Started by Hooi Kok Wai, otherwise known as one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Chinese food, they have moved from Middle Road to Maxwell and finally, now at their present premises in Liang Court.
There has been a recent debate on whether Yu Sheng or Lor Hei was started by Singapore or Malaysia, and my personal view is that it does not really matter in the end.
According to his Mr Hooi's son, and Mr Hooi himself, Yu Sheng was a New Year dish that they came up with for people to begin an evening of festivities, and eventually it became more of a tradition to stand up and toss this salad like dish as a toast to the coming new year.
|Yu Sheng ingredients|
Yu Sheng and Lor Hei has also certainly evolved over the years. But the core ingredients remain largely the same. The finely cut vegetables, the sweet plum sauce, the raw fish (usually salmon these days) and the crunchy crackers constitute this celebrated dish.
|Dragon Phoenix Yu Sheng|
For Dragon Phoenix, being the pioneer of this dish, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they did mix the ingredients in a rather different manner from most restaurants.
The sauce is actually mixed first in the plate before tossing in the rest of the ingredients. The result of this is that it looks more like rojak in a way, and yet the ingredients were much better infused with the sauce.
As for the dish itself, I must compliment it as the best yu sheng I have tasted thus far. The flavors were bursting in my mouth, and the textures were incredible. Every bite had a mouthwatering experience that it is really hard to describe.
We have had yam pots almost everywhere these days, and to find good ones is also a bit rare as well. Again, I was surprised to learn that Mr Hook was also the pioneer of this dish. And the story behind this dish was even more intriguing.
You see, when Mr Hooi was courting his wife, his wife was raised by nuns and they were vegetarian. Mr Hooi thus had to concoct a vegetarian dish to serve to the nuns and in a way, to score some points. Well, he eventually came up with this yam pot dish, which originally, had no meat in it.
As for the yam pot served in Dragon Phoenix, it also looked very unusual, as the top of the yam pot had this explosion look that was both different and spectacular.
Tastewise, it was marvelous. The deep fried texture of the yam was flaky and crispy, and did not exhibit the floury flavors of other less well made yam pots. Inside, the ingredients were well cooked and seasoned and combined well with the crispy yam.
Besides these 2 dishes, Dragon Phoenix is also well known for coming up with the original chilli crab, and a host of other classic Chinese dishes that we know so well today.
Mr Hooi's son now leads the restaurant, and he is keen to continue in his dad's footsteps. He is also part of the younger generation that aims to market his dad's classic dishes to a more youthful audience as well.
Dragon Phoenix is indeed, a true Chinese classic.
Dragon Phoenix Restaurant
177A River Valley Road
#06-00 Liang Court (via Novotel Clarke Quay entrance)