I like wandering malls on those few holidays when most shops are closed – Christmas in London, CNY here. Maybe, as a reaction to the festival, it has the same logic as the people who go overseas during this period – just to get away from the socialising that would be necessary if they were here. It’s also interesting to see which few places are still open.
To find that Riverside Grilled Fish is among the open restaurants, though, is a real surprise. Of all the Asian imports in the Raffles City basement, only the ones from China and Taiwan showed up. But unlike neighbouring Din Tai Fung, Riverside was not rammed to the gates with white people. In fact there was only one white guy, at the next table. We’ll get to him shortly.
A Chinese import with scores of outlets in the mainland, Riverside does have the look of a chain, the decor taking after traditional Chinese inns – bamboo screen doors and facades, mainly, adorn the large space. And the ‘grilled fish’ is really a hybrid style, originating in Wushan near Chongqing. Grilling gives the fish aroma and texture. But the taste comes from being cooked in a sauce of your choice.
So the menu is based around these choices – you can have a sea bass or a grouper, and four sauces from the mildest black bean sauce to the ‘fragrantly spicy’. Besides that, there is a choice of sides to be cooked in the sauce along with the fish, and a few other offerings. But there is no doubt as to what you’re supposed to get here.
Given this is Chongqing cuisine, ‘fragrant’ translates to ‘dangerously flammable’, so we opt for grouper with black bean sauce. The fish comes buried in a pile of crunchy, refreshing celery to balance the saltiness of the black beans, while its meat itself is mild and delicate. A hint of mud and fishiness, which would be off-putting in a steamed fish, has a better effect when the fat is rendered by grilling, mixed in with the sauce and the pile of caramelised onions beneath.
Fried rice with sausage and egg is well-executed too, the rice fluffy and just dry enough and the sausage chopped roughly enough to still have texture. It is served in a bucket, and actually feels like a bucket in volume, a good balance to the hefty flavours of the fish.
The hapless white guy at the next table, though, has no comfort from rice. He has been led here by his companion, who clearly is after a spicy meal for herself and has ordered the fish ‘fragrantly spicy’. As she rummages among the dried chillies, she asks him about the reunion dinner he’s been taken to earlier. His expression, staring at the crimson tray of fish, could have inspired Edvard Munch. So approach that with caution.
Riverside Grilled Fish 江邊城外
225 North Bridge Road
Raffles City, #B1-06/07
Contact no.: 6352 2035
Hours: Daily, 11am – 10pm