03 May 2016
Cook slowly, eat cleanly
The restaurant looks just like any nondescript steamboat establishment: unsexy bright lights, no-frills decor, pots on tables. So we almost scurry past four-month-old Rong Fu Ji at The Grandstand for a burger instead. However, our eagle-eyed dining partner points out, “Hey, the pots are steamers!” We peer carefully and notice customers plonking prawns and crabs onto perforated trays and slapping the lid shut. It looks fun. A kindly-looking man walks over. He is restaurant co-owner Steve Lim, 42, who’s in logistics full-time. This F&B venture is a hobby, he says. “It so happened we met the Chinese manufacturer of these steam pots a few years ago. And he supplied these steamers to Cantopop star Alan Tam, who owns two similar restaurants in Hongkong. We tried it, liked it, and decided to open this place,” he shares. Intrigued, we decide to give the burgers a rain check for a wholesome steamed meal instead.
03 May 2016
The look & vibe
Functional but clean, the only hints of décor are some hanging rattan lumps and oriental motifs on the wall that look like puffs of steam. There are a few families tearing noisily into dinner the night we visit. So we head for a quiet corner table, beside some fish tanks where a few ill-fated lobsters, sea bass, crabs and prawns lurk, destined for that cauldron of doom.
Steve and his equally bubbly biz partner (who declines to be named) are the best part about this place. They’re dressed in sports T-shirts and shorts and look like buddies who got waylaid on their way to a game of squash. They’re warm and helpful as they explain the menu and occasionally serve some food. Meanwhile, the waitresses are less friendly, but passably competent — even if we have to prompt them to change our dirty plates. And if you want help with the cooking, you’ll have to ask as it’s mostly DIY here.
03 May 2016
Each temperature-controlled electric pot is connected to a large container of water hidden in a cabinet below each table. So things are kept warm and moist. How it works: first, raw Japanese rice and pork broth with dried scallops are poured into the base of the pot. Next, a perforated tray is placed over this, on which you cook your food course by course. During the meal, drippings from your steamed veg, seafood and meat trickle into the porridge below as it simmers.
This concept works a bit differently from Captain K Seafood Tower’s dramatic Korean-style seafood tower, where a tall stack of steamers, each layer containing a different type of seafood, is par-cooked before being brought to the table to finish cooking. Here, all ingredients are steamed raw, one course at a time. Incidentally, we did not like Captain K - half of the seafood we ate there was funky.
03 May 2016
The $78 Set Meal for two people offers decent value. You get a flower crab, tiger prawns, a small pomfret, bamboo clams, scallops, beef or pork belly, veg, corn and mushrooms. And of course, porridge. All the ingredients here aren’t marinated - you just dip them into a simple but rather umami soy sauce flavoured with ground Chinese ham, dried shrimp and scallops.
After Steve switches on the steamer, which heats up in just three minutes, the meal kicks off. He gives us a timer shaped like a bear’s head and says, “Three minutes for the vegetables”. We throw in the nai bai, corn and enoki mushrooms, shut the lid and wait. Strange how so very long three minutes can feel. As the timer beeps, we lift up the lid and are enveloped in a puff of steam. The greens are sweet and intensely crunchy, but not particularly juicy. The corn is deliciously succulent. It takes us a while to finish the entire serving of extremely healthy-tasting greens. We gaze at our non-veggie-loving partner dutifully munching away. “This must be torture for you,” we remark. ’Cos you should finish what’s in the steamer before cooking the next course, or you’re faced with cold food. And so it continues.
The recommended cooking time of four minutes for the pomfret is a bit off, as the fish, littered with strips of ginger, emerges a touch overcooked. The flower crab is the best of the lot — squirting fresh, briny liquid as we crack it open. But we can’t say the same for the 600g Lobster ($35 promo price on weekdays; usual price $49.90). The creature is fished out of the tank, and arrives at our table beheaded and split in half. Unfortunately, it is still squirming slightly. And it continues to twitch five minutes later when it is put into the pot. We admit we, er, leap out of our seat at that point. The server places the lobster’s head into the pool of porridge below, “for flavour”, and the rest of it onto the steaming tray. After our experience with the fish, we deliberately undercook the lobster by 30 seconds. The flesh turns out properly cooked and quite flavourful, but it is disappointingly stiff. Also, the claws are undercooked (our bad). The soy dip gets monotonous after a while, and we wish there was more variety.
THE PIÈCE DE RÉSISTANCE: After what feels like an interminable one-and-a-half hours, the moment we’ve been waiting for finally arrives: it’s time to dig into the magical porridge bubbling with seafood juices and that lobster head. A server stirs in an egg, spring onions and scoops up bowls of the thick, creamy concoction. It is faintly sweet and plainer than we imagined it to be. If it weren’t for the crustacean’s orange noggin’ staring at us from its grainy bath, we wouldn’t be able to tell that it had been luxuriating in our porridge. It’s so light-tasting we have to add soy sauce, sesame oil and loads of fried shallots for oomph. That being said, it’s a comforting and virtuous end to the meal.
VERDICT: Fresh and wholesome steamed seafood. However, some items aren’t as succulent as you’d expect from this method of cooking. And the novelty of the experience wears off after all that cooking, waiting and clean eating. Still, this is probably worth a try if you've got time to kill and a diet to watch.
#01-14 The Grandstand, 200 Turf Club Rd, S287994. Tel: 6463-3855. Open daily. 11.30am-3pm Sat & Sun; 5pm – 10.30pm daily. Last orders 1.30pm & 9.15pm. www.facebook.com/rfjsteampot/