China food chains set up shop in Singapore

Four food chains from mainland China have set up shop here

Restaurant chains from Hong Kong and South Korea have been popping up here in quick succession over the past few years.

Now, a slew of chains from China are joining the fray.

Over the past 10 months, no fewer than four mainland Chinese chains have set up shop here.

They include Spicy House, a Chengdu-style hotpot chain which has about 30 outlets in China. It will open its first overseas outlet in Riverside Point on Friday.

Other newcomers include Shi Miao Dao Yunnan Rice Noodles in VivoCity and Riverside Grilled Fish in Raffles City. Both restaurants opened in June.

Faigo HotPot opened last November.

The steady stream of openings joins other China food brands that have opened here in the last four years. They include Hai Di Lao Hot Pot, which will open its fourth outlet in VivoCity this month, and 9Goubuli, a Chinese restaurant in Marina Bay Sands.

These new Chinese eateries cater to the growing number of tourists from China by choosing to open in hot spots such as Clarke Quay.

Statistics from the Singapore Tourism Board show that about 1.7 million tourists from China visited Singapore from January to July this year, a 49 per cent increase compared with the same period last year.

Shi Miao Dao Yunnan Rice Noodles opened in Food Republic foodcourt in VivoCity to target Chinese tourists en route to Sentosa.

Owner Crystal Chou, 40, says in Mandarin: "Our 'crossing the bridge' noodles is a household dish in China and tourists from China look out for a taste of home when they're here."

The Jiangsu province native adds that the stall specialising in the rice noodle soup also attracts local diners.

"Singaporeans have a soup-drinking culture and are receptive to trying new dishes."

For some chains, having an outpost in Singapore makes business sense.

Spicy House owner Zac Wang, 40, believes that Chinese hotpot chains like his will do well here.

The Shanghainese, who has been based here for six years, says in Mandarin: "Singapore is a predominantly Chinese society and many people here have a culture of enjoying hotpots together. The ease of conducting business here, such as importing ingredients from around the world, is also a plus point."

Riverside Grilled Fish, which has 54 outlets in China, is using its first overseas outlet here as a springboard for the 11-year-old chain to make inroads into the South-east Asian market. It specialises in grilled fish in mala sauce, a Sichuan dish.

Its general manager William Ngan, 43, says the chain can gauge "acceptance levels for its food" among diners from diverse cultures here, and that adhering to Singapore's stringent food safety and hygiene standards strengthens its standard operating system that can be adopted in other countries.

Diners are enjoying the influx of mainland Chinese food through these chains as they have more options and can dine in more comfortable surroundings, compared with Chinese food joints in Chinatown and Geylang.

Administrative manager Jean Chua, 36, who has dined at Riverside Grilled Fish four times, says: "The grilled fish in mala sauce is very fragrant and I like that the dishes are not too oily."

Businessman Stanley Teo, 44, goes to Faigo HotPot in Clarke Quay once a month. He dined at the chain's outlet in Shanghai three years ago while on a business trip.

He says: "It is one of the few hotpot restaurants from China that offer individual pots, which is more hygienic than sharing a communal pot. And I like that the mala stock is not too spicy. Now, I do not need to fly to China to taste the food that I enjoyed there."


1. RIVERSIDE GRILLED FISH


Riverside Grilled Fish’s Unique sauce is made with vinegar, mala sauce and fermented bean paste. PHOTO: RIVERSIDE GRILLED FISH

Foreign eateries usually adjust their recipes to cater to local diners. But not Riverside Grilled Fish, a Chongqing-style grilled fish restaurant chain that started in Beijing in 2005. It opened its first overseas outlet here in June.

Its general manager William Ngan, 43, says the local outlet adopts a “copy-and-paste” approach–from the menu to the decor of the 150-seat restaurant – so diners can enjoy the same experience as in its 54 outlets in China.

More than 25 spices, such as green and red Sichuan peppercorns, cardamom, dried chilli, seaweed and lemongrass are flown in from Chongqing. These spices are used to make sauces and seasonings such as chilli oil and spicy powder.

Head chefs from the China outlets have been training local staff for the past three months to replicate the dishes, which mainly consist of grilled fish slathered with eight choices of sauce.

Popular ones include the Fragrant Spicy sauce, which contains dried chilli, yellow beans and peanuts, and a tongue numbing Unique sauce, which is made with vinegar, mala sauce and fermented bean paste.

Mr Ngan says: “Some customers have given feedback that the sauces are too thick, spicy and heavy, but we insist on sticking to the original recipes that are used in the China outlets. We cannot change these historical recipes.”

Chongqing grilled fish is an ancient dish that is said to be a favourite dish of Zhuge Liang, a famous chancellor from the Three Kingdoms period.

Diners who do not fancy spicy food can opt for sauces such as pickled vegetable and black bean. They can choose from four types of fish, including sea bass and garoupa (from $35 a kg), and 18 side dishes, such as rice cakes, pork belly and sausages ($2.50 to $4.50), which are stir-fried and placed beneath the grilled fish.

The fish is grilled at 350 deg C for six to eight minutes and sprinkled with spicy powder before being served in hot metal trays.

The local franchise of Riverside Grilled Fish is owned by Minor Food Group, which runs the Thai Express and Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe chains.

Other popular dishes at the eatery include Sichuan cold chicken ($8.80), which is poached and soaked in mala sauce; Pan-Fried Shredded Pancake ($4.80), which is good for dipping into the mala sauce; and Cold Rice Cake with brown sugar ($6.80).

Children younger than five get a bento set comprising fried rice, sausages and a custard bun for free.

Where: B1-06 Raffles City, 252 North Bridge Road

Open: 11am to 10pm daily

Info: Call 6352-2035 or go to www.facebook.com/RiversideGrilledFishSG


2. SPICY HOUSE

Spicy House has three types of communal hotpots, including one with nine compartments, where ingredients can be cooked separately.
Spicy House has three types of communal hotpots, including one with nine compartments, where ingredients can be cooked separately. PHOTO: SPICY HOUSE

This is the first overseas outlet of a restaurant chain that started in Shanghai in 2011. It specialises in Chengdu-style hotpot and its signature soup base is Mala Butter, which has butter stirred into stock infused with Sichuan peppercorns and chillies, to give it a richer flavour.

Service staff also pour in chilli oil at the table, unlike at other mala hotpot places, where the stocks come with the oil floating on top.

There are seven other soup bases available, including Tomato, Pig's Trotters and Chestnut Chicken.

The 120-seat restaurant also plans to introduce stocks such as Tom Yum and Nonya to cater to local taste buds.

Diners can choose from three types of communal hotpots.

One comes with nine grid-like compartments, where ingredients can be cooked separately.

There is also a "son and mother" pot, which has a smaller circular compartment in the middle that is usually used for non-spicy stock.

The third is the common yuan yang pot that holds two types of stocks.

The a la carte menu lists about 100 ingredients. Popular items at its China outlets include beef balls stuffed with fiery chillies and mala fish slices. Some, such as Japanese wagyu beef and Australian lobster, are exclusive to the outlet here.

There are also ready-to-eat side dishes such as Sichuan dumplings and mala noodles.

Diners can get the service staff to mix dipping sauces for them, such as a popular combination of sesame oil, coriander and garlic, which helps douse the heat from the tongue-numbing mala stock.

Expect to pay about $40 a person.

Where: 01-07 Riverside Point, 30 Merchant Road

Open: From Friday, noon to 2pm, 5pm to 1am daily

Info: Call 6493-7197 or go to www.facebook.com/SpicyHouseSingapore


3. SHI MIAO DAO YUNNAN RICE NOODLES

Ms Crystal Chou, owner of Shi Miao Dao Yunnan Rice Noodles in Singapore, with the Tomato noodle set, which comes with 11 side items.
Ms Crystal Chou, owner of Shi Miao Dao Yunnan Rice Noodles in Singapore, with the Tomato noodle set, which comes with 11 side items. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

This two-month-old foodcourt stall serves "crossing the bridge" rice noodles, an elaborate set with 11 sides, including cooked items such as braised chicken and fried peanuts, and raw ones such as quail egg and vegetables.

Diners stir the lightly cooked noodles and other ingredients into a pot of broth that has been simmered with chicken and pork bones for six to eight hours.

There are five types of soups to choose from: Original, Seafood, Tomato, Mala and Pickled Cabbage ($7.80 to $8.50 a set).

This dish from Yunnan province dates back to the Song dynasty. The story goes that a woman had to travel some distance, including crossing a bridge, daily to deliver meals to her husband, a scholar studying for the imperial examination. To keep the food warm, she came up with the idea of insulating the soup with a layer of hot oil and adding the ingredients just before he ate.

The stall here is part of a chain which has more than 800 outlets across China. It also has outlets in Canada, Japan and Thailand.

The springy and smooth rice noodles are made in Yunnan, but the outlet here has replaced the salty meat sauce with vegetables and uses less chicken oil to cater to health-conscious diners. The stall also serves side dishes such as crispy sweet potato balls ($2).

Where: Food Republic Stall No. 3, Level 3 VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk

Open: 10am to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am to 10.30pm (Friday and Saturday)

Info: Call 6276-0521 or go to www.shimiaodao.com


4. FAIGO HOTPOT

The menu at Faigo HotPot is refreshed every quarter, with seasonal ingredients such as Alaskan king crab (above).
The menu at Faigo HotPot is refreshed every quarter, with seasonal ingredients such as Alaskan king crab. PHOTO: FAIGO HOTPOT

This 12-year-old chain, which has more than 100 outlets across China, serves Hong Kong-style hotpot and is known for light stocks that allow the flavours of the ingredients cooked in it to come through.

In November last year, it opened its first overseas outlet here with a 130-seat restaurant in Clarke Quay.

Faigo HotPot, which is run by Shanghai Dragon Restaurant Management Company, was invited by property developer CapitaLand, Clarke Quay's landlord, to set up an outlet early last year.

Its head chef Tang Lok Pan, 31, was surprised that Singapore has a developed hotpot scene despite its humid weather.

He says in Mandarin: "We decided to make Singapore our first expansion stop abroad as we can get access to a cosmopolitan group of locals and tourists who frequent Clarke Quay."

Among the most popular of the eatery's 10 stocks (from $5) are Teochew, which is simmered with spring onion, mushrooms, preserved vegetables and dried shrimp; and Tomato Oxtail Soup.

To cater to local taste buds, there are also stocks such as Tom Yum and Pig's Stomach With White Pepper that are exclusive to the Singapore outlet.

The stocks are served in individual pots heated by electric stoves. The stoves are equipped with a heat-control panel and USB ports for charging mobile devices.

Diners can choose from more than 70 ingredients, including favourites such as beef platter ($48), bamboo clams (from $8 a piece), shrimp paste balls ($7) and deep-fried beancurd skin roll (from $4.50). These are made or processed in-house and replenished daily.

The Singapore outlet is the first in the chain to have a sauce bar offering almost 20 condiments, such as fermented red beancurd, and satay and oyster sauces.

The menu is refreshed every quarter, with seasonal ingredients such as Alaskan king crab.

The eatery also offers set menus (from $88 for two people) that comprise two soup bases, meats, seafood, vegetables and drinks.

Where: 01-06, 3B River Valley Road

Open: Noon to 11pm (Sunday to Tuesday), noon to 2am (Wednesday to Saturday)

Info: Call 6635-5677 or go to www.facebook.com/FaigoHotPot

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 11, 2016, with the headline 'A real taste of China'. Print Edition | Subscribe