Jing Hua Xiao Chi marks my first taste of xiao long bao, at their original outlet along Neil Road when it was then named after the shop unit it was housed in, Qun Zhong. It's since adopted a name of its own, Jing Hua Restaurant, rebranded itself a more upscale, but still casual, eatery, and branched out internationally.
One of its local outposts is now at the very swish and upscale Palais Renaissance, the favourite playground of ladies of leisure, where I recently visited to see if it's as good as before. Afterall, chain expansion tends to dilute quality and standards. I'm relieved that Jing Hua's offerings are as good as I remembered. Compared to the ubiquitous Din Tai Fung, Jing Hua's soupy pork dumplings are more delicate, possessing a refinement that's exquisite. I daresay Jing Hua's xiao long baos are a smite better than the reigning heavyweight Din Tai Fung.
The signature Pork Dumplings ($5.50 for 4 pcs) had pork mince that's sparkling fresh with nary a whiff of that heavy 'porky' stench, swimming in a clear and light broth and swaddled in impossibly thin and delectably chewy skins. Sublime and an absolute must-try.
A novelty dish, the Black Pepper Steamed Beef Dumplings ($6 for 4 pcs) was unfortunately laced with coriander leaves. I know a couple of girlfriends who'd love this, but obviously, not my favourite thing.
Another signature and must-order, the Zha Jiang Noodle ($7.50) was a rustic and hearty concoction of minced pork bean paste gravy slathered over thick chewy noodles and balanced with oodles of fresh beansprouts, wilted spinach, and julienned cucumbers.
The Hot & Sour Soup ($4.50) was a lot more mellow than I'd expected, but no less delicious. This was smooth and gooey and fragrant.
Another must-try was the Crispy Red Bean Pancake ($11.80), possibly the best rendition around of this classic Shanghainese dessert. A beautifully crisp and golden crust, the dough underneath was a lovely chewy texture, layered with a not-too-sweet red bean paste. Lovely and scrumptious.
Jing Hua Xiao Chi
Palais Renaissance B1-04/05
390 Orchard Road
Tel: 6733 8231
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 5.30pm to 9.30pm for dinner
weekends from 11.30am to 9.30pm