In the midst of last week's high-profile opening of Long Chim by celebrity chef David Thompson at Marina Bay Sands (look out for a review of that in a couple of weeks after the restaurant settles in), another eatery has been doing business quietly in the integrated resort for the past month.
9Goubuli is named after a famous Tianjin bun called goubuli baozi, which traces its history back to 1858.
The story, which is printed on the restaurant's menu, goes that the bun was created by someone with the nickname Gouzi, or Little Dog.
His dough buns, filled with minced meat and a bit of soup, were so popular he had no time for small talk, so people started calling him Goubuli, which means Dog Ignores. And soon they called his buns that too.
Looks- and taste-wise, the goubuli is like a doughy xiaolongbao, with the dumpling skin swopped for a flour bun. But it boasts similar pleats on top; I count more than 20 of them on the buns at 9Goubuli.
The goubuli come with fillings of pork ($2.20 each), vegetables ($1.90), a combination of both ($2.60) as well as wagyu and vegetables ($3.50). The pork-andvegetable filling I try is tasty, but I wish there is more of it. You taste more dough than meat and I'd prefer it the other way round.
The bun itself is good, though, with the slightly chewy texture of a mantou rather than the fluffiness of a Cantonese bao.
But the other dishes on the restaurant's menu impress more. It offers a lot more than buns, with a huge selection of Sichuan, Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes, and most of what I have tried are very good.
The Shanghainese Wontons In Red Oil Vinegar ($6.50) are among the best I've eaten in Singapore, with a smooth wonton skin encasing a dollop of minced pork and drenched in a sauce with just the right balance of sweet, sour and spicy flavours. I order them again on a second visit and they are just as good.
Another dish that is very good is the Teapot Soup Of The Day ($12). It is a brew of Chinese herbs and chicken reduced to an intensity that makes you appreciate why you drink it out of tiny teacups - the better to savour every little sip.
Herbs such as wolfberries add a natural sweetness to the soup and I wish the teapot is bigger.
The roasts are quite decent, with the Chef's Special Roast Duck ($40 for half) boasting very crisp skin and tender meat. Any fault I can find lies with the duck, which should have a bit more fat, and not in the skill of the chef.
My favourites are the two vegetable dishes I order.
The Fried Chinese Yam With Black Fungus ($24) is a simple stir-fry of vegetables. However, it is not only delicious, but the textures of the ingredients also make this the star dish of the evening.
Chinese yam is called huai shan in Mandarin and its dried form is sold as a Chinese herb that is often used in soups.
But the one used in this dish is fresh huai shan, which is slightly slimy and has a nice, crisp bite. Black fungus, on the other hand, is crunchy, and the combination of the two vegetables results in a wonderful duet of textures.
The other dish is Claypot Fried Cabbage ($18), which is also very simple, but delicious, with the cabbage cooked till soft and sweet. Bits of minced pork are added to flavour the gravy and relieve the monotony of having just plain vegetables.
For dessert, try the Sweet Bean Paste Pancake ($12). The Sichuan snack is done very well here, with layers of crisp pastry enclosing a layer of smooth red bean paste. I also like that it is not oily.
The Tientsin Chestnut Bun ($4.80) sounds unusual, but turns out to be boring with a nondescript chestnut paste filling.
This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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