Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Duck, The Monk and The Lobster

Royal China @ The Raffles Hotel
328 North Bridge Road
#03-09 Raffles Hotel Arcade
Singapore 188719
Tel:65 6412 1330

Having had a full day of cooking workshops, we wanted to go somewhere where parking was easy, not too noisy or crowded and we could have some peace while enjoying a nice quiet dinner. We decided to go back to Royal China @ the Raffles Hotel for our favourite Crispy Duck in Crepes and I wanted to try the Lobster Noodle that many have been talking about and their special Steamed Almond Paste Dessert.

It has been more than three years since Royal China took over from the former Empress Room without much change except introducing a new kitchen team with a new menu. So walking in was like a reminiscence of the old Empress Room which we last ate when Chef Yong Bing Ngen was still at the helm.

To be honest, it is not easy to run a private restaurant in a hotel that prides itself as an icon in the hospitality industry. Besides having to live up to the expectations alongside such a fine establishment, standards in service and quality of food and innovative menus have to be constantly maintained. This is not the first time we are eating at Royal China and like other previous times we ate here, there are some hit and misses. For a start, the service this time round was much better although they could do better with a more English language proficient staff to handle reservations and requests. As expected, the restaurant wasn’t that full when we turn up. After all Singaporean customers are spoilt for choices when it comes to food and have no sense of loyalty since new restaurants keep springing up every couple of months. From a positive angle, I expected better service compared to the previous time as the service staffs were not overstretched.

We had the Crispy Aromatic Duck in Crepes (香酥鸭) for starters and this has always been our favourite item. The duck is deboned, marinated in five spices and steamed to tenderness before being blanched in hot oil for a layer of crispiness with the tender meat beneath as you bite. I have always related this dish to that of crispy skin duck confit in French cooking minus the salty dimension. Like wise it is served with a sweetish sauce which in this case is the regular Hoi Sin sauce and traditional condiments like shredded cucumber and spring onions. The staffs were experience enough to shred up the meat quickly and wrapping it in the steaming hot wheat flour crepes so that we could enjoy the crepes still warm. On biting in, we experienced a sensation of crispy bits of skin, aromatic meat and crunchy cucumbers complimented with a savoury sweet Hoisin sauce. One is never enough, two is satisfying and although I could easily eat a few more rolls as a meal, we needed to keep some space for two other incoming dishes.

We had the shark bone soup during the last round here and it was comparable to the one at Hua Ting in Orchard Hotel but slightly less fragrant and more gelatinous in texture. Feeling tired from a whole day of workshops, I preferred a more soupy broth than something thick and gelatinous so we took on a Mini Buddha Jump Over the Wall each. This is a rich soupy both is prepared with superior chicken stock made from simmering old mother hens, paired with gourmet ingredients like mini abalone, fish maw, sea cucumber, sharks fin and dried scallop. Legend has it that chefs in a noble house were preparing this rich juxtaposition brew of gourmet ingredients in the backyard as a new dish while pondering over a name for it. The resulting aromas were so good that it attracted a passing monk who was so captivated by it that it aroused his curiosity to find out what was being cooked behind the wall. As he couldn’t resist any longer, he jumped over the wall to satisfy his curiosity and at that moment, the chefs aptly named the dish after the incident upon hearing the monk’ explanation for his actions.

Since then, this dish has become a signature benchmark for many good Chinese restaurants and is especially ordered during festives like Lunar New Year and birthday occasions. Arriving in a mini casserole each, we open the lid to a delicious whiff of aromas and a full bowl of the gourmet ingredients in a steaming broth. N enjoyed this dish very much as it was her first experience and taking our time, we drank till the last drop of goodness.

Our main dish was the Lobster Noodle featuring a freshly slaughtered Boston Lobster. This has always been their signature dish and I decided to try it this time round with N only as our past dinning companions were not keen on lobster. With a minimum weight of 600g, our lobster was cooked in ginger and spring onion style with the egg noodles braised in its own gravy that is enhanced with oyster sauce and wine. The dish look impressive when it arrived and my first instinct was to taste the noodles first as they have soaked up the sweetness of the lobster juices. The flavour was good and as we started to work on the lobster, we realize that we had gotten a water logged crustacean. The meat had shrunk by more than 50% after cooking and by no means was the lobster overcooked either. I was little disappointed as I felt that the restaurant could have done more to ensure the quality of the seafood since we were paying such a premium price over it. I spoke with our table’s captain and all he could do was to shrug his shoulders and tell us to order the more expensive grade of lobster next round. Would you if you were in my shoes? While the taste of the noodles were great, the portion size was only good enough for one. However we got over with that quickly as we have desserts coming by later.

There are other great dishes that we have tried on previous visits and they include the Wok Fried Bai Ling Mushrooms and their Seabass in Two Ways.

All this while in the course of our dining, the service has been rather pleasant though , as they were attentive but not intrusive. N had chosen the Steamed Almond Paste in Young Coconut while I took on the Mango and Glutinous Rice with Coconut Ice cream. My dessert was plain simple and straight forward and I found the little touch of Black Glutinous Rice on the Mango rather pleasant to the eye and taste. The Steamed Almond Paste was rather good too except its elegance was ruined by the use of cheap tapioca pearls as a garnish. It’s like drinking a hot bubble tea. A touch of apricot kernels or fresh lily bulbs with some honey soaked wolfberries would have been much better instead.

As we settled the bill, I realized that they had also charged for the egg noodles that came with the lobster. Consider that we are paying such a premium price for a lousy lobster; I would have expected the noodles to be complimentary. No, they charged us $5.00 for a bundle that was good enough only for one. Perhaps it was made with lobster eggs and that's why…….

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