Dumplings. They’re everywhere in Singapore. A certain Taiwanese chain definitely dominates the dumpling landscape, but did you know that Singapore has its own homegrown chain as well, mamas? Jing Hua Restaurant launched on Neil Road in Chinatown way back in 1989, and the sparse, old-school spot still serves up steaming xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and their signature “Chinese pizza” to packed crowds today.
A second outpost opened in Bugis last year, but I was thrilled to be invited to try out the swanky new outlet right on Orchard Road. Located in the basement of posh Palais Renaissance, this newest location is like the original’s super-cool younger sister back from a semester in Paris. If it weren’t for the identical menu (which hasn’t changed since 1989 – why mess with what works?), you’d never know these two joints were related.
Trippy black-and-white striped floors anchor the elegant red and black colour palette. In a nod to the original location, there’s a gorgeous red dragon mosaic on the wall. It’s almost reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland; younger diners will definitely dig the fun, playful atmosphere.
The original location serves up its food on mismatched plastic plates; the Palais location brings out dishes on stylish ceramic trays custom-designed by local artist Francis Poon. The original has three beers on the menu; the Palais location has a full bar (with smart green tile splashback) featuring beers, whiskey, soju, and other cocktails.
In spite of this extreme makeover however, I’m happy to report that the soulful food remains intact. The yummy xiao long bao ($5 for 4 / $8.80 for 8), lovingly described on the menu as “Little Juicy Steamed Meat Dumplings”, feature an extra-silky, less floury skin and braised pork tender enough to melt in your mouth.
The Boiled Mixed Seafood and Pork Dumplings ($5 for 4 / $9 for 10) – the favourite dish of the Han Family, Jing Hua’s founders – have a slight sweetness to them without the heaviness I was expecting. The popular Pan-Fried Mixed Seafood & Pork Dumplings ($6.50 for 6 / $9.50 for 10) are crispy with a zingy flavour, but neither overly greasy nor too fishy.
The Noodles with Minced Pork & Soya Bean Sauce ($6.80) started out delicious – the noodles are soft and the sauce is comforting and warm – but they got a bit mushy as the meal went on (I forgot about this dish while I was stuffing my face with dumplings!). Nonetheless, they were warm and satisfying – perfect for the damp November day when I visited.
The meal finished on a high note, with the mild Sweet Osmanthus Flower Rice Ball Soup ($4), and the signature Crispy Red Bean Pancake ($10.50). Golden brown and topped with just the perfect dusting of sesame seeds, it’s baked to order so you get it hot and fresh out of the oven. Good as that sounds, it smells and tastes even better!
What I love best about this restaurant is how it effortlessly combines its sophisticated surroundings with its no-frills, classic menu. All but two items cost $10 or less, and I spied young children in high chairs at about half the tables during lunchtime. So whether you’re running errands with the munchkins in tow, or taking a break from a power shopping session with friends, I can enthusiastically recommend Jing Hua Restaurant to satisfy your dumpling craving, mamas!
Jing Hua Restaurant at Palais Renaissance
390 Orchard Road, #B1-04/05, Singapore 238871
Tel: (+65) 6733 8231
Open: Mon to Fri lunch from 11:30am to 3:30pm, dinner from 5:30-10pm; Weekends and public holidays all day from 11:30am-10pm
Reservations and private dining available