Eight Signatures Seafood Restaurant caught my attention because of its Chinese name.
"Ba Xian Guo Hai" sounds like the well-known Chinese fairy tale The Eight Immortals Cross The Sea, but it replaces the word for immortals with a homonym which means seafood.
In the tale, each of the immortals uses his or her special powers to cross the waters. Here, the chef supposedly shows off his skill to create the restaurant's signature dishes. Clever pun, I thought.
However, the restaurant, which opened more than two months ago at the end of a row of shophouses along Serangoon Garden Way, does not look impressive. The dining area is a long, narrow room lined by PVC booth seats on both sides, with simple but functional decor. It looks like a typical neighbourhood eatery.
The menu, however, is not typical at all.
The restaurant's name also refers to a seafood platter called Eight Signatures (from $158), which comprises eight types of seafood - such as prawn, flower crab, scallop and grouper - cooked in a choice of broths such as tom yam and ma la (numbingly spicy). They are arranged prettily in a huge decorative trough. There is enough food for four to six people and it looks really impressive.
EIGHT SIGNATURES SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
87 Serangoon Garden Way; tel: 6282-3996; open: noon to 4am (Tuesdays to Saturdays), noon to 2am (Sundays), closed on Mondays
Price: Budget from $40 a person
But at my dinner, there were only three of us and I did not want to eat just one dish. To better judge the chef's skills, I opted for other dishes on the menu and there were many to choose from.
These ranged from common ones such as Singapore Chilli Crab ($48) to more interesting fare such as Stir-fried Prawns With Chinese Tea Leaves ($24).
The prawns were good. They boasted the sweetness and succulence of live seafood and the pu erh tea leaves were fragrant and so soft you could eat them.
The Fried Homemade Tofu Topped With Abalone Sauce ($16) was simple but delicious. The beancurd was smooth and tasty on its own and the sauce added layers of umami-laden flavours that complemented it well.
Another simple dish, Stir-fried Sea Clams ($16), also looked ordinary, but the flavour was just the right mix of sweet, spicy and savoury and the clams were fresh and not overcooked. I would have ordered a second serving if I had not wanted to check out other dishes.
The waitress said the Pork Tripe Chicken Soup ($18) was an individual serving, but added that there would be enough for four small bowls. As it turned out, each of us had two bowls and there was a generous amount of tripe and chicken as well, so it would require someone with a huge appetite to finish it by himself.
In any case, do order it. Even if you do not like tripe, the delicious milky soup would be worth it.
Not every dish was rave-worthy though.
If you like truffle fries, you might like The Signature Truffle Chicken ($22), which was sprinkled with truffle oil. But I am not a fan of the oil's pungent smell and might have liked the fried chicken better without it. But I wouldn't know unless they change the recipe.
The Le Garden Ngoh Hiang ($8) was not something I would order again either. The seasoning was too mild and the minced pork had no bite, which meant the dish had nothing to recommend it.
Another dish that suffered from too little flavour was the Marinated Cold Cucumber ($8). This Sichuan cold dish, which is very popular among the northern Chinese, should have a sour, sweet, savoury, spicy and garlicky sauce balanced by the refreshing cucumber. But the sauce here was just too mild and needed more vinegar, chilli oil and minced garlic.
For a side dish, it was a big serving though. So if you order this, you can skip the vegetables.
But because the prices here are reasonable, it is less painful on the pocket to try new dishes and find out what works for you and what doesn't.
It is also a good reason to go back for the offerings that make the grade.
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• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.