Makansutra: JB's You Kee XO Restaurant and its volcano tofu arrive
You Kee's hottest dish will make your taste buds erupt with delight
Believe me, the real thing looks way more stunning.
The entire stone pot has a deep-fried tofu sitting above a bubbling, steaming and smokey pool of "active volcano lava" meat sauce. And it stays that way for quite a while.
I have tried You Kee XO Restaurant's food numerous times at its outlets in Johor Baru over the years, but now that it has set up shop in Joo Chiat, I no longer have to brave the long Causeway queues to relive this tofu joy.
The first thing I asked was why Singapore, with its high cost and manpower woes.
Boss Lim Chan You, who hails from Johor, says it is his family's wish as they have been living here for over a decade.
I have to applaud their intent.
It is not easy to set up such manpower-heavy - there are at least four staff in the kitchen and four outside this first-storey corner pre-war unit - and skill- reliant restaurants in Singapore of late.
But they stuck to their guns and set up this retro Malaysian-Chinese eatery with an open concept, air-curtained and in air-conditioned comfort.
But back to that volcano tofu ($8.80), which comes topped with minced pork and a pile of deep-fried chopped kailan greens set above with scallions.
Almost every table has an order of this and watching the servers cart it gingerly across the hall, all smokey and aromatic, is a sight to behold, like they were holding amber charcoals in a stone pot.
The tofu had a firm skin and it was mushy-soft inside, so easy to rip apart with just the usual pressure from a spoon.
The bubbling sauce and the minced pork with the shredded fried greens immediately flood in, and you just have to devour on sight.
Put this over a bed of rice and it is reason enough for me to return.
You Kee XO Restaurant has been around for over a decade and its specialities are the roast meats and "dragon urn" steamed soups.
The menu is simple and the main starter trio of a platter of roast duck, crispy pork belly and sticky soft and roasty char siew (from $23.80) beckons on the first page - do not miss out on this if you are in a group.
I did not guess (and they would not tell) which part of the pig was used for the char siew, but the fat and meat balance was sinfully good.
The roast duck was doused in a duck sauce and the sio bak featured thin, crispy-crackling pieces of moist meat.
The soups, which come in limited portions each day (about 50 pots at $12 each), are steamed in a woodfired dragon urn for about 17 hours.
The soup menu changes and I enjoyed the simple lean chicken with tian dong (dried Chinese asparagus).
The meat was so soft it was falling apart as I scooped it, and the sweetness of the tian dong was subtle and comforting.
Other items that warrant attention are the stone pot belly pork and salted fish with chilli ($8.80), sizzled with thick sos pekat (thick caramel soy sauce) and absolutely for rice-loving gluts, as well as the Nonya fishhead ($18.80), which had a correct balance of sour and spicy, punctuated with traces of blue ginger flower bits.
Welcome to Singapore, chefs - we know we will enjoy your stay.
You Kee XO Restaurant
43 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: 9733-8613 (Ah Hon)
Opens 11am to 9pm daily