Chicken flambe dishes firing up diners here
A curious phenomenon has been blazing a fiery trail across various eateries and on social media.
Diners have been flocking to some restaurants - both Chinese and Western - for a dish of flaming chicken, where the poultry is literally on fire.
At most of them, the whole bird - roasted or oven-baked - is brought to the table skewered upright. It then gets a splash of alcohol - whisky, rum or rose wine - before it is set alight.
Diners who want to capture the moment need to have their mobile phones ready on video mode - preferably using the slow-motion function for added drama - because the flames usually do not last longer than 10 seconds.
The server then slices and serves the chicken.
According to restaurant owners and chefs, the dish has to be prepared hours in advance, from seasoning and drying the chicken to roasting it, so it is best to order it a day in advance.
Drying the chicken ensures the skin gets crispy.
The origins of the dish are not known, but some owners say they were inspired by roast chicken dishes they saw in Thailand and China.
Many also tell The Sunday Times they were the first to serve the dish here. But the early bird is likely to be De'Beer Garden, which has outlets in Jurong East and Sunset Way. It started serving its flaming chicken four years ago.
The dish includes a moat of soup with vegetables, mushrooms and tofu and is served over a charcoal fire.
Since then, more than six restaurants have started doing their own version - sans the soup. They include The Famous Kitchen in Sembawang Road, which introduced its oven-baked Volcano Chicken two months ago.
Owner Jeffrey Foo, 56, says: "During a trip to China, I saw a chicken dish where the chicken was presented standing up. But there were no flames.
"I find that when the chicken is flambeed, it helps to crisp the skin. I use rum instead of Chinese rose wine as I'm not keen on the smell of the wine.
"Now, regulars who return to eat the Volcano Chicken request that we switch off the lights, so that they can have a more dramatic video."
The dish's dramatic presentation is its main selling point, says Toa Payoh North zi char stall Yalong Bay's owner, Mr Tony Tan, 54.
He says in Mandarin: "When the dish is served, it is the cameras that 'eat' first, not the diners. Without the flames, it could be any other roast chicken. Also, when people at another table see the dish, they are likely to order it too."
The French art of flambeeing food is not new, especially for desserts and cocktails. But restaurants are now flaming up not just chicken, but other meat dishes too.
Russo-Hainanese restaurant Shashlik at Far East Shopping Centre has been known for flambeed desserts such as Baked Alaska and Cherry Jubilee since it opened in 1986.
Its founders had worked at another restaurant, Troika, which served the desserts from the time it opened in 1963 until it closed in 1985.
Recently, Shashlik introduced a dish called Blue Fire Ribs, a flambeed version of braised baby back ribs in Hainanese sweet and sour sauce.
Co-owner Alan Tan, 46, says he has observed that more people are whipping out their phones to capture the flambe moments.
He adds: "Mobile phones were almost non-existent when Shashlik first served our dishes.
"There's always something magical when dark rum is lit and poured on the Baked Alaska.
"It always draws delightful faces all around, full of anticipation."
Mr Francis Poulose, 49, managing director of food and beverage consultancy Poulose Associates, says: "The art of flambe is very much a part of fine-dining and old-school hospitality. When I was a hospitality student, I had to learn how to flambe everything, from crepe Suzette to duck a l'orange.
"I have not tried the flaming chicken dishes, but from what I see on social media, it looks rather dangerous and I'm not sure what effect it has on the chicken.
"However, if this is what is drawing the millennials of today to dine at these restaurants, then it's a very smart strategy."
Student Celine Low, 19, says: "I had seen a friend's Instagram post on flaming chicken at Yalong Bay and I told my family that we had to try it.
"We went last month and the dramatic firing of the chicken didn't disappoint. I liked that the chicken was tender too."
Sales manager Maria Lee, 40, who dined with her colleagues at De'Beer Garden's Jurong outlet last week, says: "The unique presentation of the dish piques curiosity and makes people want to try it.
"I could taste the flavour of the rose wine and the light flavour of the soup is not overpowering. It would be good if there were more vegetables.
"You have to eat the chicken first. If it boils for too long, the meat will become tough. It's nice and I would order it again."