Jalan Besar seems to be one of the most vibrant areas anywhere in Singapore to explore new local and international tastes. There was no deep investigative journalism that led me to that conclusion— I just keep seeing those huge congratulatory flower bouquets again and again along the rows of eateries there! Khoi Grill & Hotpot by Imperial Saigon is another to join the competitive crowd.
Despite Singapore’s relative proximity to Vietnam, their cuisine is relatively not as popular here as the fare of other nations. It was only fitting that I tried it for myself to uncover whether that was because of a general lack of awareness or because the cuisine itself was so different that it didn’t gain traction here.
When I wandered inside Khoi Grill & Hotpot a few days back, I learned that the word ‘khoi’ is Vietnamese for ‘smoked’, a reference to the charcoal pot they use for BBQ. My eyes also fell on the quaint old school gas heaters used for hot pot, giving the place a more homely feel than the modern electric ones so common nowadays.
What I tried at Khoi Grill & Hotpot
Truth in naming personified, Khoi Grill & Hotpot gives you two cooking options: grills and hotpots.
It was a revelation that Vietnamese cuisine is extremely heavy on meat and seafood. Every combo option is a smorgasbord from the fields and the seas. However, they balance it out with brightly-coloured veggies that make for a delicious infusion of flavours.
Diners have the option of ordering combo sets or a la carte meat. We tried the S$38 Hot Pot Platter which came with lala (cockles), prawns, sliced beef and sotong.
It was served with tom yum soup, vegetables (kangkong, cabbage, tomatoes and lady’s finger), and thick bee hoon. Some of the more elaborate platters at Khoi can cost up to S$88.
For the grill, we tried Khoi Combo #4 (S$48), which came with pork skewers, beef tenderloin with bbq sauce, pork belly wrapped enoki, and octopus with chilli. Accompanying them were 3 in-house sauces. I could tell that the green one had a significant portion of wasabi in it and the orange was chilli-based. My favourite was the brown sauce which was just nicely balanced between sweet and spicy. Just like me. Hah!
For someone who loves her meat and has tried it at so many hot pot restaurants, I was surprised at how tender the meat here was. The pork skewers were especially amazing, super soft and easy on the chewing. It gave sort of a pleasant combination of crispy yet soft when grilled.
A close second to the pork skewers was the beef tenderloin. Khoi marinates their meats in-house with authentic Vietnamese spices, and it’s so evident because despite the tenderloin being thick, each morsel was juicy and full of flavour.
You could skip the sauces entirely and just revel in the fun jumble of different highs and lows from its ingredients.
Wow, was the octopus huge or what? I snipped away at it to create bite-sized pieces with the scissors provided and enjoyed grilling them. Succulent, juicy and oh-so-fresh— this was my colleague, Rachel’s favourite on the table.
I’m not usually a fan of enoki mushrooms but Khoi’s didn’t have the earthy-mushroomy bleah taste I abhor. Plus the pork belly wrapped around the mushrooms added to the interesting flavour; it was crisp and slightly salty— just the way I like it. Still averse to veggies but I’ll give this dish a passing grade!
My recommendation is that you add the prawns to the hot pot with its tom yum soup. The soup is spicy but not too much, and provides excellent company to seafood with its strong and pleasant hints of lemongrass. The fragrance of the prawns and the soup together was just heavenly! We saved some of the prawns for grilling but it is definitely the less tasty option.
Unlike the tenderloin, the sliced beef was virtually devoid of flavour— you’ll definitely need sauce here. I found the thin slices of sotong a bit chewy but Rachel said she loved that characteristic of squid.
Khoi has a very nice vibe to it. At many of the tables around us, it was groups of friends sharing small titbits over beers. I love the participation factor of cooking with others so I really enjoyed my night out. For those averse to the heat and perhaps the effort required, just ask the waiters and they will do it for you.
While not over the top, the prices at Khoi do exceed the definition of ‘budget’. On the a la carte menu are Premium Hokube Beef Steak (250g) for S$49.80, Beef Short Rib with BBQ Sauce (S$39.80), Pork Collar with Black Pepper Sauce (S$21.80), and Steamed Chicken with Fish Sauce (S$42.80).
However, for a late-night loud and fun grill sesh with family and friends, it’s definitely worth it. On my next visit, I may even give their selection of snails a go!
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