The Tanjong Pagar and Duxton area is part of Singapore that is absolutely teeming with the best restaurants, bars and cafes, and the Chinese eatery, Ju Hua Tai, is one of them.
Located at 9 Duxton Hill, Ju Hua Tai boasts a rather low-key storefront, with a simple neon light sign calling out to customers.
Upon stepping into the space, we were greeted by a dimly-lit space with beautiful neon accents adorning the room. The restaurant-bar specialises in Chinese cuisine, and even has an assortment of creative flower-infused cocktails and alcoholic drinks to go with your meal.
What I tried at Ju Hua Tai
The dishes that enticed me to pay a visit to Ju Hua Tai were their multi-coloured stuffed baos. Available in six different flavours, each bao cost S$8.80 to S$10.80 per piece. The baos were also available as a Bao Platter of 6 for S$50 for customers to try all six flavours at a cheaper price.
Starting off with the steamed baos, we had the Crispy Chicken Bao (S$8.80), filled with fried chicken and lao gan ma mayo. The chicken meat was thick and juicy, albeit a little on the tougher side. The generous lao gan ma mayo was a hit, as it was mildly spicy and creamy, providing the bao with lots of savoury flavour.
The Soft Shell Crab Bao (S$9.80) contained fried soft shell crab, radish and sweet curry sauce. My dining companion and I both found the batter of the fried crab to be too tough, but I liked the combo of the creamy curry sauce with the crunchy fried crab. The radish was crunchy and sweet.
The Scallop Bao (S$9.80) was the chunkiest of the baos, with tempura scallop, Thai baby asparagus, tobiko and adobo sauce. I loved the liberal amount of tobiko in the bao and enjoyed how each tobiko ball burst in my mouth, but the scallop was a let down as the batter was incredibly hard and tough. While the scallop meat itself was soft and nicely cooked, the batter was far too thick and difficult to bite into.
Despite the off-putting texture, the flavours of the Scallop Bao were still incredible.
Moving on to the fried buns, the Pork Belly Bao (S$8.80), filled with stewed pork belly and lao gan ma mayo, was my favourite of all the baos. The fried bun was light and slightly crisp while the pork belly was tender and easy to chew. Like the Crispy Chicken Bao, the lao gan ma mayo was savoury and tasty.
I was surprised at the aromatic flavours of the Beef Rendang Bao (S$8.80), which contained slow-cooked shredded beef and pickled cabbage. The beef was tender and had a nice coconut-like aroma. I was pleased at how the rendang taste was not absent. The pickled cabbages added a nice crunch too.
Finally, we had the Grilled Eel Bao (S$10.80), filled with eel and salted egg yolk sauce. The salted egg yolk flavour was a bit on the milder side so as to not drown out the eel, but was still evident enough to be tasted. The eel meat was incredibly soft and tender, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Aside from the tough batter of some of the fried proteins, I was impressed with Ju Hua Tai’s baos and I’m glad to say that they do taste as good as they looked!
Next, Ju Hua Tai’s Octopus Leg with Thai Vignette (S$32) was a sight to behold with its gorgeous garnishing, homemade Thai vignette sauce and a side hummus.
The octopus was very well-seasoned and full of flavour. As someone who typically dislikes octopus, I quite liked the smokey and salty taste of the grilled octopus leg. It was a bit chewy in texture, but the garnish, which consisted of ingredients like romaine tomatoes and apples, was incredibly refreshing.
Ju Hua Tai’s Mala Chicken Popcorn (S$15) made for lovely snack, as each bite-sized fried morsel was crunchy and nicely seasoned. The texture of the chicken meat was on the chewier side, and I found that the mala element wasn’t very strong. Generally, I thought that the Mala Chicken Popcorn was more suitable for those with lower spice tolerances.
The Ma La Mushroom (S$10), made with king oyster mushroom and spicy homemade sauce, was a delicious side dish as the mushrooms were coated nicely in the umami, slightly spicy sauce, acting as a great palate opener.
The Szechuan Cucumber (S$10) dish was refreshing with fresh pieces of chopped Japanese cucumbers mixed with Szechuan sauce, garlic, sesame and soya beans. I did find it to be too salty after a while, so I think the Szechuan Cucumber would be best eaten in between bites of the other dishes.
The Szechuan Spicy Dumpling “Chao Shou” (S$13 for 5 pieces) was served in homemade chilli oil and chopped peanuts.
The dumpling skin was soft and silky, while the meat fillings were tender. I especially enjoyed the chilli oil, which was fragrant and flavourful.
Finally, we enjoyed Ju Hua Tai’s signature cocktail, Chrysanthemum’s Secret (S$23), made with chrysanthemum-infused gin, lychee, raspberry and elderflower liqueur. Served in an oriental teacup with a chrysanthemum flower-shaped jelly inside, we loved the presentation of this cocktail.
Chrysanthemum’s Secret was sweet with a strong floral aroma, and I found it incredibly refreshing. The alcohol taste was minimal, which made it even easier to down in one go!
Ju Hua Tai serves delectable Chinese food with fusion twists. While I had initially only been interested in the bao platter, their other dishes impressed me too. The stunning presentation of each dish, combined with the chill atmosphere and romantic lighting, makes Ju Hua Tai a perfect spot for a delicious dinner or a late-night drink.
Expected damage: S$10 – S$40 per pax
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Price: $ $
Our Rating: 4 / 5
Ju Hua Tai 菊花台
9 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089593
Ju Hua Tai 菊花台
9 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089593