Tian Jin Hai Seafood Restaurant
600 Ponggol Seventeenth Avenue
Tel: 9768 8818
Opening Hours: Lunch 1130 – 1430 hours; Dinner : 1730 – 2300 hours; Weekend & P.H 1100 – 2300 hours
Tian Jin Hai is no newcomer to the food scene here. In fact, the seafood stall had quite a following during its 10-year tenure at the Kopitiam MacPherson at Jackson Centre.
When the hawker centre was closed in September last year, owner-chef Francis Yeo, 51, went on a month-long holiday in China and the plan was to reopen in the Rochor area after that. But when he returned, he found that the shop space would not be ready for another four months.
Not willing to sit idle, he went hunting for another location. Chance took him to the Marina Country Club in Punggol where a restaurant space had been left vacant for more than a year since Taiwanese chef Huang Ching-biao’s Chinese eatery closed down. Yeo took it over and reopened Tian Jin Hai last December.
Although the seaside restaurant is not air-conditioned, it is a far cry from the cramped, sweltering Jackson Centre. It has a view of the Johor Baru industrial zone and the spacious premises can fit 30 tables and a bar counter.
And instead of hawker centre-type tables and hard stools, you now find tablecloths and cushioned chairs. But now that it is no longer a hawker stall, prices have gone up accordingly, from a couple of dollars to as much as $10 more.
Nonetheless, you can get a good meal here for about $35 per person, which is comparable to what you pay at other local seafood restaurants.
The dish to go for at Tian Jin Hai is the unique steamed shark’s head (starting from $30 each) which Yeo claims to have created.
It is an unusual dish as the head has no meat at all. Instead, stripped of its skin, it comprises a cone-shaped bone to which are attached thick slabs of what look like a firm gelatin and have the texture of sea cucumber.
Yeo steams the shark’s head Hong Kong-style in a lightly sweetened soya sauce. It sounds very simple, but the sauce is just perfect for the dish, covering up whatever bits of fishiness it might have without being overpowering.
The crab dishes here are pretty good, especially if you like your crabs huge and meaty. The crustaceans are priced at $40 a kg, no matter how they are cooked. Although the chilli crab here is very popular, I prefer the crab beehoon.
The giant crab (about 1 to 1.6kg) comes sitting on the beehoon and broth in a deep dish. It is not overcooked and you can taste the natural sweetness of the plump slivers of meat. The broth is delicious too and the beehoon soaks it up like a sponge.
Another winning dish is the salt-baked red tilapia ($35 a kg). The whole fish, scales and all, is packed in salt and baked. When ready, it is removed from the salt crust and the scaly skin on both sides is carefully separated from the meat in whole sheets.
The fish is served standing on its belly, propped up by the sheet of scales on each side. This dramatic presentation, plus the white colour of the fish’s exterior, prompted Yeo to name the dish xueshan feiyu in Mandarin, which translates as ‘snow mountain flying fish’.
Looks aside, the fish also tastes lovely. It does not have any of the muddy flavour that characterises freshwater fish and the meat is smooth and moist.
Some of the cheap dishes are also done well here. The fried kangkong with cuttlefish ($10), for example, is cooked with just enough spiciness in the sambal.
The only drawback of the restaurant is its remote location. But there is a convenient way to get there even if you don’t drive.
The club runs almost hourly shuttle bus services from morning till 11pm to and from Punggol MRT station, as well as Compass Point, Rivervale Mall and Punggol Plaza during lunch and dinner hours.
I’ve eaten at their stall in MacPherson Road for a long time and especially loves their chilli crabs there. Standard has dropped a little over the years but still, it remains quite tasty. Am glad that I managed to find them again; although this time they’re located a bit further, I’ll be sure to visit them.
If you are adventurous, do try their famous steamed sharks’ head. Personally, I have not tried it before because I find the smell of the dish too fishy to stomach.