The Korean wave is not just limited to pop groups and drama serials. Korean food is being lapped up here too.
A new concept that has washed up on Singapore's shores is the Korean seafood tower. It was first brought in last year by House of Seafood, which has outlets in Punggol and Upper Serangoon Road. Captain K, a new eatery which opened in Prinsep Street last month, serves just this style of cooking.
The seafood tower concept is very simple. Different types of shellfish are cooked in steamers that are stacked in tiers over a pot or wok of stock.
At Captain K, the highest you can go is nine tiers ($288.90), which is recommended for eight people. And the lowest is three tiers ($52.90), recommended for two people.
I am dining with two friends and we go for five tiers ($98.90), even though that is recommended for four people. I add extra orders of live crab ($9.80 for 100g) and a stuffed squid ($3.80 for 100g) and the amount of food is only just enough.
30 Prinsep Street, 01-02, tel: 6255-2270, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm daily
Food: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
Ambience: 2.5 stars
Price: Budget from $50 a person
This is a clever concept for labour-deprived restaurateurs because it is easy to implement and run. The seafood is steamed without sauce or seasoning, so no cooking skill is required other than knowing not to overcook the food.
The only items that require some sort of preparation are the scallops, which come with tunghoon (bean vermicelli) and minced garlic, and the squid, which is stuffed with flavoured rice.
Each steamer tier is filled with one or two items, so it does not mean that fewer tiers will have correspondingly fewer items. For example, the only food missing from my five tiers are crab and lobster. The squid is not included in any of the tiers. But you can get a la carte orders of these.
You eat the food tier by tier, starting from the top. The restaurant offers different sauces, such as Korean ssamjang, sambal belacan, Thai green chilli and ponzu, to go with it. And diagrams on the wall and menu helpfully suggest which sauce to pair each food with.
However, I find that with fresh shellfish, it often tastes best on its own without any sauce to mask its natural sweetness.
So it is with the prawns on the top layer. They are firm and sweet, a sure sign of freshness.
The restaurant suggests a tangy yuzu sauce, but I dip a prawn in ponzu and find that I much prefer it without the sauce.
It is the same with the live crab, especially if you want to savour its rich golden roe. With such sweet seafood, a sauce will just be a distraction.
The clams, too, are best on their own with a bit of their juices collected in the shells.
But other kinds of seafood get a lift from some of the sauces. The scallops, for example, taste wonderful with a little spoonful of Thai green chilli sauce stirred into the tunghoon and minced garlic, which are otherwise rather bland.
The live crawfish are not as sweet as the prawns and so need to be spiced up with a bit of sambal belacan.
As does the stuffed squid, which benefits from any sauce. The rice stuffing has an indistinguishable flavour and is packed densely, making it rather stodgy. And it comes to the table a bit cold, making this my least favourite item.
The mussels are a disappointment as well, as the juices have run dry and the meat is chewy and bland. So in goes a spoonful of Thai chilli sauce.
The oysters, too, are a tad overcooked and get their flavours awakened with a bit of ponzu.
When you're done with all the tiers of seafood, you're left with a wok of stock at the bottom. There is a choice of kombu dashi, Korean kimchi and premium Korean ginseng chicken (extra $15) and you select one when you make your order.
I pick the kimchi stock, which the server recommends, and it turns out to be excellent.
Juices from the seafood drip down into it and give it a distinctive shellfish flavour that reminds me of a seafood stew.
You can pick plates of vegetables ($2 each), dumplings ($3) and instant noodles ($2) to add to the stock and turn it into a hotpot. I do that and the steaming pot provides a comforting end to the meal.
In fact, one of my companions declares that it is his favourite part of the meal.
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- The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.