Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Review of Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant, The Forum - Please Don't Go There.

Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant (not to be confused with "Crystal Jade Palace Restaurant") may be hidden away in the basement of the Forum Shopping Mall on Orchard Road, but it is certainly no secret.  It is a particular favourite of wine lovers for its unlimited no-corkage BYO policy, so getting a table on weekend nights is virtually impossible.  I certainly do NOT want more people making it even more difficult for me to get a table, so this review of dinner there last week comes with a single message which I hope comes through loud and clear:

PLEASE DON'T GO THERE!!!

It's very popular, but this means the place is always packed so tightly and noisy that you can hardly have an intelligible conversation.  I mean, do you really want to be going to dinner with your mother-in-law without being able to hear a single word she says?  This time, however, I was with friends, and our dear comrade S somehow managed to book a private room.  For those interested in games of chance, scoring a private room at Jade Palace is about as likely as being dealt a royal flush, or getting good service in a restaurant in Singapore.

The remarkable 2007 Goulée, mingling with a NV Crémant
de Bourgogne Blancs de Noirs from Laurent Cognard
A quick browse through the wine list shows a bias towards Bordeaux; who honestly thinks that Bordeaux is the best match with the lightness and freshness of Cantonese cuisine?  And the prices are simply horrendous: Dom Perignon from the awful 2003 vintage goes for $198++, while Potel's Chambertin from the same vintage goes for $338++.  Exploiting the corkage-free BYO Policy, S assembled a flight of lesser-known Bordeaux for our enjoyment.  Standouts for me were the rich, musky 2009 Goulée Blanc, the white wine of St-Estèphe Second Growth Cos d'Estournel, the 2008 Fleur de Bouard with its sweet herbs and soy sauce notes, and the delightfully understated 2004 Chevalier de Lascombes.

Appetiser: Deep-Fried Platter


A couple of batons of fried eggplant tossed in dried meat floss, whitebait fritters and a dish that I have not tasted before: little lightly-spiced nuggets of chicken meat, tendons and soft bones.  They are seriously addictive.  Like drugs.  Drugs are bad, therefore this dish is also bad.  Yeah.  Think about it.

"Seafood" Course 1: Fried Frog Leg with Ginger


The frog legs are juicy and perfectly cooked, if you are into that sort of inanity, while the ginger adds crisp and spice.  I really don't want to say too many good things about this dish just in case you are tempted to make a booking.

Seafood Course 2: Stir-Fried Prawns in Soy Sauce and Black Beans


I thought the prawns were slightly overcooked but to my eternal chagrin, the sauce was good, sweet and caramelised from the onions.

Intermezzo: Asparagus


It is unusual in a Chinese banquet to be served a pure vegetarian dish this early in proceedings.  I can only guess that the kitchen thought it would be a good idea to break up the grease of the deep-fried dishes.  After downplaying the virtues of the earlier dishes and exaggerating (in some cases fabricating) their deficiencies, I can honestly proclaim this dish to be "meh".  The asparagus was overdone by around 30 seconds, causing them to lose that vitality and snap, while the sauce shone with a sheen that suggested a heavy hand with the oil.

Poultry Course: Cherry Wood Roasted Duck


Having dropped my feeble pretense that Jade Palace is crap, I can now return to honest reporting and tell you that this dish was very good.  The restaurant apparently imports cherry wood chips to fuel its duck-roasting oven.  There was a light, floral, almost sweet note to this duck skin that I don't see in more "run-of-the-mill"  roast ducks, so I can only guess that that was the influence of the cherry wood smoke.  The staff worked hard to divvy up the dishes into individual portions for our table so it would be churlish to complain, but it would have been nice to have a larger portion of the sticky plum glaze to slice through the richness of the meat.

Meat Course: NZ Lamb Rib with Garlic


Wow, simply wow.  I have had this dish before, but I had honestly forgotten how good it was.  The rub of garlic, chilli and sugar working with the gaminess of the lamb sets it off like a flavour bomb, releasing layers and layers upon layers of complex flavour.  It's a good thing that we only have a modest portion, because I could eat this all night, and that's not going to be very good for my health (or my bank balance, judging from the ridiculous prices of fresh meat in Singapore).  An easy winner of the very elusive, equally prestigious "Dish of the Month" title for November 2013.

Vegetable Course: Chinese Spinach with Three Eggs


An old favourite, but there's a good reason why it has remained so throughout the centuries.  Perfectly cooked spinach (check out the lively green of the leaves) in a toothsome broth, punctuated with savoury bursts of salted duck egg, and the palate-tingling minerality of century eggs.  As to what the "third egg" was, I tried to work it out as I was eating it (including keeping a tastebud out for the delicious evanescence of a regular chicken egg) but nothing registered on my radar.  I blame the Fleur de Bouard.

Rice Course: Claypot Rice with Waxed Meats

Jade Palace does a fine line in old classics, and nothing comes much more classic than this.  The waxed meats are bought in from a specialist producer in Hong Kong, which most top restaurants here seem to do (Cafe de Hong Kong on Balestier Road does a fine version of this dish also).  The rice is just lightly licked with the heat of the claypot and the lap cheung (red pork sausage) is pretty good, but the yun cheung (liver sausage) is gamey, iron-y and steals the show.  A sprig of choy sum accompanies the plated waxed meats, but it is doused in the melted fat and juices from the waxed meat prior to service, so fat lot of good that's going to do to punctuate the, erm, fat.

Rice Course 2: Rice Soup!


A throwback to a simpler time, stock is poured into the claypot to loosen the rice crust from the pot as a nourishing final dish.  I love that after the richesse of prawns, frogs, duck and waxed meats, that we are finishing on such a humble note.  The stock is simple but tasty, and washes down the grease from the previous course.  Wonderful.

Dessert: Osmanthus Jelly and "Ma Lai Ko"


I adore the light-refracting quality of the jelly, like a shimmering aqueous jewel.  With the slightly sweet, herb-y, honey-like influence of the osmanthus, it tastes pretty good too.  The "Ma Lai Ko", a Hong Kong dim sum classic supposedly inspired by a Malay dessert, is as light and sweet a sponge as I have come across.  Unlike many Chinese restaurants, dessert at Jade Palace doesn't represent a sudden cliff-drop in quality.

Conclusion

I mentioned earlier that despite having had the lamb rib dish at Jade Palace before, I had forgotten how good it was.  That's how I feel about Jade Palace generally; I always leave with a warm glow of comfort and satisfaction, but its amazing food always sneaks up on you and delivers a knockout 1-2 combination when you least expect it.  There are so many highlights on any given banquet menu, and it may be that continuous hitting of highs that makes it difficult to recall a particular standout-dish, simply because nothing particularly stands out!  From some perverse perspective, it may be seen as a problem, but it is a very pleasant one to have.

It's interesting that I haven't found a single person to knock Jade Palace.  Many restaurants that I love, Guy Savoy, Andre, Les Amis, have their detractors for various reasons.  Jade Palace doesn't seem to have any, because apart from providing great food, it also gives great value.  The above menu (which included complimentary fruit) somehow cost only $78 nett.

Jade Palace may not have the luxurious feel of a Summer Palace or Cherry Garden, but its food is more than a match for its plusher counterparts.  For me, it is, pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar, the best Cantonese cuisine restaurant in Singapore.

Just please don't go there.

JADE PALACE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
583 Orchard Road
B1-13 The Forum Shopping Mall
Singapore 238884
Tel: +65 6732 6628
www.jadepalace.com.sg

BYO Policy: Unlimited corkage-free, all day, every day.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, you did a bad job of convincing me not to go. My only reservation is that it's in a mall, I really hate restaurants in malls :( but I might be swayed for free corkage.

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  2. PS I am sooo happy to have just found your blog. I've been ranting about the ridiculous way the Singaporean food blogging world works for a little while now and sometimes feel like I'm the only person around who has these views. It's a shame you can't do more posts with a busy 'proper' job to do, I'd love to see more of your recommendations. Thanks!

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  3. Hi Victoria,

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading. And please do visit Jade Palace, it is worth ignoring your mall-o-phobia for a few hours.

    I was thinking of writing a piece exactly about "the ridiculous way the Singaporean food blogging world works", but it seems you have already done my dirty work for me!

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