Volcanic sizzlers

Slab of salmon, scallops and shrimps sizzling on hot stone
I thought I was walking into the ruins of some forgotten civilization when I step into the restaurant.  A towering carved stone wall overlooked elevated wooden boardwalks where tables are set under the branches of leafy green trees.  I look closer at the floor-to-ceiling stone wall with large bas relief etchings that depict mythological scenes with what appears to be a monkey and elephant. 

Subdued lighting from hanging bowls of flaming fire and the eroded uneven edges on the top of the wall creates a special ambience that aptly matches the stonegrill meal that I’m looking forward to enjoy.

I choose a table on the elevated boardwalk and a waiter was waiting, ready with an open menu.  As I scan the list of recommendations on the menu, I keep one eye on the other tables to see what the most popular choices are with other customers.  I’ve learnt that this is a sure way to ascertain a restaurant’s best sellers and it turns out that tom yam seafood noodles are very popular.  Now this is certainly a hot, hot meal because tom yam is already spicy and here it’s served on a sizzling hot rock!

Hot rocks

The unique experience in Sizzling Stonegrill is how food is served on super-heated natural volcanic rocks.  The stonegrill is a dry cooking method that does not use any added fats or oils as the heat will sear the meat without burning.  These slabs of volcanic rock, super-heated to 400 degrees centigrade will sear meat quickly and lock in all the natural juices and nutrients.  A peek at other customers with seafood, meats, poultry and vegetables sizzling before them shows me that it’s a fun way to cook a healthy and nutritious meal and enjoy eating it at leisure.

This is the way to cut up the salmon into bite sizes
As I make a mental note to be extra careful not to land my fingers on that hot rock, the waiter is back again with my seafood platter. 

I watch the generous chunk of fresh salmon sizzling conspicuously next to the shrimps and scallops and wonder what to do next but my helpful waiter intuitively picked up the fork and knife and started to turn the ingredients on the hot stone.  The mouth-watering sizzle of natural oils tickled my nostrils and I can’t wait to taste my stone-grilled seafood.

Real taste

With a few deft movements, the chunk of salmon was cut into bite size pieces and neatly arranged on the stone slab, while the shrimps and scallops were turned to ensure that they were evenly cooked.  By this time, I’m ready to do my own cooking so when the waiter released the fork and knife and left the table, I take over quite confidently.  I do not want my seafood to over-cook so I move them onto a side plate to reheat later when I’m ready to slowly savour their juicy flavours.

Mussels sprinkled with rosemary, sizzling in their half shells
While I’m getting the hang of cooking on the hot stone, Datuk Freddie Long Hoo Hin, the proprietor, was all smiles as he came over to join me.  His choice from the menu is fresh mussels and it came served in half-shells, sizzling on a slab of hot stone. 

“Its all natural flavour,” said Long as he shifted the mussels on the hot stone to cook more evenly and invited me to help myself to the freshly grilled mussels.  I select a plump mussel lightly flavoured with a sprinkle of rosemary and it lifted easily out from its shell. 

Quite sure that it will not burn my lips, I pop it into my mouth and tasted its quintessential chewy texture, so rich and full of natural goodness.

As we enjoyed our meal Long, a lawyer by profession and former Johor state tourism and environment chairman, regaled me with his interesting tales of old Johor Baru.  Coming back to the menu favourites in Sizzling Stonegrill, he agreed that piping hot tom yam seafood noodles are his regular customers’ preferred choice.  For meat lovers, succulent seafood and juicy New Zealand beef steak come in a close second.

Juicy NZ beef steak sizzling on hot stone grill
I must not neglect my scallops, shrimps and salmon cooling on the side plate so I place a few pieces back on the hot stone to warm before I take my time to slice and savour the tasty morsels with a fresh garden salad.  For an extra zing, I dip the seafood into a special condiment of freshly ground chilly tinged with tangy fresh lime. 

I find this most agreeable because unlike other chilly sauces, this sauce did not drown out the meat flavours but instead, enhanced it in a rather refreshing way.

Fast Facts

While hot-stone cooking is the main meal attraction at Sizzling Stonegrill, there is also an ala carte menu of cooked food for people on the go.  Choose from rice, noodles and pasta dishes and a range of appetizers as well as fresh fruit juices.  Don’t miss their signature freshly made soursop juice that’s both healthy and delicious.

The Sizzling Stonegrill flagship is on Level 2 of Jusco Tebrau City with more outlets located at Level 3, Plaza Pelangi, Basement 1 of Johor Baru City Square and ground floor of Jusco Bukit Indah.  Their first outlet outside of Johor is in Malacca on the ground floor of Aeon Bandaraya Melaka shopping centre.  All outlets are ready to serve food by 11am and are open daily till 10pm.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times, Life & Times on 5 May 2011

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