Monday, July 28, 2014

Grand Mandarin Restaurant - A Classy New Kid on the Chinese Gastronomic Block

It's quite easy to be jaded by Chinese fine dining these days. While Singapore has been infused with all forms of international gastronomy, very little has changed when it comes to Chinese cuisine.

The various attempts at infusion has only caused more confusion. More often than not, the fusion aspects are merely superfluous, and rarely do they actually work.

Grand Mandarin's owners are first timers in the F&B industry, but they have engaged some of the best and most experienced staff in the Chinese fine dining area to helm their fledgling restaurant.

Occupying a couple of floors in a building opposite Pearl Centre and next to the Outram MRT Station, it is decked out in glossy black to give it a somewhat sophisticated look. All the chinaware and settings are top notch and what you would expect in the best of modern Chinese restaurants.

As for the food, it is a combination of fine classics and some original twists and inspiration from elsewhere. And as with most new restaurants, there are some that hit the mark, and some that don't. For the most part, it is more than competent and warrants at least a look.

Honey Glazed Char Siew with Pork Loin

The most talked about dish is this roasted char siew that has been touted as one of the best in the island. The use of pork loin did elicit a rich, tender and fatty texture which is sure to please a lot of folks out there.

The buttery, melting meat was undeniable and highly pleasurable. The honey glaze though, was a bit too sugary raw and would have been more ideal if the caremelization had been taken right to the limit to provide that slight bitter and charred taste which would have helped to cut through the richness a bit better.

As it is, I will hesitate to call it the best, but it is certainly one of the best that I have had in a fine dining restaurant thus far. The choice of cut, and the potential it has makes this the dish of the day. If only the chef had the gumption to bring it nearer to the burnt edge, then it would be spectacular.

Grand Mandarin Platter

The classic platter came in four distinct combinations that highlighted some of the different techniques employed in their kitchen. It was elegantly plated but some consideration needed to be given to how it could be eaten, as the dish required a switch between chopsticks and fork/knife for each of its components.

There was the obligatory wasabi prawn which was marvelously prepared, and a deep fried, pork floss coated soft shell crab that was refreshing in both its conception and execution.

Elsewhere, the foie gras terrine paired with melon and abalone felt slightly underwhelming due to the lack of seasoning and bare simplicity in their final incarnations.

Grilled Lamb Ribs with Egg, Mongolian Style

Mongolian or not, the presentation was very eye catching with the egg resembling a burrata pouch nesting on top of the protein. The lamb felt tenderized but flavorful with its soy laden, bold sauce and supported by a base of sweet tasting enoki mushrooms.

While each component was quite immaculately executed, the final dish lacked a sense of coherence and balance. Some citrus or a perfume of fresh herbs, which would have brought some respite from some of the stronger and creamier flavors and textures, would have been most welcomed.

Yuan Yang Tofu

Tofu done two ways, the top portion encased in a fried vermicelli nest and topped with two pan seared scallops and some vegetables. Looking across our table, the searing of the scallops seemed inconsistent as mine was done perfectly while others needed another half a minute more to get a perfect sear.

The spinach and pumpkin sauce underneath the nest was again sweet tasting, which made the dish a bit one dimensional in its flavor profile. What I needed was some sharpness to take away some of that sweetness, and a boost of extra garlic, leek or scallions would have easily done the trick.

Bean Curd Pudding with Coconut Ice Cream, Mango Puree

Just the title of this dish suggested that there was one element too many in this dessert. Both the bean curd and coconut ice cream would have too much sugar for any one single dessert, and the mango puree was just not enough to bring it back to a finer balance.

I did enjoy the fine grains of grapefruit pulps and that touch of bitter acid was actually quite comforting and provided some very needed crunch to the dish. It is at times like this that I wish Chinese chefs could take a tip from their European counterparts to add a touch of savoriness and crumble to break the monotony of sweetness.

Despite my nitpicking, the cooking here is more than adequate and would please most Singaporean diners looking for a celebratory evening or to hold company events here.

My solitary gripe is that I was expecting a bit more with the reputation that has been touted thus far, and perhaps it's not entirely unexpected with a restaurant in its infancy that more time is needed to fine tune its menu and cooking.

The positives are that the head chef has an eye for creativity and detail, and his plating is quite strong and distinctive. At such premium prices, the kitchen team should not be afraid to introduce current and modern cooking techniques to add even more depth to classic Chinese cuisine and innovate more than what is being offered here. Even at the expense of turning off purists.

For now, the char siew is the undoubted star of the outlet, and given time to perfect this classic roast and some of its other items, there is a promise of greater things to come from Grand Mandarin.

Grand Mandarin
325 New Bridge Road

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