In Singapore, Kelly Jie Seafood is something of an institution. The restaurant initially opened in 1998 under the name Mellben Seafood. As repute of its mouth-watering seafood began to spread, multiple outlets began to sprout, including the Mellben Toa Payah outlet which opened in 2006. Last year, the Toa Payah outlet was rebranded and named Kelly Jie Seafood, in honour of manager and owner Kelly Soon, who has for years, been affectionately dubbed "Kelly Jie" (older sister) by loyal customers.
"With its rebranding, we would like to give customers and diners an even closer affinity to our brand, and with my name fronting the name of the restaurants, diners will have greater confidence with our food, in terms of quality and consistency," says Soon.
This year, the chef behind the restaurant's delicious offerings - Chef Chin Chi Vun, brought the restaurant even more fame as he recently led a four-man team from the Singapore Society of Chinese Cuisine Chefs to a second place win at the Lee Kum Kee Cup 2017 World Championship of Cookery. Soon says Chin practised extensively in the days leading up to the competition and could often be found in the restaurant long after regular working hours. "After work, he often stayed back to experiment and try out new dishes," says Soon.
As a result, his dish of diced beef in satay-barbeque sauce nabbed him the runner-up title.
It is ironic that Chin's win came about through a meat dish, especially as his many seafood offerings are renowned throughout Singapore. Some of the restaurant's signature aquatic dishes include creamy butter crab, claypot crab beehoon soup, steamed prawns with black garlic and the popular poached crispy fried rice with seafood and bamboo clams in superior broth.
According to Soon, although the restaurant's dishes have a rich depth and complexity of flavours, they are actually relatively simple for home cooks to recreate.
"The poached crispy fried rice, for instance, is actually a very easy dish to prepare at home. It is also light and very healthy, and you can modify the ingredients if you like more vegetable or more variety of seafood. Texturally, it is very special, as there is crispiness and softness, with a hearty broth," she says.
The same can be said of the unique steamed prawns with black garlic, which is another delicious dish that can be replicated at home with ease. "This is a very special dish that seems elevated but requires little effort. A variation of the classic Cantonese steamed prawns with garlic and soya sauce, we have modified the dish to include black garlic and butter. Black garlic is well-known for its health properties and is a lot less pungent than the regular white garlic. The result is fragrant and aromatic sauce that is less overpowering to the delicate flavour of the prawns," says Soon.
Then there is the crowd-favourite creamy butter crab, which is the sort of dish that is great for families. "Creamy and rich, the sauce here complements the creamy texture of the crabs. It is a bit messy to eat, which makes it all the more fun for the whole family. As seen at the restaurant, our customers often slurp on the sauce and would be licking every drop from their fingers and shells," says Soon.
Soon says although the restaurant has been at the top of its game for years now, the team still constantly looks to innovate and come up with new dishes, in its bid to continue being the best.
"With Chef Chin's innovation and constant improvement on the dishes he creates, Kelly Jie Seafood is wholeheartedly dedicated to the diners' gastronomic experience. We have and still regularly create many interesting new dishes, adding a local or regional slant to many popular dishes to make them uniquely ours," says Soon.
For Soon though, much of the charm of the Kelly Jie eatery lies in the loyalty of its wide customer base, who have continued to frequent the outlet through the years.
"We have many local diners who visit our restaurants with the whole family on a weekly basis. We even have overseas customers who return to our restaurant every time they are in Singapore. The best feedback from our customers is when they return," says Soon.
CREAMY BUTTER CRAB
oil, for deep-frying
3 bird's eye chillies (cili padi), chopped
10 curry leaves
1 can Carnation filled milk
½ tsp chicken seasoning powder
4 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp potato starch
To prepare the crab
Clean the crab and chop into parts. Heat some oil in a wok or pan and using medium heat, deep-fry crab. Alternatively, blanch the crab in boiling water till cooked. Set aside.
To prepare the creamy butter sauce
In another pot, heat butter, cili padi, curry leaves and filled milk. Add chicken seasoning powder and sugar, and season with salt and pepper as required. Add crab, followed by starch. Stir-fry lightly till sauce thickens. Spoon crab and sauce onto a large plate and serve hot.
POACHED CRISPY FRIED RICE WITH SEAFOOD & BAMBOO CLAMS IN SUPERIOR BROTH
oil, for frying
100g cooked white rice
450g chicken stock
2 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked till soft then diced
10 white shimeiji mushrooms, diced
30g choy sum, diced
2 large scallops, sliced
6 Pacific clams, removed from shell and cleaned
30g cuttlefish, sliced
30g white fish, sliced
3 bamboo clams, removed from shell and cleaned
salt and pepper to taste
3 crispy rice crackers (traditional Chinese snack)
1 tsp minced garlic, deep fried till golden brown
Heat some oil in a wok or pan, and fry rice with egg. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat chicken stock till gently boiling. Reduce heat and add mushrooms, choy sum and seafood. Let it come to a boil, then remove from heat. Add seasoning to taste.
To assemble dish
Place fried rice in a large bowl, together with the crispy rice crackers. Gently pour soup and ingredients onto the rice and crackers. Add deep fried garlic. Serve piping hot.
STEAMED KING PRAWNS WITH BLACK GARLIC
100g black garlic, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
2 tsp minced red onion
½ tsp minced orange peel
100g chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
3 king prawns, deveined and butterflied, shells intact
1 stalk Chinese parsley, for garnish
sliced spring onions, for garnish
To prepare sauce
In a pan, heat butter over low to medium heat and gently fry black garlic, garlic, ginger, red onion and orange peel till fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and cook for another 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
In a steamer, steam prawns for 6 minutes.
To assemble dish
Place prawns on a plate, spoon out garlic, onion, orange peel and ginger and place on the prawns. Drizzle sauce over generously. Garnish with Chinese parsley and spring onions.