Restaurant Review

Former zi char stall Seafood Paradise goes classy

Seafood Paradise has moved from Defu Lane to Marina Bay Sands and still serves good food

The Paradise Group of restaurants started 14 years ago as a zi char stall in Defu Lane, taking over the premises of an industrial building canteen in the evening.

While the group has since grown into a successful restaurant chain that includes the upmarket Taste Paradise in Ion Orchard, it has kept its original Seafood Paradise outlet in Defu, which was later spruced up and turned into an air-conditioned restaurant.

But that is now gone. The restaurant moved to Marina Bay Sands two weeks ago, finally leaving behind its humble beginnings.

The new restaurant cannot be more different from a zi char stall. Located on the second floor among the celebrity restaurants above the casino, it occupies the space formerly taken up by Spanish restaurant Santi and Beijing No. 1, a Chinese restaurant specialising in shark's fin.

At the entrance is an art feature that stretches along the ceiling and runs down the facing wall - a blue strip with a trail of three-dimensional golden carps leading into the restaurant - which is a nice way to welcome diners.

Turn right and you enter the main dining room, with ubiquitous tanks of live seafood at the far end and a row of booth seats along the side. Otherwise, the design is pretty much that of a generic contemporary Chinese restaurant - brightly lit and family-friendly.

  • Seafood Paradise's chilli crab (above) comes with an aromatic gravy that is so good, you can eat it on its own; and geoduck fried with qinglong vegetable (left).

    SEAFOOD PARADISE

    10 Bayfront Avenue, 02-03, Level 2 Dining, tel: 6688-7051; open: 11.30am to 3.30pm, 5.30 to 11pm daily

    Food: 4/5 stars

    Service: 3.5/5 stars

    Ambience: 3.5/5 stars

    Price: Budget at least $100 a person if you order live seafood, less otherwise

But turn left and you come to a corridor leading to eight private rooms. This is where business deals will be made, or where the shy can dine away from public view.

The rooms look elegant and comfortable. I especially like the four with glass walls that look over the mall below.

The menu, not surprisingly, leans heavily on seafood. But like many Chinese restaurants, the selection is more expansive than the menu would suggest.

The manager may ask you to join him at the tanks, for example, introduce you to the live contents and suggest ways to cook them.

I find this a good way to discover new dishes, although, since you may not have a menu to refer to, it is wise to ask about prices before you agree to anything.

I see some Japanese geoduck, a smaller cousin to the Canadian ones that usually turn up in restaurant menus.

The manager suggests getting the trunk-like clam stir-fried with qinglong vegetable ($68), which is a good idea.

The thinly sliced clam is sweet and crunchy, and the vegetable - a chive-like green that is getting popular with Chinese restaurants here - is crisp and comes with a different kind of sweetness.

There are also pan shells ($8 for 100g), which I have stir-fried with fluffy egg white. But this dish is less successful, as the clam meat is pretty firm. The traditional recipe for this dish uses fish meat, which is softer and a better match for the egg.

If you want another shellfish dish, the live abalones ($32 each) are better. Brushed with Thai fish sauce and pan-fried lightly, they keep their natural seafood flavour and springy texture.

The crispy kangkong topped with cuttlefish and seafood sauce (from $14.80) is not to be missed. The deep-fried kangkong is a nice change from the usual sauteed vegetable and the sweet, sour and spicy sauce is delicious.

You should also not ignore the signature dishes that Seafood Paradise built its name on.

Its chilli crab ($8 for 100g) is a favourite of mine. Instead of the ketchupy sweetness that characterise most versions of this iconic Singapore dish, the gravy boasts an aromatic blend of herbs such as lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.

It is sweet and tangy, thickened with egg to give it a smooth, curd-like texture.

You can mop it up with steamed or deep-fried buns ($3 for four), but I find the flavours so well-balanced that I spoon it straight into my mouth.

It would be a good idea, too, to add a couple of meat dishes for variety. I'd recommend the baked pork ribs with honey pepper sauce ($5.80). Unlike the usual honey- baked ribs, it is not just sweet but also a little spicy from the pepper, which is a nice touch.

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• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Zi char stall gone classy'. Print Edition | Subscribe