SINGAPORE DAY 2011 SPECIAL FEATURE
Celebrity Hawker: Dragon Phoenix Restaurant
Featured Dish: Chilli Crab
Much to my surprise, the secret doesn’t lie in the sauce, nor the type of crab, but how much (or little) the crustacean is smashed - which determines the richness of flavours the diner will experience. THAT makes his chill crab stand out from the sea of competitors, and Singaporeans who will be at Singapore Day 2011 next month are going to relish it.
Executive Director of Dragon Phoenix Restaurant Chris Hooi reasons that their chilli crab is a claw above the rest because of how the shell is smashed, “If you smash it too much, the spiciness and the taste of the sauce will penetrate too much and you won’t get the actual flavour of the crab. It should be cracked in a way that it allows the natural juice and sweetness to be still contained within the crab itself. The sauce is another layer of enhancement to the taste.”
This understanding certainly didn’t come overnight, but wisdom gleaned from over almost five decades. Chris’ father, Mr Hooi Kok Wai, who’s Master Chef and Founder of the restaurant has been cooking chilli crabs, among other signature dishes, since 1963! Come April 2011, it’ll be exactly 47 years since he operated his first restaurant at Maxwell Road. The elder Mr Hooi has since moved his restaurant thrice before settling at their current location at Novotel Clarke Quay along River Valley Road.
(l-r) Chris Hooi, Executive Director of Dragon Phoenix Restaurant, his father & restaurant founder Mr Hooi Kok Wai, and Executive Chef Yuan Ai Fei
Dragon Phoenix started out as a 180-seater restaurant with 48 tables outside what used to be Metropole Cinema – what is today Fairfield Methodist Church. Mr Hooi is one of the two surviving Four Heavenly Kings of the culinary scene in the 1960s. Among their accolades, introducing the tradition of eating Yu Sheng. For Mr Hooi, he earned himself the reputation of creating eight dishes, including deep-fried Spring Chicken marinated with Chinese wine (popular among American sailors since the first outlet at Maxwell Road was near Clifford Pier), Spare Ribs, Yam Basket and the famed Chilli Crabs.
What goes into Dragon Phoenix’s Chilli Crabs? Spring onion, ketchup and sambal chilli and egg white to make the gracy thicker and smoother. Chris reveals that his father feels that “acidity is something that can enhance the flavour of seafood”. “It’s not meant to be too spicy, otherwise it will mask the freshness, the sweetness (and) the natural taste of the crab itself,” he shares. It is apparent that for father and son, bringing out the freshness of the crab takes priority over spicing up the dish.
Singapore Day 2011 in Shanghai will be their foray into this signature Singaporean event overseas. “We’re very glad to be part of this event. We’re also happy to see how Singaporeans overseas are doing,” gleams the elder Mr Hooi, as he switches from Cantonese to Mandarin.
Chris says that despite his personal involvement in the kitchen together with a dedicated kitchen crew, his father still makes hands-on visits to the kitchen. Speaking about his father, “The kitchen is part of his life, he has to be there and spend a couple of hours there daily to be fulfilled.”
It will be all hands on deck for father and son at Singapore Day 2011, who will be aided in the preparations and cooking on site by Executive Chef, Yuan Ai Fei. Chef Yuan who’s Shanghai-born, has been working at the restaurant for 15 years. He became a Singaporean more than 20 years ago and is now a specialist in Cantonese cuisine.
(l-r) Executive Chef Yuan Ai Fei with Founder Mr Hooi Kok Wai at the restaurant entrance
Be prepared to get your hands dirty this April in Century Park! Wet wipes not provided.
By Stanley Leong
Dragon Phoenix Restaurant
177A River Valley Road, #06-00, Novotel Clarke Quay Singapore (Liang Court)
Mondays to Saturdays: (Lunch) 11am to 3pm, (Dinner) 6pm to 11pm
Sundays & Public Holidays: (Lunch) 10am to 4pm, (Dinner) 6pm to 11pm