Mistake number one – presuming a suburban steamboat eatery does not require a table reservation on a weeknight – was alleviated by two auspicious events: the discovery of a bottle of single malt in the car, and the willingness of the proprietor to let us imbibe while waiting for a table. Harbour Steamboat may be nestled in deepest suburbia, but that hasn’t discouraged the hordes from beating a fast track to its doors, apparently on a regular basis, because the eatery was heaving, and it was Monday evening. The queues can be prohibitive but our wait was assuaged by the easygoing demeanour of the management who not only supplied us with ice and water for the whiskey but also brought us starters on a plastic stool that was temporarily our table.
When you are eventually granted entry, it’s hard not to be awestruck by the hunched backs of punters hard at work swallowing as much steamboat as their tummies will permit. Harbour’s USP, apart from the good attitude of the staff, is its soup repertoire. It encompasses virtually every flavour palate, from the signature Macau pork soup to tom yam, Teochew style, papaya fungus, herbal, century egg, sugar cane and claypot lamb. And unlike most steamboat outlets, Harbour charges for its stock. While it’s definitely appetising, the soup shines primarily because it has the assistance of the condiments. Chilli paste, fresh coriander, chilli sauce and fermented bean paste customised to your personal taste make for a superb dipping sauce that infinitely adds to the appeal of the soup.
Because there is no set menu, each item has to be individually ordered, which can be perilously costly when you’re hungry, but the freshness of the ingredients and the meritorious homemade dumplings and balls are worth shelling out the cash for. Beef and pork slices, mushroom pork balls, grouper slices, prawn wantan, fish maw, and straw and needle mushrooms are some of the most widely ordered items. But do also ask for crab. Harbour doesn’t always have it but when it’s in stock (literally!), it adds an unmistakable sweetness to the soup. And unlike most Chinese eateries who will blithely let you over-order, the Harbour crew will actually stop you from doing so. And for that reason alone, I plan to return.
The prices at Harbour are rather more vertiginous than its peers, but a combination of great soup flavours, fresh ingredients, and brisk and friendly service have collectively ensured this restaurant a full house every night since it opened seven years ago. Respect. Fay Khoo
Ground floor, 19 Jalan 13/149L, Seri Petaling, KL
Tel: 03 9059 4353
Opening times: Open for dinner
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