Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Like Father Like Son

Peach Garden @Novena Gardens
273 Thomson Road
#01-06, Novena Garden
Singapore 3076444
Tel: 62543383
Peach Garden @ Thomson Plaza
301 Upper Thomson Road#01-88
Thomson PlazaSingapore, 574408
Tel: (65) 6451 3233
Peach Garden @ OCBC Centre
#33-01, 65 Chulia Street,
Tel: 6535 7833
The Chinese have two common sayings about fathers and sons. One simply translates to “Like Father like Son” and the other has a more noble meaning that means “A day as a Teacher/Mentor, A lifetime as a Father”. These two sayings are especially reflective in any craftsman’s trade where each individual will have their source mentoring whereby the master’s signature trademarks are always reflected as part of the repertoire of his prodigies.
In the chef’s profession, the same thing happens irregardless of the cuisine in focus. One of Singapore’s best known Cantonese Cuisine Masters, Chef Chan Kwok of Hua Ting Restaurant @ Orchard Hotel has mentored many unpolished gems, sculpturing them into fine talents who have gone on to experience success in their own path. One of the biggest success stories of “off spring” from Hua Ting is Peach Garden Restaurant. Widely known in the local dinning circles that the people behind it are trained in Hua Ting, Peach Garden is into their fifth year with a third outlet just opened recently on the 33rd floor of the OCBC center’s Executive Club. Veronica and Angela, whom both co owned the three Peach Garden restaurants, were successful outstanding managers and good friends at Hua Ting before the entrepreneur bug bit into them. When they both left to open up the first Peach Garden @ Novena in 2002 with one of Chef Chan’s prodigies, their initial success were met with tough times as the economy wasn’t that rosy and a SARs outbreak created a gloom in businesses across the whole region. But during those lean times, service and food quality were never compromised and customers remained supportive. Hence the expansion plans when things got better. I call that a decent expansion as many restaurant operators tend to be too greedy and ambitious when it comes to business expansion that quality is often compromised in both service and food. I am by the way a strong believer that quantity and quality does NOT go together.
I always have lower expectations when restaurants expand into chains and resources are stretched to the maximum. Mum was curious to see how different they are from Hua Ting based on some unfair comments from an ungrateful relative that we hosted recently. We decided to come to the Peach Garden outlet here @ OCBC Center on a Sunday evening as parking would be easy and getting a table is much easier than jostling with the crowds at the other two Thomson Branches. N and I liked their spacious decor and warm coziness of this new outlet and club members are discreetly separated from the dinning public for their private events. Menu reflected much of Hua Ting’s repertoire, only slightly smaller but signature dishes like Shark Bone Cartilage Soup, Roasts selections, Stew Mee Pok with XO sauce and homemade tofu dishes were there. A set menu of the signature items was also available and its promotional price has been extended to non OCBC credit card holders as well. Hence we decide to take the set menu and added on two more house specialties to supplement the night’s dinner.
The dinner kicked off with a starter that feature their signature twin roasts, complimented with a stuffed bean skin roll on green frisee. The slice of warm roasted duck breast was paired with a fruity plum sauce that helped to calm the gamey taste of duck meat which was already quite mild in my opinion in comparison with other roasted ducks that I have tasted before. Honestly to be fair, I could only comment on the duck as a part of the whole appetizer flight instead of the whole based on the portion that was served. However I take the cue that it must be good as even my mum who is a non duck lover was converted. On the other end of the flight was a pair of roast pork cubes lined with a dash of mustard in between. The siew yok or roast pork as it is commonly known was almost on par with Hua Ting’s version except the skin was a little thinner, hence less crackling and the underbelly slightly under seasoned. It was still a very good piece of work on its own compared with other versions that N and I have tasted. The centerpiece of stuffed bean skin roll was a replay of the version that we get at Hua Ting and this was an equal match. I like the underlying of the drizzle of the sweet dark sauce with the dainty dim sum than the accompanying Worcestershire sauce.
The highlight of the menu is the Shark Bone Cartilage Soup, highly popularized by Chef Chan @ Hua Ting. For this menu, it was served with a touch of superior sharks’ fins and fish maw which I was impressed on how they can justify and balance out the costs. The soup’s appearance was exactly like the Hua Ting’s version, rich, gelatinous and creamy from the hours of simmering of the bones and cartilages. On taste, it was deliciously full of warmth but I could sense a certain taste element was missing even though it was already very good. Despite trying hard to figure out what it was before I could finish my soup, I could not find the missing piece of the puzzle until the last drop when I finally realized what was missing. It was that small piece of Jin Hua Ham that gives the rich broth an extra oomph of umami characters as what we have always experienced in Hua Ting. But to be fair, given the price of the set meal, every penny is its own worth and without the ham, the soup could still stand on its own. Personally, I would be glad to trade in the sharks’ fin which is actually tasteless cartilages for that coveted piece of cured ham that would greatly enhance the deliciousness of the soup further with its strong umami character.
Before the next course of the meal, the first extra dish that came by which was Sauté Prawns with Salted Egg Yolk. This is also one dish that is synonymous with Pearl Garden that differentiates it out from Hua Ting. It had that kind of salty fermented aromas as what is termed “Kiam Pang” in Hokkien. Evolving around the same time as wasabi prawns, this dish has caught on very well with the local dinning crowd despite its perceived high cholesterol image. The plump juicy prawns had gone through the standard rinsing method with running water for a good hour to make them succulent and crunchy. Coated with a thin but very crispy batter, the prawns were tossed in chopped cooked salted egg yolks to give it a nutty buttery richness. It is sinful yet addictive, nutty rich yet with delicate flavours.
In place of a sorbet as a palate refresher, we tried the steam bai ling mushroom in Chaozhou style preparation. Thick luscious slices of bai ling mushrooms rested in tofu and were steamed with a topping of shredded salty vegetables, sour plum, chilies, mushrooms and Chinese celery and ladled with a light broth. The tangy broth was a nice palate cleanser and the supple abalone like textured mushrooms took to the flavourful stock like a fish to water.
Sea Perch is a relatively new generation of fish fillets favoured by chefs in Singapore as environmentally it is friendlier than the fast disappearing Chilean Seabass or codfish as it is commonly known. This fillet has finer flakes of meat and less fatty fish notes than codfish but with an equal sweetness. Since the first Peach Garden outlet @ Novena, this has been their signature dish, with the crispy deep fried fillet being served with plum sauce or Thai sweet chili sauce. I like their generous portion serving of the fish too!
A lovely tofu dish that I have always enjoyed from Chef Chan’s kitchen at Hua Ting is a home made tofu with a delicious crabmeat sauce and Honshimeiji mushrooms. Peach Garden’s version is just as good with the extra smooth home made tofu resting on a bed of local spinach and covered with a light yet flavourful sauce with delicate seafood sweetness and generously spiked with crabmeat. Obviously the master has taught the pupil well in being able to elevate a humble tofu dish to an elegant masterpiece of its own.
Perhaps the most satisfying dish for me is the newly discovered stewed noodle with sliced abalone in abalone sauce. “Original Jus, Original Taste” as a saying in Chinese goes, fresh Hong Kong style egg noodles were blanched and expertly rolled into a cocoon shape before being covered with a rich glistening sauce infused with abalone notes from the hours of braising dried abalones in it. The abalones are then sliced and each plate was garnish with a thicker than norm piece of the tender shellfish. Portions were decent but it was the taste that made it very memorable for me.
Desserts were supposed to be a chilled jelly Royale with julienne of coconut. But I have always been a fan of their chilled black glutinous rice with coconut ice cream so I requested to have two out of the four portions to be switched. Mum was impressed with the chilled version of the pulot hitam (black glutinous rice porridge) enriched with the not too sweet coconut ice cream while my wife N absolutely adored the cubes of jelly with fresh coconut julienne and coconut water that made it light and refreshing. For me, I am happy to have the best of both worlds.
A prodigy may outshine his master one day in the future but one must never forget the master’s merit of foundation laying for his prodigies during their formative years. For a chef, nothing can be more satisfying to see your creative works being passed on to the next generation of chefs who can make good with them, leaving your name behind as a legend.

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