Wong Ah Yoke Food Critic recommends

Wah Kee's dry prawn noodles, Torikin's sea urchin hotpot, Paradise Classic and House of Roasted Duck



Stewed Silver Needle Noodle with Salted Fish in Claypot. PHOTO: PARADISE CLASSIC

SINGAPORE - Paradise Inn is gone and I don't miss it. When the brand first opened in Funan DigitaLife Mall in 2009, I was a fan because it offered home-style Cantonese dishes I enjoyed, but did not have the time to cook. And at budget prices that could match those at zi char stalls too.

Then, the chain expanded and standards became inconsistent, with some outlets better than others.

But about a month ago, the Inn outlets were changed to Paradise Classic, a new brand which specialises in old-fashioned Nanyang cuisine.

Nanyang refers primarily to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, which is where many Chinese emigrated to in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And their cuisine developed with local influences and ingredients, giving it a distinct flavour that is different from the original Chinese dishes.

Some items from Paradise Inn - such as stir-fried pork ribs with bitter gourd (from $13.80) - are kept on the menu, but there are also many new ones not easily found in Singapore eateries. Among these is the Silver Needle Noodle With Salted Fish in Claypot (from $13.80), which is inspired by a popular dish from Kuala Lumpur but given a fresh spin by the restaurant's chef, who leaves out the black soya sauce in the original recipe. The short rice noodles, called bee tai mak locally, are fried in a claypot with chopped chai poh or preserved radish. An egg is cracked over the noodles just before the pot is brought to the table. And at the table, salted fish mixed with sizzling oil and some lime juice are added. The result is a wonderful aroma and a nice tanginess.

Another Kuala Lumpur dish that the restaurant has introduced is fish head with spicy bean sauce (above, $22.80), which is topped with lots of crispy lard bits. It is excellent with steamed rice.

WHERE: Paradise Classic, eight outlets including B1-110 Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Boulevard and 03-10 The Seletar Mall, 33 Sengkang West Avenue MRT: Promenade (Suntec City Mall), Fernvale LRT (The Seletar Mall) OPEN: Various times for different outlets INFO: www.paradisegroup.com.sg


Noodles with large prawns from Wah Kee. PHOTO: ST FILE

If you are a fan of Wah Kee's big prawn noodles, you should try its new outlet at the Esplanade.

Instead of queueing and eating while perspiring at the original stall in Pek Kio hawker centre, you get served in air-conditioned comfort in the 60-seat eatery.

And the price of comfort? An extra $1 plus service charge and tax for the regular-sized prawns, which go for $6++ a bowl, compared with $5 at the hawker centre. For noodles with medium-sized prawns, it's $12++ versus $10.

But the noodles with large prawns (above), which are recommended, cost the same at $20 - albeit plus service charge and tax.

Get the dry version of the noodles because the piquant chilli sauce is the star attraction - for me, at least. The soup smells and looks promising with a layer of bright red oil. But it tastes weak, even with three large prawns in it.

I guess Wah Kee's fans are happy with it as it is, but I would be more impressed if the stock is reduced to double its current strength.

WHERE: Wah Kee, 01-13C Esplanade Mall, 8 Raffles Avenue MRT: Esplanade OPEN: 11am to 2.30pm daily, 5 to 10.30pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 5 to 11.30pm (Fridays, Saturdays and eve of public holidays) INFO: 6327-9187 (no reservations)


Barbecued pork belly from House Of Roasted Duck. PHOTO: HOUSE OF ROASTED DUCK

Fatty char siew is catching on in Singapore, for which I am grateful. For me, the thin slices of dry and lean barbecued pork that come with most wonton noodles here are not worth the effort of chewing them. I usually tell the noodle seller to leave them out.

So, when House of Roasted Duck introduced Barbecued Pork Belly (above, $16) to its menu this month, it was reason for cheer. The casual roast eatery has branches at Bugis Village and Sultan Plaza.

The char siew has a good balance of fat and meat and the combination of oils and meat juices is just right for me. And I like that it has a firm and succulent texture and is not too tough or soft.

I would prefer the edges to be a little charred, which is how it is done in Kuala Lumpur, but the recipe here follows the Hong Kong style, which is less sweet too.

I pair the char siew with a bowl of shrimp wonton noodle soup ($7.80), which boasts plump wontons filled with crunchy prawns. The noodles are the thin Hong Kong variety, but cooked softer to suit local palates.

The meal costs me a hefty $28, with tax and service charge, but I may have found the best char siew wonton mee in town.

WHERE: House of Roasted Duck, Bugis Village, 233 Victoria Street; 01-08 Sultan Plaza, 100 Jalan Sultan MRT: Bugis/Lavender/Nicoll Highway OPEN: 11am to 11pm daily TEL: 6339-6817; 6297-5490


Uni shabu shabu or sea urchin hotpot from Torikin. PHOTO: TORIKIN

Uni shabu shabu or sea urchin hotpot is the latest flavour to hit town, brought in by Japanese restaurant Torikin in Bukit Timah Road.

Creamy sea urchin is stirred into a dashi broth for the soup base, giving it a yellowish hue and a subtle flavour of the seafood.

The hotpot (above) comes in a set priced at $86.90 a person (minimum two people), which includes seafood such as scallop, salmon, tuna, prawn and more sea urchin, as well as assorted vegetables. Additional orders of seafood are priced at $42 and vegetables at $12.90.

After you finish the food, you can add some udon or rice to the remaining stock for a noodle soup or rice porridge.

Torikin's main specialities are its chicken dishes and its gyoza ($16.90 for 10 pieces) is really good, with tasty minced chicken wrapped in a thin and crispy skin.

WHERE: Torikin, 01-14 Crown Centre, 557 Bukit Timah Road MRT: Tan Kah Kee OPEN: 6 to 11pm daily, noon to 3pm (Saturdays and Sundays) TEL: 6465-5908

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'Food Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe