From foodcourts to restaurants, dining out these days has generally become costlier compared to just a few years ago.
The good news is that you can still find value-for-money new eateries. And some boast very good food, too.
Among them is Tonny Restaurant in Joo Chiat Road, opened last December by chef Tonny Chan who was formerly with Sha Tin in Geylang and Grand Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant in Dempsey.
Tonny Restaurant, which focuses on affordable family-style dishes, has more in common with Sha Tin than the more upmarket Grand Hong Kong. There are a few “deluxe” items, such as braised fresh abalone with vegetable ($48 each) and braised whole sea cucumber stuffed with mixed meats ($98), but most of the dishes cost under $20.
And unlike Grand Hong Kong, the restaurant also does not offer dim sum.
The ambience is nicer than Sha Tin, though. Located in a double-unit, two-storey shophouse formerly occupied by Rabbit Brand Seafood Restaurant, it has kept its predecessor’s cheerful contemporary decor as well as most of the furniture left behind. But the interiors have been spruced up so that they look new.
Fans of chef Chan will find some familiar dishes at the new restaurant. Among them is his signature dish Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon ($8 a person, $1 cheaper than at Grand Hong Kong). A delicately fried mousse made from egg white and lobster, topped with dried scallop, it tastes a tad saltier than how I remember it, but is still very much a winner. A well-controlled fire and perfect timing results in a smooth, fluffy texture. It could easily have turned out either runny or overcooked in less expert hands.
There are also a number of dishes I had not tried at his previous restaurants.
If you like light cooking, go for the poached sliced beef with golden mushrooms ($18). The combination is not common but works in an understated way.
The chef uses marbled beef which is very tender. And because it is lightly seasoned, you taste the natural flavour of the meat. The mushrooms add a hint of sweetness. More importantly, they provide contrasting texture.
For a stronger-tasting dish, try the pan-fried, salted boneless chicken with five spices ($18). The meat is well-marinated and the saltiness makes it a good match with a bowl of white rice.
What I like about the dish is that, while the skin is fried till it is almost crisp, the meat is still juicy.
I also like the fried wild mushrooms with spring onions and dried shrimp roe ($16). The assorted mushrooms, which include shitake and shimeiji, come in a very tasty sauce that also goes well with rice.
I have always liked chef Chan’s congee dishes in his previous restaurants, but his new crab congee ($8 for 100g of crab) oddly has mung beans in it. These give what should have been a smooth gruel a rough texture.
I would have preferred it without the beans but there is little else to fault the tasty congee and fresh crab with.
This is a humble restaurant but the cooking is good. Best of all, you do not have to dig very deep into your pockets if you give expensive items, such as shark’s fin and abalone, a miss.
LifeStyle paid for its meals at the eatery reviewed here.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon ($8)
Still a winner after all these years, this dish gets its name from the Chinese word for lobster, which is dragon prawn.
325/327 Joo Chiat Road, tel: 6348-9298
Open: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily
Price: Budget from $40 a person