A Chinese Feast
I finally managed to gain entry into Xi Yan this evening thanks to the resourcefulness of two foodie friends who scored a reservation (despite a 2-3 month waiting list) and decided to invite more people along to share this superlative dining experience. Xi Yan is a relatively new restaurant which brings to Singapore the Hong Kong concept of private kitchen dining. Basically, this means that all the diners in the tiny restaurant (just 5 tables of about 7-10 people each) are to eat exactly the same thing and commence dinner at exactly the same time.
The dinner was the definition of perfection. I am not a great fan of Chinese dinners normally because they are usually starchy, heavy affairs. But Xi Yan has really made me appreciate Chinese cuisine again even despite the fact that I was nursing a cold and was not in the best control of my tastebuds. However, it has to be said that the food at Xi Yan was really more fusion in execution than the standard Chinese fare we normally get and therefore much more unusual. I stupidly did not bring my camera as my camera battery was flat! So, photos sadly will not accompany this blog entry unless my kind dining companions who did bring their cameras email me their photographs subsequently.
We started the first of our 13(!!) dishes with Prancing Lobster with Two Sauces – this was the freshest, most simply cooked lobster served with a mint sauce and a tangy Thai-style spicy sour sauce. This proved to be a refreshing start to the multitude of dishes coming our way. Our next appetizer of Japanese organic Tomatoes in Sesame Sauce was simply breathtaking. Three of the fattest, hugest, juiciest and sweetest tomatoes were presented to the table alongside a topping of sesame sauce remniscient of Japanese shabu-shabu. None of us had tasted tomatoes this sweet and juicy before and I am now certainly inspired to go a-hunting at the local Japanese supermarkets for these tomatoes. We then had Cold Tofu with Pork Floss and Salted Egg. Again, the cold, clean taste of the tofu was set off beautifully by the pork floss, perfectly fried shallots and salted egg that gave the dish an added kick. This was followed by Northern Style Chinese Dried Chicken done Singapore-style – i.e. the chicken was treated with some sort of marinade before being frozen in the deep freeze and subsequently steamed. This resulted in a unique version of dried yet flavourful chicken meat. We finally ended the appetizer round with Cloud Ears with Wasabi. This traditional Chinese fungus which is ubiquitous in many a vegetable dish at Chinese restaurants was very lightly prepared. Topped with flying fish roe and accompanied by a wasabi-spiked sauce, it was surprisingly crisp and crunchy, and not in the least bit heavy on the palate.
Our tummies were seriously full by this stage and we hadn’t even started on the mains yet! One of our fellow diners who had eaten at the original Hong Kong branch of Xi Yan doggedly finished every last drop of the appetizers placed before us, as his earlier experience had indicated that the appetizers were generally much better than the mains. However, we were all very gladly proved wrong (and he had to groan and moan through the rest of the meal). The mains were again, out of this world. We started with Orange Beef – this was moist and tender beef shin cooked in an orange sauce and dried chilies then topped jauntily with preserved Chinese orange peel. The flavours, as they had done thus far, melded together to create a beautifully satisfying dish, with each individual taste complementing the other. Next up was Salivate Pork – literally. The minute the platter arrived, we started drooling. Thinly sliced tender pork was given the ‘ma la’ Sichuan hot pot treatment and wisely served alongside century egg and Japanese konyaku noodles that helped to absorb the heat of the sauce. Extremely special and surprisingly balanced between the numbing heat and the cooling freshness of the noodles, this dish was one of the favourites (though absolutely none of the dishes were disappointing) for its unique flavours. Eating our way through the spectrum of species, the chef then presented to us Shrimp Sauce Grouper with Pomelo. This again was an unusual combination of flavours common to Chinese cuisine. Shrimp Sauce is normally used to fry chicken, and I would never have thought it worked with deep fried fish. It did, very well in this case, again nicely balanced out by the tart juiciness of the pomelos. Just when we thought we could not be surprised further, a bamboo platter of Crab Roe Glutinous Rice was placed before us. The waiter advised us that the crabs, which were beautifully presented on top of the rice, were not the star of the dish. In this case, it was the rice, which had absorbed all the gorgeous crab juices and crab roe flavours that was the sweet pièce de resistance. He was right. The crab though still sweet, had given of its best to the rice which was infused with the best crab-iness flavour ever.
By this time, my fellow diners were declaring that they were beyond the ‘Full’ tank gauge reading. Understanding this and in preparation for the rest of our meal, the chef served up a palate cleanser of Mixed Fruits in Plum Sauce. Simple Fuji apples, Japanese pear, Chinese pear and Jambu were given a new lease of life by the just sour enough plum sauce. We happily crunched our way through the fruits and were revived in time for the Fresh Ginseng Chicken Soup – a clear, extremely healthy and very delicious broth. The mains finally finally ended with Braised Mushrooms with Pickled Cucumber. Despite the state of our tummies, the fragrant smells wafting out from the perfectly cooked Shitake, Portobello and Abalone mushrooms led us to dig in one final time with our chopsticks.
But, how could one forget dessert? Indeed, it was again a standout. Simply billed as Xi Yan Tang Yuan, the two innocuous looking dough balls floating in their bowls of ginger soup contained within them a treasure trove of delights. I doubt that nowhere else will I ever again taste tang yuan that is made up of salted egg, sesame, peanuts, sugared winter melon, and butter.
While lolling in our seats, we were greeted by the affable and very young chef (which is so impressive in itself), who presented us with one final touch to our meal – a Xi Yan cocktail shot of Calamansi juice, Honey and Whiskey. It was, like all the dishes before, a superb blend of the best ingredients, presented in a unique and refreshing way.
How could we not but book ourselves in for yet another meal on our way out of the restaurant? Hope we’ll be back in January!!
38A Craig Road
Tel: 9695 4957
A girl's commentary on food, cooking and all things delicious!
- Name: The UnProfessional Chef
- Location: Singapore
A closet food critic and wannabe chef who loves the art of cooking and enjoying great cuisine in the company of great friends!
Sunday, December 18, 2005
A Chinese Feast