Inspired by Chaoshan 潮汕 cuisine from the east of Guangdong where freshness is key, Chaoniu Hot Pot 潮牛火鍋 is the only beef speciality hot pot in Singapore. With the prevalence of mala hot pots locally, it is refreshing to see a different kind of hot pot, especially one that caters to my love for beef.
Here’s the story behind this store: the founders of Chaoniu tried this particular style of hot pot during their visit to China and were so impressed that they decided to bring this concept back to Singapore. They strongly believe that this unique hot pot would be a hit with Singaporeans—with a few tweaks.
With that, I visited this air-conditioned restaurant along East Coast Road to verify their ambitious claims.
The interior of Chaoniu Hot Pot is simple and sparse, save for wall graphics of various beef cuts. There are two types of beef cuts depicted; one commonly used by the Chinese, versus the Western version of beef cuts. You can notice the difference in prized or neglected parts between cultures.
As with what most Singaporeans familiar with Haidilao-style hot pot would expect, there’s also a sauce station which costs S$2 for unlimited sauces per pax, as well as pre-mixed sauces for pairing with specific dishes like the Rice Vermicelli.
Here’s where things get a little gourmet-geeky. After testing over 20 different suppliers, Chaoniu is proud to feature grain-fed US beef that is no more than two years old. The different cuts of beef used here are air-flown chilled and never frozen, then hand-cut in Singapore as machine slicers can only operate on frozen meat.
They explain that chilled meats are superior as frozen meats supposedly develop an acidic taste after defrosting. While I’m not entirely sure on that fact, I do know that frozen meats develop ice crystals that can tear apart fibres, making the meat lose its firmness if flash freezing is not utilized.
Well, anything goes in the pursuit of perfection.
There are four soup options here, though I’ll focus on just two of the restaurant’s most popular and unique soups. Back in Chaoshan, the soup base is a simple broth which is replicated here in the form of the Chaoshan Beef Broth (S$15), brewed using beef bones and ginger.
However, Singaporeans tend to prefer heavier flavours, which comes through in the darker Chaoniu Signature Broth (S$20), inspired by the hearty tangkak beef noodles that are wildly popular in Malaysia.
This broth uses tripe, tendon, brisket, shank and bones for a more robust soup base. I much prefer this signature broth although it veers from Chaoshan tradition.
Granted, though there is a dual pot option available for two soup bases, I’ve been told that a single pot is easier to cook with. A larger net ladle is provided for quick simmering of the beef—this is a traditional cooking style in Chaoshan hot pots.
The larger ladle area allows the meat slices to be cooked evenly without having overlaps which might conceal raw patches of meat.
Everything at Chaoniu is methodically thought out for an optimal tasting experience.
The recommended eating sequence at Chaoniu Beef Hot Pot is from lean meats to fatty meats, which is actually the opposite of how they do so in Chaoshan which values the natural flavour of meat more rather than fat.
In Singapore though, our heavier palates are more appreciative of meats’ full fattiness as the meal progresses.
Before diving into proteins, start the meal by tasting a bit of the soup base mixed with spring onions to whet the appetite.
Next, add in ingredients that require longer cooking timings like Burdock, Tendon and Beef Balls.
There are two variants of beef balls: the lighter coloured Tendon Ball (S$8) and the regular Beef Ball (S$10) with lean meat. The tendon ball is fattier with varying texture, and definitely more to my liking, again reinforcing that Singaporeans like myself are pretty biased towards fatty meats.
Now you’re ready to feast on the exquisite meats.
Depending on the beef cut, the order portions have a price range of S$8 – S$20. Each beef slice has a recommended cooking time down to the specific second for optimal tenderness so you don’t overcook the meat. I followed the instructions carefully, to savour perfection.
After trying the entire menu selection of beef cuts which come in 100g portions, here are my favourite cuts: Tongue (S$15), Burdock (S$12), Sirloin (S$18), Blade (S$11), Chuck (S$18) and Neck (S$20).
The fine-streaked Leg ($11) meat is one of the most prized parts in China due to its limited quantity of just 1% per cow. It’s recommended by the owners for its springy texture if you prefer a bit of a chew.
My favourite cut, in particular, is the Neck, a signature premium meat that is engorged with fat and takes just eight seconds to cook.
Another note-worthy cut to try is the Blade, which although lean, compensates with a burst of savoury iron more complex than rendered fat. I’d advise having an order that’s a mix of lean and fat meats to really balance out this beef journey.
A more exotic pick, Beef Organs (S$8), is also available which includes the heart, liver and lung. I’ve not seen these parts much in Singapore, which adds another plus point to this restaurant.
These offals are definitely not for the faint-hearted with their heavy odour. By default, the organs come in a platter of three types, but I’m more drawn to the beef liver which has probably the least gamey taste and a springy texture. You can pick just one type if that suits your fancy.
Another unique order is the ChaoZhou Vermicelli (S$3). Chaoniu is the only place in Singapore serving this silky soft rice noodles that are a must-try.
Don’t want to finish an entire bowl of beef noodles? Make your own mini beef noodle soup by ordering these delicious noodles.
After finishing all the meats, we were then directed to cook the vegetables briefly for it to remain crisp and also for the soup to remain clear. Personally, I prefer to boil vegetables like cabbage longer so it adds sweetness to the soup and becomes soft, almost melting in your mouth.
It’s up to you: follow the rules, or break them, I’m not the gastronomy police.
If you are looking for an all-you-can-eat buffet, Chaoniu is not for you. The focus here is on meat quality and I would recommend getting the Beef Feast Set (S$168) for a wider range of beef to taste, including premium and standard cuts.
There’s also a promotion wheel you can spin to instantly win a prize as long as you buy a hot pot, valid for your next visit.
It’s rare in Singapore to find such a large variety of beef cuts in one place. The variety and quality here at Chaoniu Hot Pot are deserving of praise although prices can get a bit steep depending on which cut you order.
This is shaping up to be a unique all-beef concept which is easily loved by hot pot obsessed locals, and allows appreciation across different textures and profiles of beef. Designed to be savoured in sequence for maximum enjoyment, I hope more people can check out and enjoy this spot, rather than frequenting yet another mala hot pot that’s a dime a dozen.
Psst, here are two exclusive promotions for our SETHLUI.com readers, valid till 9 January 2020:
Expected Damage: $30- $40 per pax
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 4 / 5
Chaoniu Hot Pot
195 East Coast Road, Singapore 428900
195 East Coast Road, Singapore 428900