If you're wondering whether the recently-opened Nan Hwa FishBoat at Owen Road bears any relations to the famed Nan Hwa Chong (Ah Chew) Fish Head Steamboat at North Bridge Road, the answer would be: "yes!"
In existence since 1927, one of the oldest charcoal fish head steamboat restaurants in Singapore finally unveiled its second outlet earlier this month in November. That's after 88 years!
We were at the new branch for dinner and my dining companion was literally swooning over their specialty fish soup. "Still so so so good after all these years!", he said.
It's easy to taste why the dish has been an endearing favorite for many. What an arresting moment when I had my first sip of the broth! Silky smooth and wondrously full-bodied in flavor, it was further scented with tinges of smokey aroma imparted by the burning charcoal embers.
I later learned that the soup base is meticulously slow-cooked with fish bones and a host of secret ingredients for over 5 hours using a recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. Indeed, there is no shortcut to getting things right on note.
The taste of each steamboat pot would probably differ a little depending on the choice of fish. Take your pick from Red Grouper ($38/$48/$68), Chinese Pomfret ($38/$48/$68) and Red Snapper ($28/$38/$58).
Our tastebud were pampered with the superb freshness of Premium Live Dragon Grouper 龙虎斑 (market price per kg). If you're looking for another rare fish to try, Potato Cod Grouper 金钱斑 (market price per kg) would be it.
Other ingredients that went into the fish pot such as cabbage, mushrooms and yam might be simple, but no less satisfying. We adored the oh-my-goodness so soft and melt-in-the-mouth yam pieces to bits.
Other zhi-char mainstays on the menu would probably hold many fond memories for regulars too.
Just to name a few signature dishes: Nan Hwa Signature Oyster Omelette ($10.80/$14.80), Golden Salted Egg Pork Ribs ($11.80/$15.80), Crispy Pork Belly with Fermented Beans ($9.80/$14.80), Shrimp Roll Delight ($8.80/$12.80), Four Heavenly Kings Vegetables ($8.80/$12.80), Yam Basket with 8 Treasures ($15.80) and Authentic Shan Lao Hor Fun ($6.80/$12.80).
New offerings are being introduced to the repertoire as well. In fact, the dishes were so well-received during the initial tasting sessions that they were launched earlier than planned.
Standouts include the crowd-pleasing Stir-fry Sambal Sotong ($11.80/$17.80) and tender Champagne Pork Ribs ($12.80/$18.80). Prawn with Golden Pumpkin Sauce ($18.80/$28.80) looked suspiciously like salted egg yolk prawn, until we tasted its vibrant sweetness which matched the firm crunchiness of the prawns beautifully.
Claypot Live Prawn with Glass Noodle ($7.80 per 100g) is another item to try for crustacean fans, but the soggy glass noodle proved to be a weak link. We thought those Korean-style with springy QQ texture would have worked better.
The clams in the Claypot Drunken Rice Wine Clam ($15.80/$20.80) dish were plump and fresh, but rice wine broth was a tad overwhelming for my liking.
I would not say all the dishes I tried that evening were hits, but the fish steamboat alone was sufficient to make the meal memorable.
It is the one goodness that has captured my heart, and I will make return visits just for it.
Nan Hwa Fishboat
Main Branch @ North Bridge Road
Address: 812/814/816 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198779
Contact: +65 6297 9319
Opening Hours: Daily 4am-1am
2nd Outlet @ Owen Road
Address: 93/95 Owen Road, Singapore 218907 (Farrer Park MRT Exit D)
Contact: +65 8613 2732
Opening Hours: Daily 5pm-11.30pm (11pm last order)
Prices stated are subject to 10% service charge and 7% GST.