Friday, 27 June 2014

A Review of Hua Ting Restaurant, Orchard Hotel, Singapore - Classic Cantonese at its Best

Hua Ting at the Orchard Hotel is another old warhorse of the Singapore restaurant industry.  22 years old this year, it has amassed so many World Gourmet Summit Awards of Excellence and other assorted paraphernalia that I don't think it even bothers displaying them anymore.  My friend M recently hosted a banquet at Hua Ting to celebrate his 50th birthday, so it was a great chance to re-acquaint myself with an old favourite.

Hua Ting Restaurant
The entrance to Hua Ting Restaurant (courtesy of Hua Ting Restaurant)
When I first visited Hua Ting in 2004, I was quite blown away by the quiet yet discreet luxury that was its hallmark.  There were no dim sum carts, no noisy waiters, no hustle and bustle.  White linen tablecloths adorned the dining room, and you could fit small villages between tables.  All dim sum was ordered a la carte and presented a la minute, so they reached the table before they had the chance to die in their bamboo steamers.  Coming from early 2000s Australia, where rickety trolleys and cantankerous yum cha aunties were the norm, this was all very novel and very upmarket.  And the food was, of course, sensational.

After moving to Singapore in 2007, I became a regular at Hua Ting.  But in 2011, Hua Ting's Masterchef Chan Kwok was promoted to Group Masterchef, leaving his protege Masterchef (no snark, but I wonder who awards the title of "Masterchef" to Chinese chefs?) Chung Lap Fai to man the stoves.  Overnight, the white tablecloths disappeared, leaving the tired and worn wooden tables to show their faces to the world for the first time.  I noticed a discernible drop in the quality of the food, and Hua Ting soon experienced (even if it didn't notice) a discernible drop in my patronage.

After an absence of around two years, I was glad to be back to see how the old ship was faring.  I was seated at a table of six people, whom M labelled the "Young Turks" even though none of us were particularly young nor Turkish.  The one objective upside of this seating arrangement was that our undermanned table was still served with enough food for ten!  Our "young" metabolism was to be given a stern test!

Birthday Peach Buns


This beautiful tree was presented to us as a birthday gesture for M.  Traditional peach-shaped buns filled with what I think was a bean paste, but with such a light texture it was almost custard-y.  The rest of the tree was not edible - trust me, we checked (sorry about the teeth marks on the tree trunk, guys!)  

Appetisers - Roast Pork; Fried Silverbait Glazed with Salt and Pepper


The roast pork is superlative, seasoned just perfectly with a nice balance of meat and fat.  The skin itself was not the crunchiest, but each bite released a to-die-for explosion of salty porkiness and lardy fattiness.  I should let you know now that our table only had six diners, and rarely have I ever been so glad to have a bigger share of food at a full-blown Chinese banquet.  

The silverbait did not make as much of an impression, but was nonetheless still very good with a flute of 2004 Louis Roederer Cristal.

Entree: Baked Hokkaido Scallop with Bacon and Mushrooms, Wrapped in Filo Pastry


Hokkaido must have 1,000 scallops for every man, woman and child, judging from how often you see these molluscs on Singapore restaurant menus.  Here, the scallop was seared, surrounded with a farce of mushroom and bacon before being wrapped in a lovely, crispy filo wrap.  Very nice.

Fish Course: Deep-Fried Soon Hock with Crispy Ginger and Superior Soy Sauce


Classic and delicious.  The ginger was sliced very thinly and fried until crispy, which added a nice spiciness and textural contrast.  The soy sauce itself was sweet and meaty, enhancing the soon hock which was smooth and moist but with a nice crunch on the exterior.  In traditional Chinese fashion, my neighbour and I had some fun picking out the flesh from the head afterwards!

First Meat Course: Crispy Roasted Duck

 

The only shortcoming of this duck was that they called it crispy, and it wasn't.  If they hadn't given it that damning label, I would have been perfectly happy with it.  Even the breast meat was moist and packed full of flavour, nicely cut through by a sweet and sour plum glaze.  Roasted peanuts add crunch to what would otherwise have been a monotonously textured dish.

Second Meat Course: Baked Pork Ribs with Lemongrass


Now this dish was a bit of an enigma.  I loved the cooking on the ribs, which had to be some of the moistest, juiciest, most tender pork ribs ever to have the pleasure of being eaten by me.  Even the batter was not particularly oily, and when I later learned that it was baked not fried, I could actually believe it.  A large stick of lemongrass is embedded in the ribs like a wartime journalist in an infantry unit, lending its subtle, citrussy perfume.  

However, it really, really needed a sauce.  Personally, I would have gone with something like a mango-based sauce infused with star anise, and paired it with a 2008 Gewurztraminer Furstentum from Domaine Weinbach (but that's just me!).  Delicious nonetheless, and I had a second helping.

Third Meat Course: Pan-Fried Beef Spare Ribs



After all the previous courses, I think this one was a little too much grease, a little too late.  The eggplant fritter I could have appreciated about 2-3 courses ago, whereas the beef ribs were ridiculously tasty and tender but also oily.  The capsicum dice are perky and fresh but there really weren't enough of them to create a discernible contrast.  That all said, I am left marvelling at how much flavour was packed into such a petite morsel.

Noodle Course: Stewed Mee Pok with Sliced Beef, Ginger and Spring Onion


The mee pok was a little softer and lighter than I would normally prefer, but given we had so many rich, meat-based courses preceding it, I understand why they served it as is.  This was a nice, light carbohydrate course, and of course honoured Chinese tradition as noodles are a symbol of longevity.  Good.

Conclusion

I was extremely impressed by the quality of the food tonight.  For me, it surpassed my most recent experience at Jade Palace by some margin.


I noticed that the dishes were all very traditional Cantonese preparations emphasising the quality of the product, and this was most probably to accommodate M's penchant for great wines (a few of which were served tonight).  I remember a dinner at Hua Ting a few years back when I asked the restaurant to hit me with their best dishes.  I ended up with a lot of con-fusion dishes involving dry ice, pandan leaves and bizarre combinations of protein and melon-balled tropical fruit.  If nothing else, tonight proved that while the kitchen may struggle to concoct so-called "modern" Chinese dishes, it is absolutely rock solid when it comes to the classics.

Tonight also proved that food-wise, Hua Ting still deserves to be counted amongst the elite tier of Singapore Chinese restaurants.  And it definitely will not be another two years before my next visit.

HUA TING
Level 2 Orchard Hotel, 
442 Orchard Rd.  
Tel: +65 6739 6666
Email: huating.ohs@milleniumhotels.com
BYO Policy: $50++ per 750mL bottle, corkage waived for wines 10 years and older.  For a more complete list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO and their corkage policies, please click here.


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