One key point to remember when attempting to make any national dish, especially Singapore's Hainanese chicken rice, is do your research. And while the results at Hainan Shaoye are somewhat mixed, at least the owner has done his due diligence. Tony Cheng (of The Drawing Room fame) went to Singapore in search of the perfect chicken rice set and came back with two of the leading authorities on the topic: Han Seng Fong and Arron Ye Siong Lai of the much respected Chatterbox in Singapore.
First, and most importantly, the chicken. A proper Hainanese chicken should be tender, have a soft texture, and should be flavoured by the broth it was cooked in, as well as by the chicken fat itself. On the menu are two types of chicken (at $88 per set): original and roasted. The original is cooked in a hot broth then immediately shocked in ice water. This technique prevents overcooking, as well as allowing the meat to retain its juices. A good sign for a well-made chicken is the film of gelatin that lies between the skin and the meat – which the shocking process helps create. As always, the quality of the ingredients is king. But here we had trouble tasting the chicken flavour at all. If you closed your eyes while chewing, it could have been any animal.
Luckily the roast chicken fared much, much better. The taste was powerful, and there was a nice underlying flavour of the Shaoxing wine. The meat was not only tighter than the chicken made using the original recipe, but also sweeter.
As for the rice, many have compared this bowl to a culinary heart attack as it is typically made with copious amounts of chicken fat. Here, the rice is cooked in chicken broth and herbs such as lemongrass, galangal and pandan leaf, making it a much healthier version as it is virtually fat-free. But we think a little bit of fat would have given the rice a better coating. The Thai rice, on the other hand, was a little too soft. It was a tad overcooked as the long grains were all broken.
One plus was that the sauces were wonderful. Kitchen-made chilli sauce, a smooth blend of ginger paste, and a dark, sweet sauce imported from Singapore made up the traditional trio. But it was the added bonus of the thousand-year old egg custard that amused us. Despite the fact the ammonia-like waft of the thousand-year-old egg was barely noticeable, the cream custard was an unusual way to increase the fat content of the otherwise bland chicken. In this instance, the egg most certainly came before the chicken.
One area that needs some serious refinement is the soup. We appreciate that it came in a teapot to ensure it remained warm during the meal, but it lacked flavour. And while we genuinely appreciate that they skipped the MSG on this one, it needed seasoning.
There are other classic Singapore dishes on offer at Hainan Shaoye, such as a simple, but delicious bak kut teh, laskas, and fish head curry but it is the chicken rice that will draw in the masses. Our recommendation is to get a tastier grade of chicken, add a bit of fat to the rice and improve the soup. It is close to Singapore greatness, but not quite there yet.
3/F, World Trade Centre, 280 Gloucester Rd, Causeway Bay, 2111 3166. Daily 12.30pm-11pm. Meal for two: around $200.
|Venue name:||Hainan Shaoye|
3/F, World Trade Centre, 280 Gloucester Rd, Causeway Bay