You are here
In pursuit of old-school Chinese food
DELIVERY almost killed my yam ring.
After all, it comes from a restaurant designed to serve from wok to table, not wok to masked man on motorcycle and 40 minutes from Chinatown to someplace in the suburbs, to be assembled by one with no experience plopping seafood into the crevice of deep fried mashed yam.
When you're talking about a cuisine that's built around wok hei and ala minute techniques, then Chinese food has to be the trickiest thing to order from a delivery perspective. Don't expect a perfect performance from your favourite restaurant, but you can hedge your bets with dishes that might survive the journey better than others - for example, braised or simmered dishes rather than anything delicate like steamed fish or anything deep fried. Because imprisonment in plastic will deflate the most determined crusts. But if you do forget, a few tricks to help revive them at home might do the trick.
Crisis brings cravings for comfort, and Spring Court has long been the go-to place for rekindling youthful memories of family meals dominated by yam rings and burnished gold roast chicken garnished with prawn crackers and if lucky, a maraschino cherry or two.
The aformentioned ring (S$38) arrives neatly separated from the filling, but slightly softened from the journey. Fix that by heating up the yam ring in the oven, before cranking up the temperature for the last few minutes to recrisp the edges. Plenty of fat, glassy prawns make up the filling, sauteed with canned mushrooms, celery and red pepper for that nostalgic feel.
Roast crispy whole chicken (S$32) is trickier as it comes pre-chopped and its crispness compromised. One way is to ask the restaurant to keep the bird whole and carve it yourself at home. But the thigh and drumstick are resilient at least, even if the breast meat is invariably dry. On hindsight, its signature pork ribs or lamb brisket would have been safer bets. As well as its soups or tofu dishes.
Famous Treasure is a lot younger than Spring Court, but it's an old soul with its eclectic range of upgraded zi-char style dishes rather than classic Cantonese. This is a place where assam fish head sits easily with roasted Irish duck and Malay-style mee goreng. It's also got the most organised delivery menu with free delivery above S$80 compared to S$200 for Spring Court and Huat Kee (below).
We're impressed with how the very simple signature char kway teow (S$18) retains a faint whiff of wok hei, while the noodles easily separate despite the initial clumping. Preserved radish, beansprouts and a lightly sweet seasoning makes this easy to polish off. Deep fried pork belly marinated in fermented beancurd (S$20) has good umami - a little salty though - and a still crunchy batter even with the meat already sliced. And the nondescript-looking braised beef brisket (S$28) is pricey for the portion but a winner for its balance of fork tender meat and chewy tendons in familiar Cantonese ngau lam style.
We're in two minds about the baked flower crab in rock salt (S$49) mainly for the price. You get two little specimens weighing 700gm in total mostly for their shells, leaving their puny bodies to yield some sweet morsels of flesh that aren't really worth the premium. Assam or curry fish head gets you more bang for your buck.
If Teochew food sparks your fancy, stalwart Huat Kee is as old school as it gets, with its line up of liver roll, jellied pig's trotters, braised duck and the like, which will all travel well. If you're looking to venture from the norm, it has a few new items like the luxurious sounding fish soup with fish maw and yam (S$48) which easily serves five people because of the intensely thick, collagen-rich broth that's chock full of slippery, evenly-shaped pieces of maw and soft cubes of yam.
Make sure you heat it up till it's boiling hot or the unctuousness will get to you, and drizzle in a bit of whisky or brandy if it smells a little too fishy. But your skin will thank you for the nourishment you get from the amount of bones that are slowly simmered into the broth. Just a little goes a long way.
It also has its version of fried kway teow with preserved radish and a motherlode of shredded vegetables and add ons. The noodles are thinner than Famous Treasure's and drier, but still pretty decent. Alternatively, braised abalone rice (S$12.80) sounds interesting.
Meanwhile, brush up on your menu ordering skills - it'll be a while before we can wake up and smell the wok hei, but the sheer variety of Chinese food ensures that you'll still be spoilt for choice.
Spring Court, 52-56 Upper Cross Street. Tel: 6449-5030/WhatsApp 9461-5828. Go to springcourt.com.sg. Free delivery above S$200. Delivery S$20.
Famous Treasure, #02-28 Capitol Piazza. Tel: 68816668. Min. order: S$50. Free delivery for over S$80 through famoustreasure.getz.co. Delivery fee applies on famoustreasure.oddle.me
Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee, #02-01 RELC Building. Tel: 6423-4747/8869-2888. No min. order. Delivery S$25. Free for orders above S$200. teochewrestaurant.com