Chicken rice is undoubtedly a national dish in Singapore. While many of us get our fix from the local hawker, Chatterbox remains as one of the most famous locales that we’ve either dined at or at least heard of, mostly because it’s the most expensive chicken rice in town.
The heritage restaurant, which first opened in 1971 at the former Mandarin Singapore, is famous even beyond local shores: Hong Kong actors Jackie Chan and Patrick Tse, as well as Taiwanese singer Jay Chou have been spotted gracing the locale in the past.
Those who were bummed about its closure can rejoice, though. The restaurant has re-opened after a six month hiatus to ready itself for Mandarin Orchard’s transition to the Hilton Singapore Orchard, with an upgrade that cost the establishment close to S$4 million.
Brian Riady, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of OUE Limited shares, “Chatterbox is a brand that has evolved over time – we look forward to serving a new generation of customers, as well as welcoming our regulars – with their children in tow! More importantly, we want to become a dining destination for a solid and satisfying Asian dining experience – lively, unpretentious and worthy of many return visits.”
Here’s what to expect at the new Chatterbox, and how its chicken rice fares today:
If the last time you’ve been to Chatterbox was when it was located on the first floor of Mandarin Hotel, you’ll be in for quite a surprise. Since then, it has moved to level 35 (where Shisen Hanten is now located at) before relocating again to the fifth floor, where they are stationed at right now.
The space, flanked by entrances from both Mandarin Gallery and Hilton hotel, has been furnished with a stylish, modern, Japandi design. Apart from a palette of browns, greens, and creams, the restaurant’s details are also an ode to Singapore’s heritage. Think cleverly incorporated old-school ventilation blocks and white square tiled tabletops that harken back to HDB void decks. While you’re here, be sure to check out the botanical mural of local floral and fauna by local artist and illustrator Tan Zi Xi that runs length of the entrance walkway as well.
The 126-seater restaurant even has a bar now. Look forward to refreshing cocktails like the Chatterbox’s Punch, the restaurant’s take on the classic G&T that’s crafted with a 21-day vanilla, cinnamon, lemon, and banana-infused gin, and served with house tonic.
Home to the most expensive chicken rice in Singapore, Chatterbox used to sell plates of this dish at S$4.50 per set in the 70s, which was about four times the price of a plate at a regular hawker (S$1) then.
These days, the individual Mandarin Chicken set is priced at S$25++, while the half and whole chicken is priced at S$38++ and S$72++ respectively.
According to 61-year-old Executive Chef Liew Tien Heong, who has been with the restaurant for more than three decades, the recipe remains the same…ish, save for the cooking method. Instead of placing the chickens to cook in a tank of broth, they are now put in a steamer — the previous method resulted in the chooks on the top and the bottom coming out differently, and this new method retains the same taste whilst ensuring consistency in the dish. After steaming, they are left to cool under running water and room temperature. Yes, that means you won’t have that super silky gelatinous layer in between the meat and the skin that comes from cooling the chicken in an ice bath, but if you’re not up for that, then you’ve found your people.
Here, it’s plated with a bowl of aged jasmine rice that’s been cooked in a fragrant chicken stock with ginger, garlic and pandan leaves, which gives a much cleaner taste compared to other famous locales.
Chatterbox’s chicken rice is one for a bit of nostalgia, and although the combination of fragrant jasmine rice and succulent meat does makes for a delightful meal, we have to admit that it might not fare as well as amongst fans of popular stalls like Tian Tian or Boon Tong Kee, which pack an oilier punch in their rice.
While the chicken rice at Chatterbox may not have won over our hearts as much as we thought it would, we found delights amongst the other dishes here. The Sea Perch with Burnt Green Chilli is one such dish; here, a sea perch fillet is simply fried to reveal a firm, flaky flesh, before being crowned with a spicy, refreshing green chilli mix on top — best had with a bowl of rice to lap up all the sauce.
Other spicy dishes that are good with rice include the Mackerel & Crab Otah Otah. This one’s far from the average rectangle you’ll find outside: the incredibly thick slab of fish cake is generously stuffed with handpicked crab meat and mackerel, as well as a perfumed blend of lemongrass, shallots and coconut milk for that iconic Southeast Asian touch.
The menu has been neatened to exclude random plates of western-styled cuisine for kids, but we’re not complaining. Younger guests who can’t take the heat can always grab a bite of the velvety Hor Fun, or indulge in a serving of tangy Lemon Butter Tiger Prawns.
If you’re not up for chicken rice, Chatterbox’s famed laksa is also an option. A 350-gram Boston lobster sits atop a pool of incredibly lemak coconut milk gravy, propped up by thick bee hoon, quail eggs and gravy-soaked tau pok. The flavoursome broth is crafted with a simmered prawn stock and a lavish addition of rempah for extra thickness, so you’re bound to stay full till even after dinner. Trust us and get this to share.
No meal is complete without dessert, and since you’re in Chatterbox for a bit of nostalgia, we recommend finishing off with the restaurant’s Signature Coconut Ice Cream. The dessert, which has been around for more than five decades, now comes with two bumpy scoops of coconut ice cream. You’ll notice it’s rougher on the tongue due to the crunchy desiccated coconut that its been mixed with, complete with chocolate sauce swirls for the ultimate old-school feel. The entire treat is also topped with walnuts and tropical fruits.
Chatterbox is located 333 Orchard Rd, 05-03 Hilton, Singapore 238867. It opens daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch service, and 5.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner service.