Monday, September 25, 2006

Crossroads Cuisines

Date of Review: 23rd September


Amara Singapore, Level 2,
165 Tanjong Pagar Road
Singapore 088539
Tel: 62273848

We had originally decided to check a new Korean restaurant in town which by word of mouth, I heard was inspired by Dae Jung Gum (Da Chang Jin 大长今). As it was a busy weekend of classes for N and me, I did not make reservations despite a nagging inner voice to tell me so. We arrived around 745pm only to be greeted by an apologetic Korean hostess informing us that a table will only be available after 830pm. (They just got reviewed two days earlier!) Not wanting to wait, we were about to opt for Hue Restobar one floor below when I remembered we had not visited Silk Road Restaurant for a while. My wife N wasn’t too keen and but still obliged.

The last time we came by to Silk Road Restaurant was more than a year ago. There were some hits and miss on the menu ordered due to our inexperienced taste buds then but since having visited Cheng Du (Sichuan) during last winter, we are now more enlightened about its dynamic cuisine.
A quick glance, much of the restaurant décor is still the same except it seemed to be almost entirely run by PRC chefs and service staff other than the odd Indian restaurant manager. As the name implies, Silk Road features the cuisine of 4 main provinces in China, Beijing, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Liaoning, where this ancient historical route runs through, bringing trade, wealth and culture exchange from the Far East to the West. A run through of the menu showed some new items while perennial favourites have been retained. Last round we had Sliced Pork with Garlic Chili Oil, Cold Noodles and Seafood Crispy Rice Bubbles (海鲜锅吧), which my wife liked very much. Someone had told me that the Beijing Roast Duck was really good too!

N ordered her favourite Eight Treasure Tea while I opted for Long Jing Green Tea. Silk Road is not just about the food it serves, it has an in house tea master who is not some bearded old sage but a rather young and able looking expert mastered with the artful posture of pouring hot water from a meter long spout copper teapot to brew tea. There were a couple dishes that caught my fancy from the menu and we ordered quickly as our tummies were getting in sync with the beat of the Korean Drum next door.

Before I get to the menu ordered, I must say that in China, it’s a restaurant’s pride to serve quality “Pao Cai” or cold nibbles before ordered dishes arrive. These are chargeable items in Singapore but I do not mind as long as I feel that the chefs have paid some decent attention to it. What is it that irks me in SG is they sometimes give you processed peanuts which u did not asked for in the first place, and charge you ridiculously for it. Silk Road offers a decent portion of sliced Sichuan Pickled Vegetables dressing in Chili and Sesame Oils. While it is quite tasty on its own, it is even better when u have it with steamed rice in between dishes.

First arrival alongside our table was the Beijing Duck. We were lucky enough to have a table next to us ordering the same item hence we were given a whole freshly roasted duck carve in front of us and divided into two serving portions. As this dish is represented in a more contemporary way, we were also served meat together with the skin. The aromas from the steam rising was making us salivate as the chef deftly cut up the well-roasted bird before allowing it to cool down too much. It was nice to see homemade wheat pancakes with the carved meat along side with standard hoisin sauce as well as garnishes like cucumber and shredded spring onions. The crisp reddish brown skin was so good enough to eat on its own without the extras but still it was great to make a few wrappings with the carved meat. The only grouch was I preferred to have the vegetables more finely cut.

Next to be served was Steam Codfish with Crispy Soy Bean Crumbs. While there is nothing to rave about with the codfish, which I found the portion was rather small; it’s the bean that matters. This dish is getting extinct in SG as the bean crumbs are getting more expensive with limited availability. The dried soybean crumbs are a specialty of Sichuan Cuisine with a toasty savoury note. They need to be coarsely grounded and lightly fried till crispy. There after they become very crispy and fragrant and are commonly used as a topping for steamed fish. Most chefs would just sprinkle on before serving, I can taste that the chefs have taken an extra step to sauté the bean crumbs with chili oil and crushed Sichuan Peppercorns, thereby making it even more fragrant with a spicy numbing sensation, a signature taste of Sichuan Cuisine. Without the fish, the crumbs were still great with rice

Last dish onboard was Hunan Style Braised Pork, which I find rather a peasant dish. Streaky belly was cooked simply with carrots and garlic in a delicious sauce made with soy, vinegar and some ketchup. The sauce was rich with the pork tender to the point of melt in mouth. With rice, the gravy was great with the left over bean crumbs from the fish dish though I kept fantasizing it would be better with deep fried mantou.

In between our meal, we were treated to a short performance by the tea master on the different styles of tea brewing with the extra long spout teapot. The styles and movement though resembled more like martial arts pugilistic movements were nonetheless refined and represented a signature attraction of Silk Road.

N chose a Chilled Aloe Vera Soup with Fresh Lily Bulbs and Wolfberries for dessert, which I found rather clear and refreshing with good contrasts in taste and texture. The aloe vera had a tinge of bitterness that was calmed by the sweet syrup and wolfberries. The crunchy fresh lily bulbs provided additional bite and complimented the dessert well. My choice of Watermelon and Chilled Longan turn up rather lacklustre so I rather not talk about it here.

In summary, Silk Road offers authentic recipes from the 4 provinces in China with its team of “Foreign Talent” Chefs. Preferably it takes one to have been to any of these provinces in order to understand some of its cuisine better especially when literal translation of some of its dishes sound like “Husband and Wife Sliced Lungs”(肤妻肺片)………

Check it out!


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