Sunday, November 15, 2015

Avenue Joffre - Exquisite Cuisine From Shanghai, Szechuan and Canton

Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, Avenue Joffre is not a cheap knockoff of some of the best food from China and Canton.

Quite the opposite, the restaurant actually boasts of a number of award winning and reputable names. The areas they cover are also quite interesting, from the spicy delicacies of Szechuan to well executed Cantonese dim sum fare, it stands out for its diversity.

With its bamboo adorned exterior looking like a classic inn from old martial arts movies and books, the interior has a light coloured posh feel about it.

Everything looks pristine, yet not overly pretentious and there are ample seating area with the requisite private rooms for VIP entertaining and such.

Among the Shanghai dishes, the familiar ones like Xiao Long Bao will definitely be popular. But they do carry some more obscure classics like Shen Jian Bao as well. The pastry chef for these bao nuggets is a national award winner in China, so my expectations were rather raised. And met.

Xiao Long Bao

The aforementioned Xiao Long Bao is among the best I have savoured here. Paper thin skin, and a superb filling with the mandatory burst of lardy broth when you bite into the fragile bao exterior ensures gastronomic joy.

The excellent ginger and vinegar accompaniment seals the deal to help take away the richness with a smooth tinge of acidity and brightness. Very little to fault, and so much to enjoy in these little pouches of savoury bao goodness.

Shen Jian Bao

The Shen Jian Bao actually trumps the Xiao Long Bao by just a bit. Beautifully handcrafted bags of pork filled buns that are cooked twice. First steamed, and then finished off with a moderate fry on the buns, resembling the look of pot stickers on the underside.

The Shen Jian Bao is so intricately made here that the bottom part has a golden thin layer of crisp crust that gives a perfect textural contrast to the rest of the components. Soupy interior with tons of flavour will just pleasure your senses for quite a bit. Undoubtedly the best version so far in Singapore.

Zhenjiang Pork Terrine

It may sound like a French classic, but this perennial Chinese dish is similar to the Teochew's pork jelly. Albeit elevated by some well chosen vinegar notes to give it a better balance and less overpowering tone.

Pretty in pink and brown slabs of cold jelly, the encased pork is terrifically seasoned and marinated with some acidity and spices, the resultant terrine epitomises the classic Shanghainese profile of savoury and sour.

Poached Sliced Fish in Chilli Oil

Truth be told, I have never been a fan of this fish in chilli oil dish. Most times, it uses fish with too many bones to go through, and the ghastly sight of oil and an overabundance of chilli makes it too overpowering to enjoy any goodness of fish sweetness.

Surprisingly at this restaurant, this fish dish far more restrained in terms of the heat quotient. Despite its chilli laden looks, the flavours are actually very fragrant from the combination of sesame oil, chilli, Szechuan peppers and fish.

In a way, I finally get why some folks adore this so much. When it is finely balanced as it is here, it brings out a combination of highs and peaks in aromas and taste, and the ocean sweetness of the fish comes through nicely.

Tiger Prawn with Homemade Tofu

The head chef, Chef Ip used to helm the Tower Club a decade or so ago. And I used to remember how much I enjoyed his fancy looking plates then. It was really good to get reacquainted with his food again.

His standout during our lunch is this visually arresting plate of prawns and tofu. The prawns are adequately done, with just enough of a bite and doneness.

It is the housemade tofu that really put a large smile on my face. Soft, pillowy parcels of beancurd infused with a mixture of meat and seaweed that continuously explodes with flavour after flavour. And that comforting, mushy but not messy texture just brings such gastronomic ecstasy.

There are more dishes on the menu, and while some may have missed the mark, the general consensus is that the food is definitely of a high calibre. Simply do not be boring and go for the ordinary items like liu sa bao and dim sum.

The prized items are definitely the Shanghai favourites and Szechuan classics. These are definitely excellent renditions of their original versions and in some cases, elevated somewhat in this fine dining setting.

Being a purist, I would have liked the menu to be scaled down a bit so that it makes better focus for both the kitchen and the diners.

Nevertheless, the typical Singaporean will appreciate the array of selections and the food here certainly offers up the right conditions for both executive entertainment as well as family outings.

Avenue Joffre
26 Sentosa Gateway

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