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Hotpot alert: 3 steamboat places to try this week

Chinese New Year may be almost over, but we still can’t get enough of this steamy communal dish. Try these three, including one with Malaysian-style “lok lok” skewers and another with coconut water soup

1. Miss Lok
1. Miss Lok
29 Feb 2016

1. Miss Lok

#01-01, 5 MAGAZINE RD, S0595571. TEL: 6604-8814. Open daily except Sun. Mon-Thur 6pm-2am; Fri-Sat 6pm-5am. Last orders 1 hr before closing. www.misslok.com

There’s a chic, edgy quality to this two-month-old hotpot joint near Clarke Quay. The dimly-lit 60 seater is done up with neon signs, subtle Japanese touches and booth seats that remind us of American diners. With its soundtrack of Chinese jazz and vintage tunes, Miss Lok is a strange, but sexy, hybrid of izakaya, Hongkong noodle house and a sleazy cocktail bar. This despite the fact that the food, and the name, are influenced by Malaysian “lok lok,” street-side hotpot where skewered items are cooked in strongly-flavoured soups and served with various sauces.

Here, the Lok Lok skewers glide along in glass jars on a conveyor belt (next slide) that travels round the whole restaurant. It’s very charming and comfy. Plus, it’s open till the wee hours of the morning, perfect for supper post-clubbing. Which is why its clientele are mostly young, hedonistic things, mixed with a couple of families at more civil hours. Co-owner Bu Shukun, 34, who’s an architect, designed Miss Lok. He is also one of the brains behind trendy gastrobar The Refinery at Jalan Basar and nightclub Trace at Central Mall.
 

Miss Lok: On the menu
Miss Lok: On the menu
29 Feb 2016

Miss Lok: On the menu

There are eight types of soups to choose from, each priced at $8 per head, which you can mix and match, "yuan-yang style", up to four flavours per table. This means that four people sharing one soup would pay $8 each, two people sharing four soups would pay $32 each. They’re all made from scratch daily and are MSG-free, ranging from a zingy Tom Yum to a pretty tasty herbal Bak Kut Teh. You can grab the conveyor belt Lok Lok skewers, a selection of fairly blah items like fish balls, crab sticks, sausages and vegetables (colour-coded and priced from $1-$4 per stick) or, for heartier fare opt for platters of meat and seafood. There’s also sake and cocktails, like the Okinawa Sunrise ($25), yuzu liqueur mixed with rum, a touch of beer and vanilla ice cream for a bittersweet and refreshing accompaniment.

Miss Lok: The food
Miss Lok: The food
29 Feb 2016

Miss Lok: The food

Soups ($8 each)

The soups are hit-or-miss. Our favourites are the spicy, punchy ones like the rich, lemak Singapore Laksa. It’s quite aromatic but too salty and a tad strong on the dried shrimp, which only intensifies as the meal progresses. Also good is the fiery Sichuan Mala, which has a lovely zing, though it’s also over seasoned. On the lighter end is the Sake Infused Asari Clams, a light dashi stock served with clams and a dousing of sake, that has a pleasant briny sweetness. Overall we find many of the soups quite salty, which is good for a quick slick of flavour for the lok lok items, but tend to overpower the more delicate ingredients like prawns.

Miss Lok: The food
Miss Lok: The food
29 Feb 2016

Miss Lok: The food

Meat Lover’s Platter ($36)

A fairly generous selection of pork collar and belly slices, thin sheets of rib-eye and striploin, and sliced chicken. Nothing extraordinary here, though the beef is nice and fresh, and the pork, pleasantly fatty. There’s also a decent Seafood Platter ($36) including prawns, sweet scallops, mussels, snapper and slightly tough pre-cooked abalone.
 

Miss Lok: The food
Miss Lok: The food
29 Feb 2016

Miss Lok: The food

Battered Kang Kong ($10)

This sounded dubious but turned out rather good. Tender, if a little bland, kang kong encased in a crispy tempura batter, then served with piquant Thai Nam Tom Sauce, made from chillies, fermented shrimp paste and lime juice. This and other sauces, like the yummy Signature Salted Egg Yolk Sauce, are available for $2 each to go with your hotpot. There's also a complimentary sauce bar with condiments like garlic, chilli and strangely, peanut butter, which acts like a sesame paste.

BOTTOM LINE: So-so hotpot, with a patchy selection of soups in über chic surroundings that you’ll want to Instagram to death. We suppose its target clientele, the party crowd, probably value style over substance, anyway.
 

2. Hua Ting Steamboat
2. Hua Ting Steamboat
29 Feb 2016

2. Hua Ting Steamboat

#01-08 CLAYMORE CONNECT, 442 ORCHARD RD, S238879. TEL: 6224-3679. Open daily 11.30am-2.30pm; 5.30pm-10.30pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing. Hua Ting Steamboat's website

Orchard Hotel’s famed Chinese fine-diner Hua Ting has opened a more casual steamboat branch in the new Claymore Connect, a slightly deserted connecting shopping mall. Compared to the grand decor at Hua Ting, this joint looks like a food court from China with its tacky yellow-orange colour theme and garish table settings. Fortunately, the food on offer at this 70 seater, open since last November, is pretty good.

ON THE MENU: The menu features eight different soups and 150 ingredients, which you can order a la carte or in a set. With the sets you get a choice of two soups, a selection of fresh meat, seafood, vegetables, noodles and dessert. Sets come at $48, $68 and $88 per person. We sample the $48 set and find it good for two big eaters and maybe three modest ones.

Hua Ting Steamboat: The food
Hua Ting Steamboat: The food
29 Feb 2016

Hua Ting Steamboat: The food

Soups

The soups here a little on the light side, but the flavours are fresh and sweet, and don’t leave us parched from MSG and salt. The Shark’s Bone Cartilage Soup With Fresh Bean curd Sheets ($28) is far less rich and gummy than we expect, but still quite pleasantly tasty. It’s a chicken and pork based number enriched with a hunk of collagen-streaked shark bone and tender strips of bean curd. We’re less fond of the Tomato Soup with Century Egg and Coriander ($20) that’s too strong, tangy and oddly “ang moh” in flavour.

There’s also specialty soups, like the excellent Superior Fish Soup with Winter Melon and Conpoy ($34), a seafood broth made from tilapia and dried scallops, served with a thick ring of fleshy winter melon, Tianjin cabbage and shredded dried scallop. It’s got a delicious briny flavour, and the melon, which helps sweeten the soup as it boils and softens, also serves as an edible “basket” to cook your ingredients in. To get it with the set requires a $10 top up and you'll only get this one flavour, but it’s worth it.

Hua Ting Steamboat: The food
Hua Ting Steamboat: The food
29 Feb 2016

Hua Ting Steamboat: The food

Meat and Seafood (left)

The basic set comes with buttery slices of well-marbled US Angus Sliced Beef ($12 for 80g a la carte). There’re also Live Prawns ($8 per 100g a la carte). Brought to us crucified and squirming on skewers, they’re succulent and firm, though we wish they came without the gore.

Handmade Items (right) 

We particularly love the hand-made balls that come in four flavours: fish, scallop, prawn and pork. They all have a nice bite and lovely juiciness. Each set only comes with two flavours, two per head. Our favourite is the Fresh Shrimp Paste Ball ($8 for four a la carte) stuffed with minced prawn, pork and a sweet jellied Chinese wine centre that melts while cooking and bursts in your mouth for a party of flavours. The fresh fish paste also comes in noodle form. We sample the Handmade Black Truffle Fish Paste Noodles ($14), that you pipe into the soup via a bag to form bouncy, subtly truffled coils.

BOTTOM LINE: The soups are quite lovely, if a bit lightweight, with fresh, flavourful ingredients and delicious handmade items. We think it’s worth the splurge, but go in a group to help offset the cost.
 

3. Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat
3. Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat
29 Feb 2016

3. Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat

15 UPP EAST COAST RD, S455207. TEL: 9295-0650. Open daily except Mon. Tues-Sun 5.30pm-11pm. Last orders 10pm. https://www.facebook.com/ChickenLegendSG

Easties, this one’s for you. Tucked away in a nondescript corner coffeeshop along Upper East Coast Road is a humble stall called Chicken Legend, apparently “Singapore’s first coconut water hotpot”. Behind the counter hacking away at fresh coconuts is fresh-faced Jasper Tan, who’s only 22. His business was inspired by similar restaurants in Shenzhen.

“The plan is to open an air-conditioned restaurant later this year, says the MDIS mass communications diploma holder who didn't plan to do this full-time when he opened the stall over a year ago. He now works here daily “because of a lack of manpower”. He adds, “also, my [biz] partner left, but it’s okay because I enjoy doing this”. Chicken Legend’s delicately flavoured broth of fresh coconut water is nothing like your mouth-numbing mala soups or meat/fish broths. No MSG, or even chicken stock, and simply seasoned with wolfberries, water chestnuts, strips of coconut flesh and a dash of salt to counter the sweetness of the coconut water. Sounds odd, we know.

Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat: The food
Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat: The food
29 Feb 2016

Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat: The food

Regular Set ($29; feeds three to four pax)

There are four sets available, and we recommend this one. It comes with an entire kampong chicken, which apparently lends extra flavour to the coconut broth (hence the stall’s name), prawns, corn, mushrooms and vegetables. “Cook the chicken first to give the broth more flavour,” Jasper explains as he tips the lean chunks into the boiling coco water. After you’re done chomping on the meat, cook the veg and then the prawns last, as the latter adds a different briny-sweet note. “Often, the soups we get at other hotpot restaurants are oily and salty to begin with, so by the time we’re done cooking, it’s too salty to drink.” Large, young green Malaysian coconuts are used instead of the more common botak coconuts, because of the former’s lower sugar content. “We tried smaller Thai coconuts but the water was way too sweet for cooking,” says Jasper.

Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat: The food
Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat: The food
29 Feb 2016

Chicken Legend Coconut Steamboat: The food

Coconut Water Soup

Our first sip left us a tad underwhelmed. Plain coconut water was what we tasted. But as we began dunking the ingredients in, it started to make sense. The soup transformed from light coconut water into a delicate yet addictive broth of clean flavours, especially after adding the prawns, which give it a natural sweetness. We dip our cooked grub in soy sauce made with 10 types of herbs and spiked with lime, garlic and chilli. The first serving of soup comes free with each set, but a refill costs $3.

BOTTOM LINE: We had our doubts initially, but pure coconut water infused with the juices of meat and seafood makes a clean, wholesome and surprisingly delish hotpot. It’s a nice reminder that we don’t need as much salt, sugar and oil after all.

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