Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gold Leaf Taiwan Porridge Restaurant - A Taste of Authentic Taiwanese Cuisine

Do not be misled by the signage that says New Taiwan Porridge Restaurant today, for by the time you read this and make a trip to Amoy Street, it may revert to the actual name of Gold Leaf Taiwan Porridge Restaurant.

And the brand that is Gold Leaf is a nostalgic one for the older generation, who may know it from its former glory days at Oxley Rise, where it used to be one of 2 places to go to for authentic Taiwanese cuisine. The other being Oasis.

While Oasis is today a pale shadow of its former self, Gold Leaf has been moving from place to place for a number of years.

It has finally settled down in Amoy Street, and is currently being managed by the next generation of 30somethings, and they are keen to preserve the original taste and flavors of the Gold Leaf name.

Talking to one of the current family owners, she was keen to point out that the current chefs were former proteges of the original Taiwanese chef who started Gold Leaf here, and they have largely kept to his original recipes and techniques.

The restaurant itself is very low key but is more than spacious and comfortable, and preserves a very homely setting that goes well with the warm and comforting food that they serve.

Authentic Taiwanese cuisine is really hard to find these days, and aside from fine dining establishments like Shin Yeh in Liang Court and my own favorite Liu He Taiwanese Snacks in Tampines, there is very little really good Taiwanese fare on offer here.

Many local Singaporeans have been spoilt on the very ghastly Shih Lin Market snacks, which themselves, are very poor imitations of the actual street food and night market fare in Taiwan. So thank goodness, we have found Gold Leaf again today, keeping all the old style flavors in tact.

Oyster Mee Sua

Oyster Mee Sua is one of those classic Taiwanese dishes that looks easy to do but rarely is it done well outside of Taiwan. And here, I have to be frank, it was good but not the best that I have tasted. Liu He has that distinction of having the best oyster mee sua in Singapore for me.

Still, this version here trumps any of the Shih Lin ones in Singapore, and the oysters served were plump and fresh. The broth was certainly flavorful but lacked that tinge of oyster sweetness and was somewhat a bit more thick than we are used to. And the mee sua was just a tad overcooked. Otherwise, this was still a mee sua that was above par.

Chai Poh Omelette

A must have with Taiwanese porridge is the chai poh omelette, and I used to remember the old Oasis serving one of the best versions here may eons ago. The omelette at Gold Leaf certainly looked the part, and visually it might have looked overcooked with its beautiful golden crust.

But once you cut into it, it revealed a perfectly cooked egg dish. The texture was still dense and fluffy, and still had a certain moistness within, which showed off the mark of a good cook. The chai poh was also nicely restrained and prevented it from being too salty. Again, with porridge, this was a perfect accompaniment.

Fresh Cockles With Lime and Chilli Dip

You hardly get fresh cockles served this way today, and it was a delight to have this here. The cockles themselves were fresh and succulent, full of the flavors of the ocean and had that naturally sweet taste that were just amazing on their own.

But dip one of these lovely beauties into the lime and chilli soya dip that this dish was served with, and the cockles just went to a whole different level. The lime and chilli cut through that sweetness with a rapier like precision that epitomized the meaning of flavor balance. Simple, but delightful.

San Bei Chicken

San Bei Chicken or Three Cup Chicken, is a dish of braised chicken with basil and chinese wine. The chicken itself was very well cooked and tender and moist within, and the flavors for a san bei chicken were somewhat more muted when compared to the ones you get elsewhere.

Personally, I prefer it this way as it is not too overhanded in its seasoning and the basil leaves themselves were not too overpowering. In fact, they were so faint that it was even hard to make out the basil flavors at all. What was lacking was a bit more sauce and that would have made this dish far more delectable.

Fried Prawn Rolls

Similar to Hokken styled prawn rolls, the Taiwanese version seemed to be less greasy and had a more intense filling, where I tasted of minced prawn, spring onions, carrots and water chestnuts. The filling itself was thoroughly enjoyable with the culmination of flavors and different textures playing on your palate.

The rolls were also nicely fried in a rich golden color that still retained a nice crunch and crust on the skin, which was meticulously made. I liked the fact that the chefs took the time to drain off the excess oil before plating it and took care and attention to the plating. Though simple it was still visually appealing.

Er Chai/Swan Vegetables

Er Chai is rare to find in most Chinese restaurants here these days, though I have had this in 2 of my all time favorites here ie. Cafe De HK and Le Chasseur, and they were both memorable for the incredible textures and slight bitterness of the greens.

The er chai served here was simply sauteed with some wolf berries and it was a perfect vegetable dish to go with your porridge. Nothing pretentious, just a good ingredient treated with respect and allowed to shine on its own. Sometimes, when an ingredient is this good, no fancy culinary pyrotechnics are needed.

Kou Rou/Braised Pork Belly

I have had this dish here before that was so badly done I could almost swear myself off this dish permanently. Fortunately, Gold Leaf has totally restored my faith. The pork belly was so gigantic and the layer of fat was so inviting that it already made its mark even before we got a chance to eat it.

The meat was so beautifully braised that it came apart without any resistance, and it had that wonderful buttery melt in your mouth texture that most other pork belly dishes elsewhere would kill for. And while I am not a big fan of mei chai, I was a total convert here.

The mei chai was nicely crunchy and fresh, and was not overly salty and sweet like most mei chai you get in Bak Ku Teh places. The flavor combination of the pork belly and the mei chai will go down as one those classic flavor profiles that will forever stand the test of time.

Deep Fried Fish

I had never had this before, so it was a pleasant surprise to taste this incredibly well done plate of deep fried fish. I forgot the name of the fish, but it resembled an oversized ikan bilis fish coated with a savory dark sauce.

The whole fish was so well fried that you could basically eat it from head to tail, and had an amazing aromatic crust to every fish. This would really be a perfect bar food dish and having a pint of beer to wash it down would be the perfect way to go.

Or Ni/Yam Paste

Or Ni is such a classic Teochew dessert but sadly, no one makes it like the old days where pork lard is used. Instead, for some foolish health reason which I cannot fathom, every restaurant has reverted to vegetable oil and that has taken away that flavorful greasy goodness of a well made yam paste.

Unfortunately, Gold Leaf has also done the same and while the yam paste was nice, it was not spectacular. They did try something different though, and that was to make it into a puree instead of a more coarse like texture that you get elsewhere.

While the puree was interesting, it was not something that most of us are familiar with and I would prefer it to be done in the more classic way. It may look more messy, but that is how or ni should look and taste. Still, it might be an interesting alternative for those who love this dish and would like to try something a bit different.

Most of the dishes mentioned above are all classic dishes that are not usually found in most commercial Chinese establishments these days. The servers and waitresses were also very friendly and attentive and the lunch crowd was very buoyant and full during the time we were there.

For its location, the prices are fairly affordable and not out of this world. With its combination of authentic Taiwan fare and classic comfort food, it is certainly value for money. It feels homely and even a bit rustic, and has non of those gimmicky gadgets like iPad ordering and such, thank goodness!

The owners did share with us that they were experimenting with other dishes that were not classic Taiwan fare, but more modern concoctions found in other fine dining restaurants elsewhere. We did sample a few of these but were largely unimpressed.

I told the owner then and I would repeat it here again, to ask them to stick to their roots and make the food that made them popular in the first place. The current generation of owners does seem to want to preserve the heritage of this brand but yet they are also keen to appeal to a younger generation at the same time.

My advice is not to pander to every comment from every diner that comes through, as what is evident is the classic cooking and honesty that goes into each dish is what is key to continuing the longevity of the Gold Lead brand.

I hate to say it, but there are a lot of Singaporeans, especially the younger generation that does not know or appreciate what classic good food is all about. Trust in your own beliefs and in your own food and stand true to your own culinary philosophies.

In the meantime, if you crave for a good old fashioned Taiwan porridge that you have been missing since the good old days of Oasis, head on down to Amoy Street. You might be pleasantly surprised like I was.

Gold Leaf Taiwan Porridge Restaurant
110 Amoy Street

3 comments:

  1. OMG, you've found Gold Leaf! I thought they're long gone for good!! I used to frequent them & Chai Poh Omelette, Braised Pork & Fried Fish are the must-haves. Do they still serve the taukwa appetizer with ikan bilis? Gotta visit one of these days......

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  2. yes the taukwa appetizy is still there :) and u r right about the top 3 dishes :)

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  3. I've been eating there for many years and They opened a branch in Thomson couple of years back.

    My family used to frequent the gold leaf along tanjong pagar road at least twice a Month for supper when I was still in primary school. not sure If They are related But the standard was definitely much better then.

    The fish dish is called 麻人鱼and also one of my favorites. I've always loved their appetizer, the braised taukwa w soy bean paste and ikan bilis.

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