker by such persuasive copywriting. A sizzling plate of eel arrives (S$26.90) which is supposed to be "sensational with sheer salt". We pick this over the bland-looking version simmered in "only pure, natural spring water" and are rewarded with thick, firm, almost rubbery meat of eels that likely work out more than their genteel Japanese counterparts. These are bruisers of the unagi world, sizzling ferociously for a satisfying crisp skin.
We have the 500,001th clay pot of croaker (S$14.90) - served with practised ease, simply blanched in a clear sweet broth so you get the taste of the smooth, mild, almost milky flesh that slips easily off the bones.
Fried Heng Hwa Bee Hoon (S$10.90 for small) is another reliable staple - fine-textured rice noodles with Teflon-like qualities that allow them to be tossed without clumping. Add small clams, a bit of shrimp and crispy seaweed, top up with the house-made chilli sauce, amped up with garlic and lime, and your basic carbo cravings are met.
Braised pigs' intestines "tirelessly washed and braised to perfection" (S$14.90) are worth ordering a plate of, rather than trying to hedge your bets with the combination starter platter (S$18.90) which adds braised bean curd, pork trotter jelly and seaweed salad.
Like a bag of mixed nuts where you have to eat a lot of peanuts to get to the few macadamias that you really want, you're wasting calories on the insipid seaweed, cubes of gelatine-encased trotters and acceptable dried beancurd braised in soya sauce. The intestines are sausage-like nuggets of bouncy fun that you can eat mindlessly in front of the TV until your next gout attack.
Crispy oysters (S$17.90) are the chicken nuggets of the orh luak world - little patties of crispy gooey potato starch mixture with a good dose of oyster brininess. Some oysters are okay, some did not shower before jumping into the pan.
Stir-fried yam (S$14.90 for small) can't decide if it wants to be a savoury or dessert, so you get meaty cubes of mashed yam more suitable for a yam ring, deep-fried in a sugary crust.
You might as well chalk that up as dessert because it's a lot better than the swirl of goopy stale unpleasantness that is the yam paste with ginkgo nuts (S$4.90). For the record it's just ONE ginkgo nut - stuck on top and deflecting responsibility for this sticky mistake. Chilled loquat in herbal jelly (S$6.50) is worth skipping.
Sweets aside, there's a cheerful, comfort food vibe about Putien that makes you feel at home. The staff are so nice and the food is generally tasty (just prepare for some extra thirst later). You know that the restaurant is aware it is over-selling itself in the same way that great press release writers do, but there are occasions when you just let it slide and this is one of them.
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.