Heritage Hero: How Kia Hiang Became Myo Restobar

And the legendary claypot chicken dish that made them famous.
Myo Restobar occupies the 19th floor of the shiny new Oxley Tower in the heart of Singapore’s central business district. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the restaurant, leading from the elevators, past a swanky bar area to the dining room inside. Lunch time sees groups of young executives tucking into homespun Chinese cooking.

A survey of most tables shows an overwhelmingly popular dish: the Kia Hiang Claypot Spring Chicken. The signature that made its namesake restaurant famous back in the 80s and 90s.
Myo Restobar is a spin-off from the Kia Hiang Group, which started at International Plaza more than 40 years ago and had outlets at Kim Tian Road, Sun Plaza and UE Square at various times. For second generation owner Ng Kia Jin, Myo is his way of reaching out to a new audience. “We realise that while the older generation might be very familiar with our brand, the newer generation is not,” he says. “We wanted to bring Kia Hiang up to date.”

The restaurant’s signature Kia Hiang Claypot Spring Chicken is a dish that has been handed down from father to son, and though the dish is as good as many remember it to be, the younger Ng is unabashed to say that his father’s rendition was superior. “My father could, just by using his sense of touch, keep the temperature of the oil and stove constant so that every component could be cooked just right, and every pot was consistent.”

His eyes light up as he reminisces the about the beginnings of Kia Hiang. “My father was an advertising executive, and when he was on the verge of retiring, he was looking around to see what else he could do, and he always had a passion for cooking.”

Then a first-year engineering student in university, the younger Ng would often have lunch with his father at the nearby International Plaza. Seeing the crowds and recognising an opportunity for business, the elder Ng took over a small duck rice stall in the food centre there in 1973. “When I graduated, I would go and help out at my father’s stall in the mornings. We would go marketing at 6:00 a.m. and cook till about 8.45 a.m. and I would walk over to work,” recalls Mr. Ng.
Kia Hiang Claypot Spring Chicken
Kia Hiang Claypot Spring Chicken
The creation of the Ng’s famed claypot chicken dish was a fortuitous event that happened around this time. “At the stall, my father would cook staff meals out of leftovers and once there was a lot of leftover cabbage and he chucked it into a claypot with some chicken to braise. The staff ended up liking it so much, so he started to refine the recipe.”

At Kia Hiang, a whole spring chicken is first fried briefly in oil before it is placed in a claypot and braised low and slow so its juices run out to form a rich stock. The cabbage is also stir-fried gently till the fragrance and sweetness of the vegetable comes out, and then it is added in with the chicken to cook down. The result is a succulent chicken with meat that falls off the bone, enveloped in soft sweet cabbage and swathed in a caramelly savoury sauce that begs for bowl of rice.

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Myo also serves up dim sum delights like this crispy, juicy beef pastry
Myo also serves up dim sum delights like this crispy, juicy beef pastry
In the 80s, Kia Hiang opened another outlet at the then newly-opened HDB centre in Toa Payoh before opening a full-fledged restaurant at Kim Tian in the 90s. “We were very happy, but it was a very tough time. It’s different when you’re running stall and a 7,000 square-foot restaurant.” Mr Ng left his engineering job to work at the restaurant. He sought help from the Restaurant Association of Singapore to turn things around. “They taught us systems and processes, introduced cooks to work for us, and helped us go into the wedding and tour group business.”

The family business was saved, and five years ago, Mr. Ng sold Kia Hiang to take care of his aging parents. But now, the second-generation owner has ambitions to bring Kia Hiang into the 21st century with Myo Restobar. Though the setting is decidedly more modern, with a trendy-sounding new name and a nifty app-based ordering system to boot, the food still retains the sense of tradition and quality that Kia Hiang is known for. “Some of them have actually visited Myo, but our old customers from the older generation still like to go to Kia Hiang. With Myo, I hope to be able to bring our traditions and our food to this new, younger generation.”

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