“Have you been here before?” asked the waitress, before setting the menu before us. Now THAT was a loaded question and a half. I mean, I hadn’t been to this branch before, but I did have a previous Simmer Huang experience (dare I say) at Eastwood.
I shook my head no, preferring to go with the former. That dinner at Eastwood was baffling, to put it nicely, and I didn’t want it to taint this lunch that they were nice enough to invite me to as well. The concept, the waitress continued in halting English, was that you ordered your raw ingredients, and it would get cooked at the table in front of you. So a little bit DIY, little bit theatre, and I could certainly live with that.
We look down at the menu, nay, checklist, and begin ticking off our choices. There was a slight sense that if we were to choose the wrong combination of ingredients, then the outcome would be entirely on us. No pressure. Our waitress, thankfully, chooses this time to swoop in to the rescue, with personal recommendations, and very subtle looks of disappointment when it looked like we were interested in the more pedestrian choices like Spring Onion Pancakes.
But who doesn’t like flaky, oniony pastry that shatters when you bite into it? I didn’t think so.
The Spring Onion Pancakes here, though, were actually pedestrian. It wasn’t particularly flavourful, and the pastry was slightly less flaky and more oily, coating your mouth with a shiny layer rather than shards of crispiness. On the upside, I didn’t need to top up my lip gloss.
Also in the do-not-order basket is the Hometown Chicken, though I really should know better when ordering poached chicken. Due to the health regulations in Australia, most chicken is cooked to death, and this one did not escape that fate. Sauce or no sauce, fibrous chicken breast turn to dust in the mouth, and if this was the only test of a restaurant then NO SOUP FOR YOU!
Thankfully, there were redeeming dishes too. The Signature Cold Tofu was a delicious nod to a humble peasant past, and the sauce had just the right kick of spice to give the delicate silken tofu flavour. The cold jiggly squares melted in your mouth – and on your chopstick if you don’t pick it up right – and was refreshing on a warm afternoon.
The Squid Balls brought out the 5-year-old in me, not just in the name (do they have any?) but also in the warm memories that came flooding back at this children’s party staple. No sausage roll for this Singaporean! Squid, Lobster or Fish, balls of this variety always have a bouncy texture that fries to a hint of a crisp on the outside.
But what of the main event: the hotpot?
Well, there certainly was a pot, and it was hot! Rather than the more popular style of cooking your food in boiling soup, this one involves our waitress layering the meat and veg in a wide sauté pan, before mixing in a house-made sauce.
The whole pot then bubbles merrily away while you pick straight from it. But what of all the extra bits that I ordered, like the noodles and mushroom?
Well, this is where a major part of my confusion at Eastwood happened. No matter how much you’ve ordered, you were meant to finish ALL of the hot pot meat that’s laid out in front of you – in our case chicken, squid, prawn, and pork – before they come by, add water to the thickened sauce and THEN cook your noodles. By which you might likely be full, or feeling a hole in your
heart meal that only noodles can fill. What if I wanted to eat my meat with my noodles, like many other bowls of Chinese food I’ve had before?
Though if you can overlook that, do order the noodles. They aren’t joking when they say “Hand-pulled noodles”, because you get to see it made at your table. Trés fun.
And if the chilli in the pot is getting too hot for you (see what I did there? Tee hee) then they have some lovely drinks too. The Lychee Cocktail is fizzy and sweet, and the Salty Lemonade is exactly like it’s described.
A scoop of boysenberry ice cream floats on a fizzy lemonade base that carries a hint of salt. Think less salted caramel, and more dried salted plum. It polarised our table (which wasn’t too hard because there were only two of us), and I just LOVED it because it gave me a break from the common soft drinks that are usually stocked in Australia.
On the whole, it was much MUCH more enjoyable than my time at Eastwood, though I can’t say if the bump in service is entirely attributed to the fact that I was invited. I did feel like everything was better explained, and that I wasn’t left to navigate the treacherous waters of checklist ordering – where the descriptions are brief, if present, and the instruction manual non-existent. The restaurant is also fairly large, with beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows that provide you a view of, well, not very much at all, but I do appreciate large windows for the natural light.
I still am extremely uncomfortable with getting my meal split in two, but then if that’s their style of cuisine, then maybe it’s just not for me. The portions are also built for 4 people, so if you are planning a cosy lunch for 2, then you might want to pack an extra two stomachs.
Or takeaway containers. Those work too.