Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pride and Passion

Hua Ting Restaurant
Orchard Hotel
Address:442 Orchard Road
Singapore 238879
Contact Details: (65) 6734 3880 or (65) 6734 3872

Recently N and I were back again at Hua Ting Restaurant @ Orchard Hotel for another round of culinary appreciation of Chef Chan Kwok’s recipes. The occasion was a reunion dinner for mum’s extended family and N and I were hosts for the event. The finesse and standards of Hua Ting’s dishes are undisputedly one of the best in Singapore but what makes the dinning experience even better for me and N is the warm, sincere and ever obliging service as well as the Chef’s pride and passion expressed in the food served. The menu was customized for us as I had picked some of Chef Chan’s specialties like his signature Double Boiled Shark Bone Cartilage Soup and Roasted Suckling Pig.

Dinner started with the arrival of the beautifully roasted piglet. Its shinny sandy coarse skin had been meticulously carved out with minimum fat attached into the dainty square pieces. Each piece of skin was served with a cute little piece of steamed bun dough pastry, spring onions and a sweet beany Hoisin sauce. Biting on he crackling skin evokes palate sensations of sinful pleasures with the spring onions subtly masking pork fatty notes that is sometimes perceived as unpleasant notes for some people in terms of taste.
Between sharks fin soup and shark bone cartilage soup, I would rather choose the latter which is more flavourful and you are unlikely to be shortchanged in terms of quality. A good quality shark bone cartilage is not necessary cheaper than certain sharks fin but can make a real taste difference to the soup. Usually simmered with ham, bowling fowl and other premium ingredients like dried scallops, it takes hours of simmering to achieve the silk smooth creamy gelatinous texture of the soup. Collagen and bone minerals that leech into the soup give it the richness though many other chefs also cheat by using evaporated milk, the result being a creamy broth with no depth of flavours. I choose to pair fish maw with the shark bone cartilage soup this time round instead of the standard sharks fin as Mum loves fish maw very much. Each bow came with a generous piece of fish maw and a slice of premium Jinhua Ham. The hours of simmering to brew such an excellent soup saw none of us leaving a drop left in our bowls.
The Sauteed Live Prawns with Crispy Milk, Fresh Lily Bulbs and Sugar Snap Peas may look ordinary like a simple stir fry dish which is true for many chefs but the catch here is not the dish itself but the preparation of crispy milk that requires patience and skill. Most chefs use evaporated milk which is slowly swirled in hot oil till all excess moisture is evaporated off leaving behind droplets of milk curds. These curds are then cooked gently till the natural lactose (milk sugar) is caramelized before being strained. Upon cooling, they will turn crispy with a malty caramelized character in terms of taste, similar to that of chewing on crumbled Horlicks Tablets. These are then tossed with fresh prawns and fresh lily bulbs. The umami character of the prawns harmonizes with very well together with the crispy milk giving it a slight nuttiness and malt taste reflecting elegance and sophistication.
Dong Choi or preserved winter vegetable is a favourite garnish for soups and condiments for steamed meat patty dishes due to its savoury character and aroma. Nonetheless, Chef Chan has also paired it with steamed cod fish fillets and the resulting taste was a lovely pickled cabbage flavour cooked confit style and spoon on top of the delicately steamed fish. Simple with minimalist touches of spring onions and ginger, the lovely fish fillet was further enhanced by the supporting superior soy broth that makes it a favourite on the menu for me.
A strong recommendation of a special dish not found on the menus by one of their captains. Ms Nanako Chan saw us having it as our next course. It was a Saute of Fresh Artic Clams with Yellow Chives. I love the taste of yellow chives (jiu wang cai) with seafood as it compliments them very well. The clams were springy on bite and not chewy at all, indicating the perfect timing that was need for this flash in the pan dish. The succulent bivalve had a delicate “Xian” character or what is commonly referred to as seafood sweetness. The dash of Shaoxing Wine also perk up the dish giving it a wine fragrance against the wok hei of the sautéed chives.
Next item was a Braised Abalone with Sea Cucumber and Duck Web on Seasonal Greens. Pretty predictable, but tastefully done so that we could see the treasures of the dish. I am not really a fan of duck webs though I enjoy steamed chicken feet in dim sum sessions but the duck webs were braised to melting tenderness so I started to feel an appreciation for them.
The remaining piglet returned to our table again this time de-boned and stewed with ramen in XO sauce. The noodles were great picking up the dried seafood elements of the XO sauce resulting in a delicious umami character complement with roasted notes of the tender pork sliced. Much as we were very full by then, I felt that not finishing up this last bit of the menu before desserts, it would be disrespectful to the Masterchef whom I know through working together in workshops and projects, has a rare virtue of humility not seen in many others. He had taken special care of the menu for us with generous portion sizes, delectable cuisine and even dropping in to say hello during the course of our dinner. To end the reunion dinner beautifully, each of us got to enjoy a lovely bowl of Sweetened Almond Cream with a Black Sesame Glutinous Rice Ball that N like very much. It was indeed one of the best we have tasted but personally, I have always looked forward to those lovely Chinese Petit Fours that Chef Chan prepared for us as compliments to a sweet ending. His flaky Yam Paste (orr ni) Pastry is unbeatable and when serve piping hot, its really yummy yummy ooh lah lah!!

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