Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Posh Nosh Nibbles

Lei Garden Restaurant
#01-24 Chijmes,
30 Victoria Street,
Singapore 187996
Tel : (65) 6339 3822
Lunch : 11.30am to 3pm
Dinner : 6pm to 11 pm
“Dim Sum” to many Singaporeans is about Yum Cha with side nibbles that can range from anything like minature flaky pastries with turnip or roast pork fillings to heartier items like steamed buns, glutinous rice dumplings and small plates of roasted meats. It is nothing new to many especially in countries with strong Chinese cultures. It's the thing to have when engaged in tea drinking where discussions and conversations are carried over these dainty little morsels of small bites. There are numerous places in Singapore where you can go for such activities and prices can vary from point to point. Then there are the value-for-money dim sum buffets, there are coffee shop stalls that offer on the basic items churned out by industrial machines and restaurants that offer these little fine pieces of culinary art that sometimes cost an arm and a leg.
N and I also have a weakness for Dim Sum. We do have our favourite items though they are not at the same places. Some of our favourite places include Crystal Jade (Golden Palace @ Paragon and Kitchen @J8 Bishan, Yan Palace, Hua Ting, and adding on to the list recently is Lei Garden which we have long heard of their rave reviews by word of mouth from friends.
The Hong Kong based Lei Garden Restaurant Group that runs the renowned Lei Garden Restaurant @ CHIJMES does not need much introduction as it has long been perceived as one of the better Chinese restaurants in Singapore. Of course this often so since the entire group is helm by a very passionate hands on restaurateur himself, Mr Chan Shu Kit who is also a well known gourmet. Though the Lei Gardens Restaurants are not trendsetters of modern Chinese cuisine, they have done very well in capturing the essence of traditional Cantonese classics and refining the tastes of its dishes to a new level of sophistication. Hence when we step in with mum last Sunday for Dim Sum, we do have certain expectations of what’s in store.
By prices, Lei Garden’s Dim Sum is no cheap stuff. Chef Chan Kwok from Hua Ting has once ever shared this with me on the art of appreciating Dim Sum. “Dim Sum is a part of Chinese cuisine where each piece is handcrafted with passion and pride. Finesse is the key word in understanding the taste and appreciation of such delicate morsels of culinary art.” I remembered his words and these are the elements of criteria when it comes to evaluating what’s before you. Quality and quantity does not go together in life. Ever since then, when N and I check out Dim Sum places both locally and overseas, it is no longer about the size of the steam buns or how much sharks fin are there in the dumpling, its about art and finesse. It’s about delicate thin layers of pastry, fine slivers of meat and vegetables, quality broths, flavourful sauces and simple garnishes. These attributes add up to the overall pleasure of enjoying a refined culinary art with the right tea and impeccable service.
Fortunately we now have another new place to add to our list. From the point of reservation till the end of the meal, we were well taken care of in terms of comfort level and service efficiency. Plates were changed regularly and tea refilled without having to raise a hand. Another win factor was this is one restaurant that does not shove a small plate of cheap pickles or peanuts into the customer’s face without checking if it is required in the first place, and then rip the customer off with a ridiculous price later on in the bill. Menu wise, the favourite items were on the regular order chit but beyond them were special items that are brought to the table randomly for us to pick on what we fancy.
First on the table was a trio of Egg Tarts. They come in miniature sizes which I like because I can finish them in two bites with room for other Dim Sum coming on later. The egg tarts were warm and the sweet egg custard was still a little runny but the lovely buttery crust was fragrantly addictive. It was a great way to soothe a hungry and cold tummy.

Just as we took our last bite on the egg tarts, a plate of honey glistening Char Siew (Chinese BBQ Pork) was served in chunks, not slices. Besides being very well marinated, the succulent meat was salivating delicious at the sight of it with the right amount of sweetness and fragrance from the caramelized edges. For some mysterious reason, we also ordered the BBQ Pork in Flaky Pastry (Char Siew Soh). While the taste of the flaky pastry was buttery aromatic with a light flakiness, its filling was less than our favourite Crystal Jade version.
If u love Swiss Style Roesti potatoes like they do in Marche, then u will also appreciate the Shredded Yam and Pumpkin Fritters which turn out to be even crispier that Roesti. This fritter is made up of pumpkin and yam shreds lightly fried to a golden brown crisp. Because of the pumpkin’s high level of naturally occurring sugars, it gives the fritters a slight sweetness combined with the fragrance of yam. Have it with a small dollop of sweet salty fermented bean chili sauce (the kind of chili sauce often served on the side in fine Chinese restaurants), it taste wonderfully good!
The Deep Fried Fresh Crabmeat Rolls was presented “cocoon” style where a piece of cheese and freshly cooked crabmeat are wrapped with shredded filo pastry and deep fried till crispy. A great combination of taste again this time with the savoury melted cheese complimented by the sweetness of crabmeat. Surprisingly Mum who was never a cheese fan could manage to take on these rolls. Actually she was tricked too as I did not informed her in advance about the cheese as part of the filling.
One of the items I must have in every session is Steamed Chicken Feet. I love to nibble the soften cartilages and gelatinous texture. Lei’s Garden version was paler in appearance than most of the others that I have come acrossed with. First bite was great but as I ate, I realized that there was an overdose of MSG. Though I do not react adversely to it, I am not against the use of MSG only where necessary in cooking; In fact I like it in food because it takes a little to gave the important body dimension in enhancing the taste of the dish. But I strong advocate against the abuse of it by Chefs who think of it as the more the merrier.
There were two different sets of steamed dumplings ordered. One was Shanghai Xiao Long Bao which were three pieces of hand kneaded juicy minced meat dumplings in thin wheat dough wrappers. Dipped in black vinegar and finely shredded ginger, they burst in the mouth releasing the rich meaty essence that trickles a feeling of warmth down our throats. The other set of dumplings resemble more to “Chao Shou” or Sichuan’s version of boiled dumplings toss in soy, black vinegar and sesame oil with chilies. I found the wrappers for these dumpling too thick for my liking otherwise the dressing and extra punch from the chilies were just great.
Carrot cake is a perennial favourite for many Dim Sum lovers. Technically it should be call radish cake as there are no carrots in its recipe at all. However most of the time what we are facing is a high ratio of rice flour to grated radish making it starchier than it is already needed. The one we had here was very good and we could taste the fine strips of radish and it subtle pungency delivered with a melt in mouth softness.

Other items that we had were fairly decent too but nothing to shout about. The pot stickers or Guo Tie were ok but I wished there was more fillings for more bite. Shrimp on Toast was rather good too with each piece of crispy toast accompanied by a whole prawn and sesame seeds. Spring rolls were deep fried to a nice crispiness without being oily but I felt that the filling was rather lackluster in comparison with tastier versions I have had at Yan Palace or Crystal Jade.
Mum’s and N’s favourite was the Glutinous Fried Rice, a simple rice dish that calls for skills in cooking up the sticky rice by stir frying it instead of steaming. The result is a cooked glutinous with the usual garnishes but the rice having and extra dimension of toasty fragrance like the aromas of Japanese green tea with toasted grains. Delicious as it was, we were also advised to enjoy it by the nibbles with tea in order to appreciate its taste better.
Chinese desserts are usually quite standard and boring. Still however as I was craving for a taste of durians, I took on the Durian Pudding, while N and mum shared the Almond Tea which both of them have a weakness for. We also ordered a trio of Black Sesame Stuffed Glutinous Rice Balls (Tang Yuan) rolled in sweeten milled roasted peanuts. Minus the plain Jane appearance and topless garnishing, I was appeased by digging into the pudding to discovered real chunks of fresh durian in the creamy pudding. This is a very important elements that distinguishes the character of the pudding. The Almond Paste was rather pleasing for both mum and daughter in law with its intense fragrance and thick consistency of milled almonds which are really apricot kernels instead. They are more popularly known as Chinese almonds. Filling into the last bit of space left in our tummies were three glutinous rice balls, one each for all of us. Stuffed with a paste made from milled fragrant black sesame seeds, each ball oozed out its nutty fillings with the warmth of its meaning, symbolizing reunion and family togetherness.


Camemberu said...

I love Lei Garden! And that is a lot of dim sum, some of which I haven't tried! What a feast! Now I feel like going too!

Coolchef said...

Hi camemberu, be sure to make a reservation as it is always packed, esp sundays. dim sum pieces are not very big so you can try more variety. Enjoy!

Camemberu said...

OK thanks! :)