Soup Restaurant, Paragon

Now that the CNY festivities has well and truly died down, we thought we'd do our digestive system a favour and detox a little bit with the help of Chinese herbal soups. So we made a beeline for Soup Restaurant, our go-to place for some double-boiled wholesomeness.

The Double-Boiled Black Chicken Soup ($7.90), with puk kay and tong sam, is a mellow, sweet-ish soup that immediately transported me back to my maternal gran's kitchen. Best of all, this soup reduces blood pressure and has a slimming effect.

The calming Double Boiled Lingzhi Pork Ribs Soup ($7.50) has a distinct earthy overtone with the nutritious mushroom. Wolfberries, gingko nuts and walnuts lend nutty sweetness.

The Claypot Tofu ($8) may be damn small a portion, but the beancurd is smooth as silk and sea cucumber-laden sauce just so luscious. 

The Teochew Olive Rice ($5.90) pales in comparison to the one at The Lawn in terms of flavour. It was just as well, we're trying to lay off the sodium anyway.

The Boiled Peanuts ($2) appetizer, served warm, is addictively good. Not exactly the healthiest thing, but so worth it.

Soup Restaurant
290 Orchard Road
B1-07 Paragon
Tel: 63336228
Open daily from 10am to 11pm
Website: www.souprestaurant.com.sg


Basic Homemade Chicken Stock

Homemade Chicken Stock is and should be a building block of every cook's repertoire of recipes. I know buying the pre-made ones from the supermarket is real convenient and a mega time-saver, but making it from scratch is a lot easier than you'd think. And, a big plus is that homemade stock greatly reduces the amount of preservatives in your food.

I've set out below a very basic stock recipe, sans salt or herbs, so it goes with EVERYTHING. You can opt to add your preferred aromatics (some like to add bay leaves and/or thyme for a western slant, while Asians prefer sweet wolfberries and dried seafood such as conpoy, and herbs such as huai shan and dangshen) and salt accordingly when cooking.

5 whole chicken carcasses
1 onion, cut to 1 inch dice
2 carrots, diced to 1 inch cubes
2 celery ribs, cut to 1 inch dice
3 cloves garlic, smashed

1) Heat olive oil in wok, and fry the chicken carcasses till browned. Or else, use the bones of a leftover Sunday roast as a starting point. Roasting/Frying the chicken yields a bolder, more intense flavour.

2) When chicken is browned, transfer to stock pot.

Alternatively, you can also roast the carcasses in the oven at 218 degrees celsius for 35 minutes until golden brown. Brush them in a little olive oil to really bring out the flavour.

3) Use the remaining oil and chicken drippings to fry garlic until fragrant.

4) Then add onions and fry till translucent.

5) And lastly, add carrots and celery and fry for 5 minutes.

6) Add the mirepoix (the vegetable mixture of celery, carrots, onions and garlic) to the browned chicken in the stock pot.

7) Add 7L of water to cover the entire mixture and bring to boil before simmering it for 3-4 hours.

8) Check on the stock every half hour to skim the grey-ish scum that floats to the top. Refill the water accordingly.

9) Strain before use. The resultant liquid should colour golden.

10) For use up to a week later, store in fridge, in containers of varying volumes.  This way, you can just use the amount you need, without touching the rest of the stock.

- If storing stock up to a month, simmer another 2 hours to reduce the stock to a concentrate, and strain it before freezing it in ice-cube trays for use later.


Oriental Chicken Stew with Potatoes

This is an Oriental take on classic chicken stew, with the use of Chinese five-spice powder and oyster sauce. A splash of apple cider vinegar, my "secret ingredient", enhances this comforting dish with a ray of brightness.

1 whole chicken (get the butcher to pre-cut into large chunks for convenience)
1 can champignon mushrooms, quartered (you can use 10-15 white button mushrooms here instead)
3 large russet potatoes, cut to 1 inch cubes
200gm baby carrots, cut to 1cm dice
2 celery ribs, cut to 1 inch dice
2 tomatoes, cut to 1 inch dice
1 large onion, minced finely
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Stewing liquid (pre-mixed in a bowl):
Dash of cinnamon powder
Dash of Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 cups stock
2 cups water

Directions (serves 2):
1) Fry onions in two-thirds proportion olive oil and one-third proportion sesame oil until translucent.

2) Add chicken to sear till browned.

3) Add mushrooms and fry for half a minute.

4) Add carrots and celery and fry for another half a minute.

5) Add cinnamon sticks and fry for another half a minute.

6) Add pre-mixed stewing liquid, and bring to a boil before simmering for 20 minutes. (here, you can opt to remove the chicken so they don't disintegrate during stewing process)

7) After simmering for 40 minutes, add tomatoes and apple cider vinegar, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

8) Add in potatoes and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until just softened. You can return the chicken back into the stew and simmer for another 5 minutes. Salt to taste before serving.


Soondubu Jjigae (Tofu Stew)

Korean food is not for everyone. It takes a certain palate to appreciate Korean food, because they love their meats sweet instead of savoury, appetizers cold instead of hot and flavours predominantly sour and pungent. For non-Koreans, Soondubu Jjigae, or beancurd stew, is probably the least polarizing Korean dish. Its simple, straightforward, hot and spicy flavours are what makes it very popular amongst non-Koreans. For a long time, this was one of the only 2 dishes that I'd eat during our annual "pilgrimage" to the Hubs' motherland, while the Hubs is happily wolfing down his year's quota of Korean food.

Soondubu Jjigae is super easy to make, and there are a ton of variations for you to change up, once you've got the base recipe down pat. You start off with the yangnyum, the Korean version of our nonya or Malay rempah. That forms the base flavour for the stew, that you add water or stock to, and then load it up with any protein and vegetables you'd like, apart from its namesake tofu. This is the seafood version with prawns and clams, and I've set out at the end, the variants of this seafood version.

Ingredients (serves 2):
1 block smooth tofu
1 bunch enoki mushrooms
4 tiger prawns, deveined but with heads on for full-on flavour
150gm clams
1 cup water, or half a cup anchovy or chicken stock mixed with half a cup water

Yangnyum (mix in a bowl):
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 and a half tbsp gochugaru (Korean red chilli powder/flakes)
1 tsp light soy
Dash of fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp mirin or sake
1 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

1) Fry the whole lot of yangnyum at low heat with 1 tbsp of frying oil for a minute until fragrant.

2) The paste should look and smell all toasty like this.

3) Add 1 cup water. OR half a cup stock together with half a cup water.

4) When soup starts bubbling, dump in the ingredients, starting with the prawns;

5) Then the tofu;

6) Followed by the enoki;

7) And lastly, the clams.

8) When the clams all open up, the stew is ready to serve.

Vegetarian: load it up with assorted mushrooms and a bunch of clear vermicelli
Meat: use chicken fillet and/or pork belly, with mushrooms and glass vermicelli, like I did below:


Akashi, Paragon

Akashi is one of the longest tenant restaurants of Paragon's food basement. Weekends will see it packed with raucous families; the sheer number of kids here reminded me of a kiddy gym. If you're the type to prefer a lot of peace and quiet during mealtimes, then maybe you should hit this place up only on weekdays, where you're likely to bump into a local celebrity or two. I hear Akashi's salmon tail handroll is a firm favourite of the celebrity set. I don't quite understand the fandom though. While their set meals were affordably decent, I thought the ala carte menu was a little overpriced. Their sushi/sashimi may be a smidge better than Sushi Tei, but at twice the price points, Akashi didn't strike me as particularly competitive.

We started off with the sparkling fresh Shake Sashimi ($20), sliced appreciatively thick and fat. 

We loved the Aburi Toro Sushi ($36), beautifully seared tuna belly that was meltingly moist. That said, this was a little pricey. My sentiments would, of course, be different, if this was otoro instead.

The Gindara Misozuke Set ($28) comprised a fleshy fillet of cod grilled to a smoky miso-ed sheen, a couple of lackluster seafood balls, an overly salted miso soup, run-of-the-mill pickles and watermelon slices.

The Tenzaru Chasoba ($20), an assortment of prawns, peppers, sweet potato and brinjal tempura was a mixed bunch of hits and misses. The tempura batter could have been thinner and lighter, and the prawns were horrendously overcooked but at least the vegetables were cooked well. The green tea soba was refreshingly good but the salad and watermelon were pedestrian.

The Otsukuri Set ($30) comprises sashimi moriawase, thickly sliced and relatively fresh, rice, soup and fruit.

We really liked the Gyu Don ($20), a rice bowl topped with stir-fried beef, dotted with caramelised onions and topped with an onsen egg.

Its poultry counterpart, the Oyako Don Set ($18) was topped with succulent chicken fillet scrambled with egg, mushrooms, and onions.

The Asari Misoshiru ($8) was sweet with the plump clams in a bean paste soup.

290 Orchard Road
Paragon B1-01
Tel: 67358887
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Website: www.akashigroup.com.sg


SOUPerich, Stanley Street

You wouldn't think anyone in the right mind would sit in the blazing afternoon heat to drink hot soup in their office attire, but here at SOUPerich, it becomes evident that Singaporeans love Chinese-style clear soups! Like Yee Jia Chun just 1 street away, this tiny, non-air-conditioned place consistently sports a long queue. While many are seen to takeaway their soups to dine in the air-conditioned comfort of their office, a number still opt to brave the heat to dine at the eatery. Although the indoors is superheated like a convection oven, the outdoor seating is slightly less uncomfortable as the tables here catch a light breeze every now and then.

One of their most popular soups, the Lotus Root Soup ($5) is full-bodied and rich, with a delectable homestyled flavour to it.This was loaded with peanuts, lending an addictively toothsome bite.

The Pumpkin Rice ($2) is both nutritious and delicious, packed with shredded pork, dried shrimp, stewed mushrooms and nuts. 

SOUPerich serves up a rotating stable of side dishes, all of which boast a very familiar homecooked feel. Even if the cooking is unrefined. The Stir-fried Vegetables ($1.50), lightly fried with dried shrimp and garlic, is simple but flavourful.

The Scrambled Eggs ($1.50) with hairy gourd, a mega throwback to my childhood, really nailed the homecooked comfort factor.

The Tofu with Minced Meat ($1.50), sauteed with a bit of chilli and oyster sauce, was commendable as well. The mince was a little tough, but the flavour was just right.

No. 2 Stanley Street
Tel: 97566566
Open weekdays from 10.30am to 3pm


Majestic Restaurant

The doubly auspicious chap goh mei (15th day of Chinese New Year) and yuan xiao jie (the unofficial Chinese version of Valentine's Day) last Friday translated to big bucks for the F&B industry. Many restaurants capitalised on the lucky date by having 2-3 different seatings, or in Majestic Restaurant's case, appropriated part of the Majestic Hotel lobby as its temporary premises.Yet another manifestation of the over-commercialization of our heritage celebrations, the restaurant's sardine-packed, makeshift tables and chairs, and temporary set up in the hotel lobby all felt a little cheap and very much like an after-thought. It reminded me of those over-subscribed weddings in the 70's where unexpected guests were chucked to the corridor of the hotel ballroom in hastily set up tables.

We dined on the Auspicious Menu ($98+ per person) and not surprisingly, the food that unfortunate day was choppy and inconsistent; mediocre compared to their usual standard. Service was also harried, clearly overwhelmed by the surge in diners. The saving grace was the positive attitude of the staff, who tried their best to stay upbeat and attentive to our needs.

My last Yusheng of the year of the horse, hee haw! Don't you just love the gorgeous gorgeous serving platter?

Appreciated the fat salmon slices.

The Chilled Sake Infused Lobster Salad, beautifully served up in martini glasses, was refreshing and light. Kumquat rings and a mint sprig kept this bright, and julienned black fungus and bamboo shoots lent crunch.

But for the annoying ginger strips, the Braised Sharks Fin Soup with crabmeat and fish maw would have been sensational. It was just one ingredient too many. 

The Steamed Fillet of Giant Grouper with garlic oil and crystal vermicelli in light soy sauce was terribly let down by how overdone the fish was. It was evidently forgotten in the steamer so much so it'd gotten rubbery. Mega fail, this one.

The Boneless Spare Rib in a pool of stickily sweet sauce and fried mantou, on the other hand, needed more time in the cooker. It was seriously lacking in that meltingly tender texture.

The best part of the Stewed Mee Sua with baby abalone was the crab roe-infused broth. Rich but not cloying and umami without being too fishy, it was delicious to the last drop.

The Black Sesame Tang Yuan in an osmanthus and water chestnuts soup rounded off the meal on a sweet note. I'm not a fan of tang yuan but this was bouncy and nuanced and delicately sweet.

The tang yuan was paired with Crispy Chinese Pancake with red bean filling, was paper crisp, drained completely of oil, totally awesome.

The Wasabi Chips were a unique appetizer, and unexpectedly addictive snack to quell the hunger pangs during the inordinately long wait between courses.

Majestic Restaurant
New Majestic Hotel
31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road
Tel: 6511 4718
Open daily from 11.45am to 3pm for lunch and from 6.30pm to 11pm for dinner
Website: www.restaurantmajestic.com/
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