Last Updated: May 11, 2019
Those of you who love to travel to JB for a quick getaway will be familiar with You Kee XO Restaurant, a well-known roast meat eatery that’s been dishing out tender, crispy and juicy roast duck, char siew and roast pork belly for the past 23 years.
Well, we’ve good news for you. Now, you don’t need to travel across the causeway to get a plate of this absolutely gobsmackingly delicious roast meat, because it just opened a shop here in Joo Chiat!
Founded by Mr You Kee in 1996, You Kee XO Restaurant has four outlets in JB. The latest one has opened right in the ever-popular KSL Mall in February 2018.
Meeting Mr You Kee for the first time felt like I was meeting an old friend or relative. Humble and good-natured, he told us that prior to starting his own shop, he worked for other people and learnt from the best in the industry, ranging from Malaysian to Hong Kong chefs.
Even as he opened his first shop in Skudai, he was still personally washing plates while running the stall at the same time. A true testament of his hard work and earnest attitude towards sharing good food with the public!
Despite the fact that this outlet is now located across the border, Mr You Kee insisted on keeping things consistent.
Those who’ve visited its JB outlets will recognise the iconic round marble tables and chairs, as well as traditional decorations, such as navy green ceramic roof tiles and hanging red lanterns.
Another thing You Kee XO is famous for is its giant urns, which house tiers and tiers of herbal soup pots that are constantly being cooked over a charcoal fire for 15 to 18 hours every day.
You can spot two of its giant urns lining the front of the store, separated by a transparent protector. I’m not even kidding when I say each urn was giant. It was taller than me, and I consider my 163cm height to be quite average.
Fun fact: You Kee XO is the first in Johor Bahru to use giant urns to boil soup!
With permission from both Mr You Kee and the head chef, Chef Lim (who’s the brother of Mr You Kee), I peeked into giant urns.
I was amazed to find four tiers of ceramic pots lining a charcoal fire, which was emitting so much heat that I could feel it even as I held my camera above the urn’s opening.
Upon order, the chef or server will carry these ceramic pots out using a long metal tool and serve the piping hot pot to your table.
While You Kee XO Restaurant has dozens of herbal soup recipes, it only serves one every day for a standard price of S$12 per pot.
We had the 广西虫草汤 (S$12), which is caterpillar fungus (also known as cordyceps) herbal soup. While caterpillar fungus might sound repulsive to you, it has actually been used in traditional herbal medicine for countless centuries. It’s a potent anti-oxidant that’s known to treat fatigue, sickness and kidney disease.
The soup was one of the best I’ve ever had. There was a special kind of silkiness and smoothness to the soup, which you can only achieve through hours and hours of boiling.
The full-bodied soup had zero preservatives or additional flavouring and had a natural sweetness to it, the kind you’d only get if you used kampong chicken for the soup’s base stock.
The soup was incredibly warm, nourishing and comforting, and easily fed five to six people. For S$12 a pot, I’d say this is an absolute steal.
I was super excited to try You Kee XO’s Roast Meat Platter (S$23.80/S$33.80/S$43.80), since I knew this was what it was famous for.
It certainly didn’t disappoint at all — the char siew was caramelised and sticky sweet. When I gently lifted each piece off the plate, I saw stringy bits of fat and sauce drip down from the char siew, just like melted cheese.
Biting into each piece of char siew was like gnawing on a roasted, moist, tender and buttery sweet nugget of fat and meat. It had just the right ratio of meat-to-fat; not too gelatinous or jelak from too much fat, but not too stringy or tough either from too much meat.
The roast pork belly was roasted perfectly. When I raked my fork over the top of its crispy skin, there was that delightful rustle. And when I bit into the meat, the meat and fat melted in my mouth in one glorious mess.
Be sure to dip the roast pork belly into the chilli sauce! While it looks lethal, it actually reminded me of the chilli you get with chicken rice. It was tangy, with a good pungent spicy kick from the garlic and chilli, and it was nice and zesty thanks to the addition of lime.
To my surprise, while the roast duck had a slight herbal taste, the meat was still tender, soft and naturally sweet. It went superbly well with the honeyed ginger plum dip.
You can choose between White Rice (S$0.40/S$0.60) or Vegetarian Noodles (S$2) to accompany your meal.
While the Vegetarian Noodles were springy and came with an umami soy sauce, I recommend ordering White Rice so you can truly taste and appreciate the authentic flavours of the meat and side dishes as it is.
If you’re dining alone and ordering a meat platter isn’t ideal, go for the XO Roasted Duck Rice (S$4) or Pork Belly “Char Siu” & “Siu Yok” with Rice (S$7) instead.
A knock-out side dish I had was the Handmade Signature Bean Curd (S$8.80), which can easily feed seven or eight people.
Topped off with dried shrimp, pork floss, nori, minced meat and spring onions, the tofu was incredibly soft and silky, without that gritty aftertaste you’d get from commercially-made bean curd.
The sauce was slightly on the salty side but went super well with white rice, and the finely chopped spring onions added a touch of zesty sweetness to each spoonful.
If you’re dining with your family, definitely try the signature Steamed Fish Head/Tail with Green Ginger Paste (S$21.80).
This dish was a crowd favourite during my meal — everybody loved how the minty and zesty ginger paste complemented the soft sweetness of the fish, while the soy sauce gravy gave that needed salty kick.
We spent quite a deal of time trying to figure out what went into that mouthwatering green ginger paste, but Mr You Kee cheekily laughed and said it was the restaurant’s trade secret.
You Kee XO’s Mixed Vegetables “4 Treasures” with Sambal (S$8.80) came with lady’s finger, petai beans, eggplant and long bean, and was fried in a fragrant sambal sauce with onions and ikan bilis.
While I’m not the biggest fan of petai beans, I found You Kee XO’s rendition of this infamous vegetable surprisingly sweet. Sure, there was that notoriously smelly and bitter taste, but the aftertaste was delicately mellow and pleasant.
Dining at You Kee XO Restaurant was an absolute delight. The food was excellently cooked and a lot of thought went into each of its decade-long recipes.
For its portion and quality, the prices are definitely worth it. There’s no way you’ll ever see that bowl of piping hot tofu being sold for S$8.80, nor would you see a pot of herbal soup of that standard and size being sold for S$12.
The only gripe I’d have about the place would be that it doesn’t have enough seating to accommodate its growing demand. I’m already thinking of the next time I can go back there with my family or friends, just so I can introduce them to the stunningly tender char siew and the delicious sides and soup.
Expected Damage: S$4 – S$30 per pax
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 5 / 5
You Kee XO Restaurant (有记XO烧腊之家)
43 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore 427767
43 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore 427767