I’ve heard of this very much talked about restaurant in the Jing’an area of Shanghai. The tales of enormous queues and being sold out by 1pm had aroused my curiosity. The fact that they only sell primarily one dish — Hainanese Chicken Rice, got my attention. Needless to say, I had to go check them out.
I went down on a post-golden-week-holiday sunday, where most of the local Chinese had to go to work to somehow compensate for the 7 day holiday, by law. At 2pm, I had to queue for about 30mins. This is one of those places where you wonder if people are queuing for quality food, or because queuing firstly by requirement because the tiny restaurant could only accommodate at best 15 patrons at once. Hence, people who are curious would queue to try. Others would think that “Oh, there’s people queuing! This shit’s gotta be good!”.
To put the long story short in a super anti-climatic way, 5 Star Hainanese Chicken Rice deserves three stars, at best, four.
Five Star Hainanese Chicken rice is a Singaporean run chain, with several outlets in Singapore and Malaysia. The Shanghai branch was opened about a year ago. The actual restaurant is tiny. Infact, it is so small that the operations manager, Sebastian, had to sit outside on his scooter. I introduced myself, we had a quick chat, and later on my way out told him what I thought of the food.
The place was furnished to resemble a very rustic and traditional Singaporean coffeeshop. Simple white tiles, wooden tables and stools. It looked, and felt interesting. Definitely a change from the other places about. The temperature of the interior was also quite comfortable. There is no menu to be obtained. All of the restaurant offerings are written on the giant blackboard on the main wall.
It’s abit, of a gimmick, but I guess it got people talking.
At primetime, don’t even think about having a table to yourself and yourself alone. It is obligatory to share tables.
There’s not much service to be had, because you order what you want at the counter, pay, get handed a bill, and find a place to sit. The servers will then bring your food to you.
For me, the floor manager decided to take our orders, so that was a special case.
I had the iced milk tea, whilst my companions had the barley drink. Ice milk tea was sub par and sugary, which is kind of authentic, because that is generally the case for ice milk teas in Singapore coffeeshops, unlike those you find in Hong Kong. The barley drink on the other hand was quite bland.
Half chicken. We ordered half a chicken, and were given 2 complimentary side dishes. Not sure if this was special treatment or everyone who orders half a chicken gets the same deal.
The chicken was plated beautifully. I was pleased to find the chicken deboned. The skin was bouncy and had the sought after gelatinous texture, a sign of proper cooking technique. The meat albeit tender, was quite bland. It was a pity. This amounts to the quality of the poultry, and also the cooking technique, because I didn’t taste any spices/seasoning in the chicken. Normally I should be looking to detect some hints of ginger, spring onions and/or pandan leaf flavours. At RMB48 for half a chicken, it’s pretty good value in Shanghai, and because of such, you can’t expect the poultry to be of superior quality. While the chicken at Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice tasted fresh, there was very little fragrance in the meat.
Thankfully, the rice was quite fragrant. It wasn’t overly greasy, and was well seasoned with all the correct notes of ginger, pandan and chicken stock.
To complete the hainanese chicken tri-factor, is the trio of sauces; Chilli, ginger & spring onion and sweet dark soy sauce. The chilli sauce was quite spot on. The dark soy was the correct one. The ginger and onion mince was a puree, which was very weird. It is traditionally pounded, but in the modern day, a blended mince infused with oil is acceptable. This was a pasty puree, neither the right taste nor texture.
All in all, taking into consideration that this is Shanghai and all, and also the fact that they have a big competitor just a street away, this chicken rice package deserves a score of 7.5/10
Cold Tofu. This was Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice’s take on the local tofu with century egg, purely catered for the local palate because this is by no means a dish that is common in Singapore. That said, it was also quite lacklustre.
Firstly, I’ve never seen a restaurant so lazy as to just serve the tofu straight out of the box, with the ridges of the box still visible. Come on, it takes 10 secs to trim away the sides to form a perfect rectanguar block, and slice up into uniform slices, so more surface area of the tofu gets the sauce.
Speaking of the sauce, it was the only saving grace in the dish, a soy based concoction that was quite salty, but went quite well with the tofu. The fried garlic bits, or whatever they were, sprinkled on top of the tofu were hard, and at some point I thought they were some shells or something. It simply wasn’t pleasant biting into them. The century egg itself was de rigeur. On the whole the dish actually tasted quite nice, but the pitfalls of ignoring many details gives it a 7/10
The samba kang kong aka morning glory.
This is a dish close to heart, a very classic malay-chinese infused dish in Singapore; Chinese stir fry vegetable married with a fiery malay chilli sauce.
The one at Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice was superb, better than many of the ones I’ve had around Shanghai, if not the best. The samba sauce was spot on, and there was a hint of breath of wok in the vegetable. This goes down very easily with rice. 9/10
To conclude, I think Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice has potential, but they should try to focus the details and refining their dishes, especially when they only have a handful of them. When you walk into a specialty restaurant (one that specialises in only a handful of dishes), you really expect them to be 5 stars, unfortunately for now, Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice is only about a 3.5 for me.
Orchard CRC around the corner serves a more fulfilling hainanese chicken rice.
Molokai’s chicken rice isn’t authentic, but is consistently packed with more flavour in their chickens.