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Long Qing Hotpot

55 Steamboat

Birds of a feather

Spice vs Spice

Tay Suan Chiang uncovers three hot new Sichuan restaurants boasting fresh, alternative looks.
Dec 3, 2016 5:50 AM

LongQing Hotpot
18 Hong Kong Street,
T. 6533 1618

Singaporean James Chiew and his Chongqing-born wife, Zhou Ting Ting love hotpot and each other. So naturally, LongQing Hotpot is a happy confluence of "our love for food and our wish to have a husband-and-wife business," says Mr Chiew, who also owns an events company.

It's the couple's first attempt at running an F&B business, and Mr Chiew is banking on a "combination of local and Sichuan hotpots, using family recipes" to set LongQing apart from the competition.

The signature broth is made from herbs, pork and chicken bones, simmered for over 10 hours. LongQing also offers a tomato broth, which is made from blanching tomatoes and frying it into a paste before mixing it with the signature broth. The third non-spicy broth is wild mushroom, made from boiling three types of mushrooms for over five hours.

There's no MSG used, so "all the soups can be drunk on their own," says Mr Chiew.

The conventional mala or spicy soup is made to their own original recipe using Sichuan dried chilli, peppercorns, fresh chilli, garlic, ginger and 20 herbs including dried orange peel.

"Naturally, we went back to Chongqing to check out the hotpots as part of research," says Mr Chiew. "It also helps that my parents-in-law are good cooks, so we can consult them."

The restaurant also offers typical Sichuan dishes such as garlic pork, black fungus with vinegar, and pig's ears with chilli oil, which are all made using Ms Zhou's personal recipes.

Being a husband-and-wife operation, Mr Chiew makes it a point to create a homey environment for the restaurant. His art student niece has painted murals on the concrete walls, which also feature a story of how the mala hotpot came about. And finally, there's also a drawing of the couple's toddler son on one wall. "Since I'm here all the time, I get to 'see' my son too," smiles Mr Chiew.

55 Steamboat
55 South Bridge Road
T. 6533 7608

If not for the signboard, you may well think you've walked into a hipster coffee joint. Brick wall? Cement screed flooring? Designer-like aluminium dining chairs? Hanging umbrellas that double as lamp shades? All present and accounted for.

Named after its unit number, 55 Steamboat is the brainchild of Song Jintian, a Tianjin native and part-time Chinese teacher at an international school.

He runs the place with his wife - a Sichuan native - and another partner. Both are teachers as well. "We all love having steamboat, which is why we decided to start this," says Mr Song.

There may be endless steamboat options but the demand is still strong, he reckons. "This is our way of realising our dream to start a business here. We know how hard it is, but we are willing to work our utmost for it." They spent two years just planning this restaurant.

Having no previous F&B experience meant making some costly mistakes. For example, they had to redesign their kitchen layout twice as it didn't comply with NEA regulations.

The industrial chic interiors are a deliberate decision to "make our restaurant look different from other hotpot places," he says. Rather than follow the traditional Chinese furniture look that younger folks recoil from, "we decided to go hip, but keep the taste of our food traditional". There are three broths on the menu: mala, bone broth and tomato. The mala comes highly recommended. "A good mala soup base has the right proportions of spicy oil, made using more than 20 kinds of spices," says Mr Song. He uses chilli and Sichuan pepper, and the broth is cooked for four hours.

For a first-time restaurateur, Mr Song is intent on covering all bases, including a bar counter to cater to single diners. "Having steamboat on your own will not be a lonely affair, as you can chat with our bartender," says Mr Song. Relationship advice with your mala tang, anyone?

Birds of A Feather
113 Amoy Street,
T. 6221 7449

Sichuan husband-and-wife Liu Bin and He Ning are out to change the perception Singaporeans have of their native cuisine.

"People see it as traditional and one-dimensional, ie hot, spicy and 'numbing'," says Madam He. "But it's not. It's multi-dimensional, with a wider variety of flavours than the usual."

To prove their point, they recently opened Birds of a Feather, styled as an all-day-dining Western café and bar, but with a distinct Sichuan influence. It's the couple's first restaurant venture in Singapore, but they also own a successful chain of cafes across Chengdu, called Good Wood Coffee.

The menu features quirky mashups such as Roasted Chicken and Avocado Salad with Szechuan Pepper (S$18), and Tofu Burger with Mapo Meat Sauce (S$22), inspired by the classic Sichuan Mapo Tofu. There are also classic dishes - cheekily renamed Find the Chicken in the Chillies (S$16), which is the well-known Laziji, or chicken pieces deep fried with Sichuan chilli bean paste, Sichuan peppers, garlic, and ginger. And more conventional burgers are also on hand for the less-adventurous.

"Being on Amoy Street means that our concept has to be current and appeal to the demographics there," says Ms He.

Two chefs helm the kitchen: a local chef with over 20 years of experience in Italian food and a chef from the Good Wood Coffee Group chef, with equally long experience in both Eastern and Western kitchens.

It's not just the food that's Instagrammable. The interiors feature glass covered air-wells that allow natural light in, and there's even an indoor garden on the side filled with orchids. It's a cosy setup that Ms He hopes will be diners' "third place" (after home and work), where like-minded people hang out, just like the name of the restaurant says .