Saturday, July 12, 2008

Reunion with a New Era of Cuisine

Xin Cuisine Restaurant
Holiday Inn Atrium
317 Outram Road
Singapore, 169075
Tel: 67330188
There were only eleven of us on the table and quite a number of them were the who’s who in the chefs industry of Singapore. But to us, it was more of a night of reunion and supporting a fellow comrade who was settling down to a revamp of a restaurant that has been the playground of his many innovative dishes. The host of the night was Chef D K, a veteran in the culinary industry who has found new love again with the hotel that once propelled him to one of the peaks of his career. On the table were others who have in one way or another helped to shape the culinary scene of what it is today in Singapore.
But to all of us who were there, it was more of a reunion of ex colleagues working together at different times in different sets spanning three different hotels (The former Westin Stamford and Plaza, Marina Mandarin and Raffles Hotels) . All of us have made good one way or another as Executive Chefs of the respective organisations that we are in as none of us are working in a same establishment.
The restaurant we are all in together tonight is Xin Cuisine @ the Holiday Inn Atrium. Recently refurbished, the menu underwent a renovation too with Chef Daniel returning to helm the hotel’s kitchens. Always recognised as one of the trendsetting Chinese restaurants in Singapore and also for its excellent dim sum, post renovations see the revamp of platting and service from platters to individual plates and a more personalised hospitality with little extras of special pre and post tea blends, hot towels and a food friendly wine list. It helps when the F&B Director is also a professional chef by training. Food wise, Chef D worked with Xin’s resident Chinese Chef to introduce a subtle Western touch to the oriental face of Xin’s signature dishes. Why subtle? Well, to be precise, only as and where applicable and without trying too hard to fuse every dish.

We started with Suckling Pig Crackling on Yam and Pumpkin cake. The trio of crackling baby piglet pieces, each with a layer of juicy lean meat, came with a spicy tasting hoi sin sauce that look to me has been altered with some form of flavour improvement than being straight out of container. Why so? Well, besides the layer of chilli oil on the sauce, I could also pick up some notes of garlic and sesame nuttiness from within. The yam and pumpkin cake was like a carved out Swiss roesti but the lightly spiced cake also went very well with the hoi sin sauce.
Soups are one of the dishes that reflect a chef’s patience and sincerity. There are no shortcuts in making a real good soup that taste more like an essence than a broth. Chef D pampered us through each bowl of consomm√© clear double boiled chicken essence with a generous dose of Chinese-fan shaped cartilages of fin, complimented with flavourful thigh meat pieces and scrapings of velvety smooth young coconut flesh. So good was the soup, nobody noticed the missing traditional condiments of pepper and vinegar from the table.
Personally I am not a fan of lobster because many a time for me, it always comes about overcooked but I do appreciate the effort to get it done at the right doneness which can make it succulent and nice. Hence when biting onto a roll of Breaded Lobster with Wine Infused Rice Dumpling, this was another success story to me in a long time since I had lobster. To achieve the desired taste, the control of fire in handling this crustacean is very important and experience play a crucial role to this. The breaded lobster roll stuffed with asparagus and salted egg was crispy yet not oily nor tough. The glutinous rice coated dumpling was also extracted out of the steamer at the right moment but somehow I felt that the wine notes did not come through that impactful as I would have expected. No doubt it is still a good combination of flavours just a tweak on intensity preferred.
The palate cleanser was not a sorbet as many would have expected but a cool shot of pandan infusion with preserve plum (Suan Mei) juice. Preserved plum juice drinks in this part of the world are always thought to be a good throat relief for multiple meal courses dinners and minor throat ailments. The pandan infusion was felt as a nice background with a calm soothing effect like camomile tea.
Beef and mushrooms have always been a traditional pairing in many different cuisines around the world. Somehow the earthiness of mushrooms makes it a lovely companion to the muskiness of beef and the natural glutamates enhancing effect of the mushrooms makes the beef taste even more beefy than ever. True gourmets will always attain to this regardless the type of beef and mushrooms chosen. Hence the Wok Seared Wagyu Beef Rolls with Premium Mushroom is an inspiration cooked from classical pairings in a new culinary retrospect. With two rolls in a portion, I took one with the button mushroom puree that it was sitting on enjoying one of the best matches of ingredients and dipped the other into a more robust intense garlic soy dipping sauce. Both versions scored in my opinion, it doesn’t matter which side of the plate u are on. To fully enjoy the beef tenderness and melt in mouth sensation, the chef has cleverly left the centre core of the meat roll underdone for us.
Breaking away from classical practice, fish in modern Chinese restaurants no longer come in a complete anatomy as the traditional mindsets deem it fit. Fillets of choice breeds like grouper, marble goby and codfish seem the norm these days. We got grouper tonight. As a keen fisherman, I can tell you that the genetic nature and lifestyle of the fish does have an effect on the taste. Groupers make one of the tastiest fillets due to its sedentary nature of feeding, preferring to ambush than chase and hunt for its prey. It has a delicate sweetness and best to appreciate au natural or just to dress it with very light flavours. Hence I didn’t quite agree with Chef D serving the steamed fish smeared and gas torched with a double shot aioli (garlic mayonnaise). I am not saying that the sauce was no good; in fact it is so that it could even stand on its own, just that it was a David and Goliath pairing in terms of flavours, the fish being David this time. The beautifully pungent aioli with have been a fairer match to oily fishes like cod or salmon but for groupers, simple subtleness is the key to me to unlock their potentials.
What really captivated my senses was the Combination of Steam Rice in Bamboo Leaves. Glutinous, Thai Jasmine and US Wild Rice were cooked together, each releasing their merits into the successful synergy that was compliment by the fragrance of the fresh bamboo leaves it was served it. Glutinous rice contributed to the velvety texture on palate, Thai Jasmine gave the dish its aroma and the Wild Rice added colour contrasts with the two formers and a dimension of nuttiness toasty fragrance. The right combination sends a rice lover like me back to appreciating the taste of one of the most basic food ingredients of life unadulterated.
While most Chinese desserts are predictable, putting an element of surprise does raise the bar of expectations. The thrill came in the form of Sesame Crusted Glutinous Rice Ball on a Steamed Thousand Layer Cake. Inside each ball, was intense liquor infused chocolate piece. Upon cooking the rice ball and serving it hot, we bit into a burst of the melting chocolate and explosion of liquor sensation which simply blows you away with an unexpected Wow! Whatever that flowed out and was not captured on the palate, the sensational liquid is contained within the thousand layer cake below which also doubles as a background cushion for the sesame ball. It can be quite a heavy ending for some to the meal we had but I am not complaining about the lovely surprise that came with it.
Putting aside business rivalry, this rare opportunity of chefs gathering around good food and wines does make the eating experience a lot more intellectual and enriching. I myself, for sure will come back again to check on their much exclaimed excellent dim sum.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

wow the dishes all look so very very good. the idea of coconut flesh in soup sounds absolutely lovely!