Food Picks: Uncle Fong Hot Pot new hot spot, Jia Wei in Katong, Sol-Cal at California Republic

Uncle Fong Hot Pot first opened in May at Great World. PHOTO: UNCLE FONG HOT POT

Uncle Fong Hot Pot bubbles up

Mr Fong Chi Chung, founder of the Putien restaurant chain, has brought in Uncle Fong Hot Pot. He launched the Chongqing-style hotpot restaurants in 2016 in Hong Kong, where they have become hot spots for celebrities such as Carina Lau and Aaron Kwok, who love the spicy broths that the city in Sichuan is famous for.

The first Singapore outlet opened in May at Great World. What makes it stand out from other mala hot pot eateries here is the range of ingredients available. Besides the usual meats, seafood and vegetables, the menu also lists less common items such as leather jacket fish ($24) and coral mussels (from $19.50), which are the crunchy intestines of red sea cucumbers.

And while I was apprehensive about eating fresh ox liver (from $8.50), it turned out to be delicious when coated in a dry spice mix.

What is also interesting is dried gong choi (from $4.50), a vegetable with a crisp stem that is related to celtose. You can also find seasonal items like Putien razor clams (from $12.50), which are available now and flown in from China weekly.

Besides the usual single and double pots, the restaurant also uses a nine-grid pot. It is not for nine different broths. Instead, the grids create different heat zones, with the one in the middle being the hottest. So you put ingredients that require brief cooking times there, while the grids at the corners can be used for simmering food.

Broth options besides the signature mala one are pork bone, tomato and a fruit and vegetable soup created for the Singapore outlet . All are priced at $7 a person.

Where: Uncle Fong Hot Pot, B1-108/109 Great World, 1 Kim Seng Promenade
MRT: Orchard/Tiong Bahru
Open:11.30am to 3pm, 5 to 11pm (weekdays); 11.30am to 11pm (weekends). From June 1, it opens from 11.30am to 11pm daily
Tel: 6232-7800

Jia Wei picks local produce for new dishes

Crispy local soft shell crab with ice plant from Jia Wei. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE

To support the push for food security by relying less on food imports, Jia Wei at Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy is highlighting local produce in its new menu offerings.

The Chinese restaurant's chef Victor Lee sources vegetables and seafood from farms here for dishes such as baked local barramundi fillet with honey pineapple sauce ($23) and curly kale soup with braised crab meat and bean curd ($20).

The crispy local soft shell crab with ice plant, ume-infused tomato, yuzu dressing ($22) I tried is good. The crabs are meaty and not dried out, unlike the frozen variety. And local ice plants tend to be bigger, but are just as crisp and light as the imported ones.

The restaurant has introduced dim sum for lunch. The Jia Wei butterfly pea har gow ($7.80 for three pieces) is coloured a trendy light blue with the flower, and has a flavourful and crunchy shrimp filling as well as a smooth dumpling skin.

The butterfly pea colouring is traditionally used by the Peranakan community, who used to reside in the Katong area, where the restaurant is located.

The Australian scallop, pea flower, rice roll ($8.80) is similarly coloured blue, but what matters more to me is how smooth the cheong fun is and how fresh the shellfish tastes.

Where: Jia Wei Chinese Restaurant, Level 2 Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy, 50 East Coast Road
MRT: Dakota/Paya Lebar
Open: Noon to 3pm, 6 to 11pm, Tuesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays
Tel: 6340-5678
Info: Jia Wei's website

Italian cooking with American vibe at California Republic

Lazy Man's Cioppino from California Republic. PHOTO: CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC

There are plenty of Italian restaurants here, but California Republic may be the first to profess to what it calls a Sol-Cal take on Italian food. That means a more relaxed approach to traditional recipes and embracing the South Californian pop culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

The concept is more visible in the restaurant's interior design. The dining room is decorated with retro items like a vintage telephone and radio. Tables are set in booths and on the walls hang posters of old movies such as Barbarella (1968) and the original Planet Of The Apes (1968).

The menu is both familiar and original. What stays in my mind is an unusual Smoked Garganelli ($34), where the flour to make the cylindrical pasta is first smoked. The aroma gets so deeply infused into the pasta that it lingers on even after it is cooked and tossed with a pork ragu that is cooked with stock instead of tomato sauce.

I like the Lazy Man's Cioppino ($48) too -a tomato-based seafood stew made with roasted sea bass, prawns, calamari, clams and mussels. Its name refers to the fact that the prawns are shelled for easy eating. Order West Coast Garlic Mops ($18) to go with it as the garlic and herb bread is great for soaking up the seafood broth.

Where: California Republic, 88 Amoy Street
MRT: Telok Ayer
Open: Noon to 3pm, 5.30pm to midnight, Wednesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Tel: 9784-9487
Info: California Republic's website

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