A curious phenomenon has been blazing a fiery trail across various eateries and on social media.

Diners have been flocking to some restaurants - both Chinese and Western - for a dish of flaming chicken, where the poultry is literally on fire.

At most of them, the whole bird - roasted or oven-baked - is brought to the table skewered upright. It then gets a splash of alcohol - whisky, rum or rose wine - before it is set alight.

Diners who want to capture the moment need to have their mobile phones ready on video mode - preferably using the slow-motion function for added drama - because the flames usually do not last longer than 10 seconds.

The server then slices and serves the chicken.

According to restaurant owners and chefs, the dish has to be prepared hours in advance, from seasoning and drying the chicken to roasting it, so it is best to order it a day in advance.

Drying the chicken ensures the skin gets crispy.

The origins of the dish are not known, but some owners say they were inspired by roast chicken dishes they saw in Thailand and China.

The dish includes a moat of soup with vegetables, mushrooms and tofu and is served over a charcoal fire.

Since then, more than six restaurants have started doing their own version - sans the soup. They include The Famous Kitchen in Sembawang Road, which introduced its oven-baked Volcano Chicken two months ago.

Owner Jeffrey Foo, 56, says: "During a trip to China, I saw a chicken dish where the chicken was presented standing up. But there were no flames. I find that when the chicken is flambeed, it helps to crisp the skin. I use rum instead of Chinese rose wine as I'm not keen on the smell of the wine.

"Now, regulars who return to eat the Volcano Chicken request that we switch off the lights, so that they can have a more dramatic video."

The dish's dramatic presentation is its main selling point, says Toa Payoh North zi char stall Yalong Bay's owner, Mr Tony Tan, 54

He says in Mandarin: "When the dish is served, it is the cameras that 'eat' first, not the diners. Without the flames, it could be any other roast chicken. Also, when people at another table see the dish, they are likely to order it too."

The French art of flambeeing food is not new, especially for desserts and cocktails. But restaurants are now flaming up not just chicken, but other meat dishes too.

Russo-Hainanese restaurant Shashlik at Far East Shopping Centre has been known for flambeed desserts such as Baked Alaska and Cherry Jubilee since it opened in 1986. Its founders had worked at another restaurant, Troika, which served the desserts from the time it opened in 1963 until it closed in 1985.

Recently, Shashlik introduced a dish called Blue Fire Ribs, a flambeed version of braised baby back ribs in Hainanese sweet and sour sauce. Co-owner Alan Tan, 46, says he has observed that more people are whipping out their phones to capture the flambe moments.

He adds: "Mobile phones were almost non-existent when Shashlik first served our dishes. There's always something magical when dark rum is lit and poured on the Baked Alaska. It always draws delightful faces all around, full of anticipation."

Mr Francis Poulose, 49, managing director of food and beverage consultancy Poulose Associates, says: "The art of flambe is very much a part of fine-dining and old-school hospitality. When I was a hospitality student, I had to learn how to flambe everything, from crepe Suzette to duck a l'orange.

"I have not tried the flaming chicken dishes, but from what I see on social media, it looks rather dangerous and I'm not sure what effect it has on the chicken. However, if this is what is drawing the millennials of today to dine at these restaurants, then it's a very smart strategy."

Student Celine Low, 19, says: "I had seen a friend's Instagram post on flaming chicken at Yalong Bay and I told my family that we had to try it. We went last month and the dramatic firing of the chicken didn't disappoint. I liked that the chicken was tender too."

Sales manager Maria Lee, 40, who dined with her colleagues at De'Beer Garden's Jurong outlet last week, says: "The unique presentation of the dish piques curiosity and makes people want to try it. I could taste the flavour of the rose wine and the light flavour of the soup is not overpowering. It would be good if there were more vegetables.

"You have to eat the chicken first. If it boils for too long, the meat will become tough. It's nice and I would order it again."

 

WHERE TO FIND FLAMING CHICKEN DISHES:

 

BEE HEONG PALACE RESTAURANT

What: Bee Heong Palace Restaurant has one of the most reasonably priced flaming chicken dishes. Its Flame Gongfu Chicken ($18) is flambeed with Chinese rose wine.

Where: 01-01 Block 218 Bedok North Street 1

Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10pm, daily

Info: Call 6604-9633 or go to www.facebook.com/PinXiangYanHolding

 

BIRD BIRD

What Specially created for Halloween, fried chicken restaurant Bird Bird launches its deviled chicken dish ($30++ for half, $59++ for whole). The charcoal-crusted sakura fried chicken comes with sticky inferno sauce and smoked chilli powder, and it is flamed with rum tableside.

Where: 97 Frankel Avenue

Open: Available from Oct 3 to Nov 12, 11am to 11pm, Tuesdays to Sundays, closed on Mondays

Info: Call 6694-8270 or go to www.facebook.com/birdbirdsg

 

THE FAMOUS KITCHEN

Photo: The Straits Times

What: The Famous Kitchen's flambeed Volcano Chicken ($48) is oven-baked and served with prawn crackers, Thai-style green chilli and ginger dips. It is flambeed at the table, after a splash of rum is added. Owner Jeffrey Foo, 56, says the chicken is seasoned with salt, pepper and a special pork and chicken bone marrow powder. It is left to dry for five hours to ensure a crispy skin.

Where: 01-01 Hong Heng Mansions, 54 Sembawang Road

Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 11.30pm daily

Info: Call 6257-1843 or go to www.facebook.com/TheFamousKitchen

 

WO PENG CANTONESE CUISINE

What: Cantonese restaurant Wo Peng serves its charcoal-grilled chicken at both its outlets in Owen Road and Furama City Centre hotel. It is priced at $18 (Owen Road) and $28 or $42 (Furama City Centre). The chicken is flambeed with Chinese rose wine.

Where: 93/95 Owen Road and 03-01 Furama City Centre hotel, 60 Eu Tong Sen Street

Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm daily (Owen Road), 11am to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily (Furama City Centre)

Info: Call 6634-7666 (Owen Road) or 6533-2282 (Furama City Centre) or go to wopeng.com.sg

 

YALONG BAY

What: Zi char stall Yalong Bay's "roasted standing chicken" ($32) is marinated for three hours with ingredients such as garlic and rice wine. The skin gets a coating of Chinese maltose (mai ya tang) and vinegar, then the chicken is left to dry before being roasted. A mix of Chinese rose wine and whisky is poured over the chicken, which is then flambeed in front of diners.

Where: 02-01 Block 978 Toa Payoh North

Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10.30pm daily

Info: Call 9173-1263 or go to www.facebook.com/yalongbayToaPayoh

 

DE'BEER GARDEN: SET ON FIRE, SLICED, THEN SERVED IN SOUP

Photo: De'beer Garden

Where: Two outlets at 01-485, Block 262 Jurong East Street 24 and 01-38/40/42, 106 Clementi Street 12

Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10.30pm daily

Info: Call 6898-4767 (Jurong) or 6464-1365 (Clementi) or go to www.facebook.com/dbeergarden

While many flaming chicken dishes from Chinese zi char restaurants are similar - a whole roast chicken flambeed in front of diners tableside - De'Beer Garden has its own take on the dish.

A specially designed serving stand for the chicken includes a moat of soup filled with vegetables, mushrooms and tofu. This is placed over a small charcoal stove.

The chicken - first steamed, then smoked - is doused with Chinese rose wine and set on fire. It is done at a safe distance from diners, not tableside, as the charcoal causes quite a fireball. After the fire subsides, the server slices the chicken and adds the meat to the simmering soup. It is then served to diners.

Because the chicken continues to cook in the soup, De'Beer Garden's owner Serene Chin, who is in her mid-40s, says it is only 90 per cent cooked in the kitchen to ensure that the meat does not dry out.

It is best to eat the chicken before it gets overcooked in the soup.

The dish is priced at $60 and includes refills of the soup.

Ms Chin says that the dish was introduced four years ago and has become more popular over the years. The restaurant now sells 150 flaming chickens every month.

 

GRISSINI: ITALIAN VERSION FLAMBEED WITH SAMBUCA

Where: Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, 392 Havelock Road

Open: Noon to 2.30pm (weekdays), 6.30 to 10.30pm daily

Info: Call 6233-1100 or go to www.millenniumhotels.com/en/singapore/grand-copthorne-waterfront/grissini/

Not keen on Chinese-style flaming roast chicken? Then head to Italian restaurant Grissini at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, which serves an Italian version of the poultry dish.

The spring chicken ($43) is cooked in the Josper grill and filled with smoked scamorza cheese, pine nuts, baby spinach, housemade breadsticks and olives. It is set alight with sambuca, an Italian anise-flavoured liqueur, and served with potato novelle, baby carrots and baby rocket.

The dish was introduced two weeks ago by Grissini's Italian head chef Antonio Cocozza and the restaurant gets up to 20 orders a day.

Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel general manager Cheong Hai Poh says it is common to use sambuca in desserts such as panna cotta and tiramisu in Italy, while meats such as chicken, roast lamb and suckling pig are usually flambeed with cognac.

At Grissini, the chef uses sambuca instead, which adds a different flavour to the dish.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.