During my last trip to Taiwan, I caught on tv a food feature programme showcasing one of the capitols Ma La steamboat. The presenter made it look so good that I was utterly tempted to hop onto a taxi and make my way there just to try out the spicy broth that was accompanied by fresh fish, meats and vegetables. If not for the availability of time as I was flying off on that particular day, I would have been there at the restaurant sweating it out.
Nonetheless, when I returned to Singapore, I chanced upon the invitation by Xiang Xue Hai, a newly opened Szechuan Hotpot restaurant. It was a spicy fantasy for me that I felt would revitalize the dreams I had in Taipei.
The restaurant places key emphasis in its authentic spicy szechuan steamboat broth but catered towards local palates. Otherwise, if you are still keen on the original adventure, simply request it from the service staff and they will present you with the missing key ingredient – Szechuan Peppercorns in the soup base. Enough to make you go numb crazy, sweatingingly hot and with a fanatical desire for more, more more.
If you call for the Signature Red Hot Pot, Signature Clear, or Yin Yang Hot Pot (which is the combination I had above), you will be served with a whole live fresh seabass to enjoy with the steamboat. The seabass is filleted and the service staff will cook it for you so that you will be able to enjoy the optimal tenderness, sweetness of the fish itself.
For the Yin Yang Hot Pot, two slightly different soup dips are presented. The ones of the right consist of spring onions, roasted soya beans, preserved radish and are meant for the clear broth. The ones on the left have an additional ingredient of a bean paste in the center and according to Lynn, the MD, they go very well with the spicy red hot pot.
And oh, did I mention that for the spicy red hot pot, you can go with 3 levels of spiciness for that sweaty seeking adventure?
Served up, I quite enjoyed the fresh sea bass in the clear broth. The dip, with the roasted soya beans left a crunchy bite to each sip and the slightly salty aroma of the soup itself matched well with the fish. Needless to say, the fish was good.
When it comes to the spicy red broth, the soup is a little bit more salty and naturally more oily. But I felt that if the oil was removed, much flavour from the dish would be gone, so I requested to leave it there. Otherwise, for my moderately mild version of the soup base, the spiciness was just right for my palate with just enough sweat to find the air con environment almost non-existent. Still, it was enjoyable and out of the two bases, my marks will go for this spicy red kick.
The beef and pork belly slices are without doubt fresh and odourless. I paired the beef with the clear broth and the pork belly with the red hot soup base. Very nice combination and delicious with the garlic oil and traditional bean paste dip provided.
The Handmade Prawn Paste served in Bamboo once cooked in the hotpot, resulted in a soft malleable savoury paste that was both meaty and rich in flavour. Pluses if you like it soft, minuses if you prefer it firm. And the bamboo I have to say is more aesthetic than anything to do with improving the flavour.
When the Golden Fish Solo was presented, my immediate thought was ordinary fish balls. Yet, these little balls of goodness were to surprise me when after cooking it in either broth, a juicy interior similar to that found in Xiao Long Baos erupted upon the first bite. In all, the balls were soft and tender, making it a delectable experience altogether.
The Beancurd Sheets as told to me were a particular favourite amongst diners. Somehow, the crispy pieces when swaddled in the spicy or clear broth for 3-4 times would naturally absorb the rich flavour of the soup, giving a savoury umami bite that will reveal the tastiness altogether.
There was also a serving of Handmade Prawn Dumplings and Sichuan Dumplings. Apart from their handmade dumpling skin which was a little thick but goes well in giving a firm bite, the filling was quite average.
As a final staple to the entire hotpot fiesta, Lynn served up a bundle of sweet potato vermicelli. Having cooked this before, my experience was that the translucent noodles will soak up the flavours surrounding it and with its springy bite, a bowl of it becomes a hearty meal in one.
I matched the noodles with the Red Hot base and because of its more oily nature, the noodles were flavoursome and utterly sinful.
When it comes to the desserts and drinks, I would have to agree that they were thirst quenchers and provided a balance to the spicy nature of the entire meal. For this tasting session, the desserts that arrived were the Avocado Avalanche, Mango Glaze, Mango Twister, Mango with Sago and Pomelo and the Osmanthus Red Bean Delicacy (below).
Most of the desserts were pretty ordinary in taste and I believe could do better if a “wow” factor is needed.
Still, I personally enjoyed the Osmanthus Red Bean Delicacy the most as its nutty yet earthy texture was compelling to the taste. Also, with its delicate fragrance from natural aromas and osmanthus, this was what I would consider an excellent way to end the meal.
Indoor and Outdoor dining is available upon request. And with the ambience and decor being simple and stylish, this looks like a perfect place for my next class gathering.
All in all, Xiang Xue Hai serves up a good pot of spicy steamboat that with its 6 different varieties of soup bases will appeal to many. While the varied ingredients may be a little ordinary, the excellence comes from its freshness in quality of food and the overall dining experience that leaves one feeling comfortable and relax after the entire meal.
Just imagine, a cold day with rainy weather and you are enjoying a steaming pot of spicy Sichuan hotpot under the sheltered alfresco dining area. Very nice? I have to agree.
This lunch was an invited session by Xiang Xue Hai. Thank you Clement and Lynn for hosting the event.
|Xiang Xue Hai|
The Atrium @ Orchard
60B Orchard Road
Next to Plaza Singapura
Tel : 6338 1680