Dragon Phoenix at Novotel Clarke Quay

collageIn 1938, the Cathay Building and Cinema was opened. At 17-stories, it was the tallest building in the whole of South East Asia. It housed the very famous Cathay Cinema, a bar, a lounge, a Barcalounger, luxury apartments and the Cathay Restaurant. Of course, this blog could be wrong as he is making some of these up.

Cathay Restaurant, being the talk of the town then, was a very popular restaurant. Things were so busy that four young but harried apprentices invented the very first DIY Chinese dish. “Let the damn guests do the work for once,” you can imagine them saying, “let’s just dump all these spare vegetables, fish, leftover sesame oil and whatever’s left in the bottles and let them mix it all up themselves!” Thus, Yusheng (é±¼ 生), the famous Singaporean Raw Fish Salad was born.

IMG_0003The four apprentices were later crowned as the “Four Heavenly Chefs” by a Chinese Food Authority (from China) because of their mastery and ingenuity (ha!) of the Cantonese Cuisine.They were Tham Yu Kai (the pack lead), Sin Leong, Lau Yoke Pui and Hooi Kok Wai.

And in 1963, Chef Hooi Kok Wai opened the Dragon Phoenix Restaurant.

The Dragon Phoenix Restaurant claims to have invented several dishes such as the “Truly Singaporean” Chilli Crab (in 1963), the Yam Basket, the Kyoto Spare Ribs and the Phoenix Spring Chicken, some of which have been extensively reproduced “more than a million times since the early 60’s” as the literature exclaims.

Coming back to the present, this blog discovered that the Dragon Phoenix Restaurant had moved to the Novotel Clarke Quay. This is the hotel formerly known as the Hotel New Otani. And no, this blog does not know if there is an “Old Otani”.

IMG_0054The restaurant has a very perculiar system when it comes to corkage. If you bring one or two bottles, it’s free. Bring more than that and a corkage of $15 per bottle applies. This blog explained that it did not make sense as if we have a ten-course dinner for 8 persons, we would need at least ten bottles for every one to have a glass of wine for each course; a 750ml bottle of wine serves 7-8 glasses. The lady on the phone confounded matters by stating that a bottle of wine would only serve 4 glasses. In the end, a flat fee was agreed-upon with the Restaurant Manager and we were all ready for dinner. 😉

The Set Meals were decent but uninspiring so it was decided we would go Ala Carte. TTC then chose the rarely seen, old school dishes and some of Dragon Phoenix’s signature dishes. As we’ve had crab recently, the “Truly Singaporean” Chilli Crab was given a miss.

The fried Shark’s Fin with egg was mistaken by a lot of people to be fried rice. This blog has not had this in years, so it was a happy sight.

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Served on a piece of lettuce (this is a modern addition), the soft sweet egg was complimented by the springy gelatinous slivers of Sharks Fin.

Instead of Chilli Crab, the Peking Duck was ordered. This blog remembered enjoying the Peking Duck at the last visit. The presentation of the duck is a curiosity reminiscent of the Fig Leaf Campaign instituted during the time of the Counter-Reformation in the Sixteenth Century in an attempt to restore a sense of decency.


All sense of propiety was restored as the skin of the duck was wrapped in egg-flavoured wrap. The skin was crispy but not dry and the egg-tasting roll enhanced the sweetness of the skin unlike the usual plain flour wraps.

The Phoenix Spring Chicken was another house specialty. I love this and try to order it where possible.


Thick, juicy with crispy skin dipped in a mixture of pepper, salt and a little Five-spice powder, I have to say that this is still one of the best crispy skin spring chickens available.

Unlike, say the Japanese, Chinese cuisines tend to be more reliant on sauces. Coupled with the misconception that tenderness means softness, this often leads to a disasterous result. That being said, the Chinese-style Beef Steak was a disappointment.


You can almost taste the liberally-used tenderizer being used if not for the heavy-handed application of sweet sauce that contained the ever-famous A1 Steak Sauce. The result was an undiscernable meat with brown sauce.

The other signature dish we ordered was the Yam Basket. Another Dragon Phoenix creation, this was inspired by the Buddhist Monks who would walk around collecting alms in their bowls. Chef Hooi fashioned a bowl out of yam and filled it with vegetables. The original Yam Basket was vegetarian. Only after some time were pork, chicken and/or prawns added.


This used to be a regular feature in wedding dinners in the 70’s. I always looked forward to this (and the spring chicken) when I was invited.

The sweet Yam is crisp and fragrant on the outside and very soft on the inside. The capsicums provided some acidity to control the sweetness of the yams, but this was lost on me as I savoured the memories of childhood bliss.

Finally, the traditional carbohydrate dish at the end of all Chinese dinners arrived. The E-Fu noodles was cooked with the remaining Peking Duck meat.


I love E-Fu noodles, but somehow, this failed to satisfy as it was too oily, the noodles were lifeless did not take on the flavours of the duck. Even the application of sweet chilli failed to boost the tastebuds.

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Dragon Phoenix had just recently moved into its current premises at the Novotel Clarke Quay. Chances are the new Taiwanese Chef has not really settled in yet. It was a quite Sunday night as we sat down for dinner. Service was friendly and attentive as there weren’t many diners around. This blog was pleased that the signature dishes were just as good as I remembered it to be and delighted that the old school dishes like Fried Sharks Fin was still available. In the current rush to innovate by wanton fusing of different cultural cuisines, it is always comforting to know that there are places where you can slow down and reset your palates.


The Dragon Phoenix Restaurant is at 177A, River Valley Road, #06-00 Novotel Clarke Quay Singapore (Liang Court), Singapore 179031, Tel: (65) 6339 3368, Fax: (65) 6339 3383.

Posted on 21st Jan 2007 in Cantonese, Food and Drink, Old School


There Are 4 Comments


TTC commented on January 23, 2007 at 8:02 pm

If they still have the white asparagus with shredded chicken and ham aspic, it would have completed my childhood memory of this restaurant.


hinata commented on January 25, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Wedding dinners in the 70s? You’re dating yourself… I don’t think I had even made it to solid foods then 😉


Ivan commented on January 25, 2007 at 6:12 pm

@hinata: I am much older than you dear. Alas. 🙂


food.recentrunes.com | Makankakis at Jing Long commented on January 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm

[…] the Chinese New Year was couple a weeks away, we had the traditional Yu Sheng which is more or less a Singaporean invention. It has become a tradition where Singaporeans will gather at the table to toss the […]

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