Saturday, 20 June 2015

A Review of Cove 99, Peck Seah St, Singapore - A Newcomer Makes Its Mark

(Updated 26 June 2015)

Cove 99, a new-ish Cantonese restaurant at Peck Seah Street literally a stone's throw away from Tanjong Pagar MRT, has been garnering a fair bit of positive press from the media and the general public.  Great food, great value and unlimited free corkage all-day everyday is a lethal combination in anyone's books.  I had to go check this place out (all photos are courtesy of Melisa Lee)

A Private Room at Cove 99
Last Friday, the Alsace Society convened for a sold-out dinner at Cove 99 to pair with Marc Kreydenweiss wines.  Here is what we had, and you won't believe that we managed to keep the food cost per head down to $83 nett.

Appetisers: Geoduck Sashimi / Four Seasons Appetiser Platter


We were promised geoduck sashimi, but unfortunately, the geoducks (which Cove 99 gets delivered fresh and live every morning) somehow managed to die in the tank during delivery, so the restaurant had to propose a substitute.  The classic "Four Seasons" platter, consisting of (from top-left-hand corner) jellyfish heads in XO sauce, prawns and mayonnaise in crispy potato shreds, some chicken cake thing and smoked duck was OK.  The jellyfish heads were superb, and the chicken fillet thing was good.  The smoked duck, while decent, was not as smooth and as tender as I would have liked.  The prawns were a write-off, smothered in cloying mayonnaise to the extent that I couldn't even tell they were prawns.  A separate platter of fried fish skin was crispy and got us in a drinking mood.

First Entrée: Alaskan King Crab with Beehoon

A magnificent dish, with generous portions of crab beautifully cooked, and the beehoon having absorbed the sweetness of the crab.  Dish of the Night, and paired well with the wine of the night, a 2012 Kritt Gewurztraminer.

Second Entrée: Claypot-Braised Sea Cucumber

OK.  I like my sea cucumber braised to a degree of gelatinous unctuousness.  This could have done with a bit more cooking time, although the flavours weren't bad.

Third Entrée: Homemade Braised Beancurd with Shimeji Mushrooms

A nice rebound after the quasi-disappointment of the sea cucumber.  I have a real weakness for homemade beancurd, and this one hit the spot.  The repeated use of braising and rich, strongly-flavoured sauces, however, is starting to impact on my palate and stomach.  I gulp as I realise that we are barely halfway through the planned menu.

Seafood Course: Green Wrasse Done Two Ways.  First Way: Fried Slices in Pumpkin Soup

I thought this was another excellent dish.  The fried fish slices melted in the mouth, while the sweetness of the pumpkin broth was accentuated with the presence of Chinese wolfberries.  If anything, it was perhaps a little too sweet, but having a soup (unusual) at this late stage helped provide some relief from the incessant braises.

Green Wrasse Done Second Way: Fried and Braised with Roast Pork and Beancurd

And just as I thought I was in the clear, comes the richest, deepest, braise-iest braise of them all.  Holy crap, this was like an old school hoong siew fish head but on a Soviet-era steroid programme.  It was around this point that I started to check out mentally and start hitting the alcohol really hard.  

Seriously, I think I would have loved this dish in normal circumstances, if I hadn't already had five protein-rich courses preceding it.  And where was the rice?  Call me old-fashioned, but I firmly believe a Chinese banquet needs a rice course to complete it.  This dish was tailor-made to accompany some plain, steamed rice, and its sauce is really too rich without some plain carbs to help mop it up.  

Spicy Course: Chilli Prawns with Mantou

This was not your typical Singapore-style chilli sauce prawns, but rather a creamy-style, quite spicy sauce redolent with curry leaves.  The prawns themselves were quite small and a tad overcooked for my taste, but the mantou are crispy and fluffy.  Not bad.  A 2006 Riesling Kastelberg Grand Cru Vendange Tardive did not have the sweetness or the concentration to complement the fiery gravy.

Dessert: Orh Nee (Yam Paste) with Gingko Nut and Pumpkin Purée

Not bad.  It wasn't as rich as some of the more classic versions around town, having been lightened with the addition of pumpkin (pumpkin seems to be quite a big thing at Cove 99?), but it had enough oomph to provide the requisite sweet finish.


The lineup of Kreydenweiss wines
It is always an educational experience drinking across the range of a winemaker's wines, and I thank Alfa International and Susy Santoso for providing us the wines at a good price.

The food at Cove 99 is interesting.  It is definitely above average, with a couple of clear stand-out dishes such as the Alaskan King Crab and the Green Wrasse with Pumpkin Sauce.  And as I mentioned before, getting a full-blown Chinese banquet with luxury ingredients for a mere S$83 nett is a deal in anyone's language.  Corkage is waived but they do not have very good stemware, or much of it, so we had to hire some glasses in for the evening.

For my tastes, however, the menu progression did not work very well, and the succession of big, bold, braised dishes tired me out far more quickly than I would have liked, especially in the context of a wine dinner where the food should accompany or enhance the wines, without the risk of overwhelming them.  I will probably come back, but with an awareness of the kitchen's penchant for big flavours.

Update, 26 June 2015:  I'm not ashamed to admit I'm wrong.  Based on my dinner there last Friday, I had mentally compartmentalised Cove 99 as a place for big banquets with big flavours at good prices, if lacking a little finesse.  A repeat dinner this week showed that I really knew nothing about it at all.

Because we couldn't be bothered going a la carte, our group of three had an order each of the Executive Set Dinner ($68.80++, no credit card discounts applicable).  The mayonnaise prawns rolled in crispy potato were as conceptually flawed as before, but every other dish showed finesse and the guidance of a good palate.  Even the sliced duck breast came this time with fat and skin, and far more juiciness.

I need to mention three hero dishes.  The cod fillet in emerald sauce, a generous tranche of cod (my friends noted with envy that my piece was larger than theirs!) smothered in a vivid green sauce of Chinese celery and (I think) sour plum and chilli, perfectly balanced measures of oil and acidity.  The half-tomato in ginseng broth and chopped hon-shimeji mushroom was delightfully clean-tasting and subtle, showcasing the natural umami of the tomato and mushroom.  The egg crepe parcel stuffed with de-shelled crab and waddling in a puddle of thick pumpkin broth was superlative, and I still marvel at how they got the crepe so thin yet robust enough to encase the crab meat and withstand being tied into a little "treasure bag" shape.

I have to say, now I'm even more curious as to what the kitchen can offer, and I'll probably be back sooner rather than later.

72 Peck Seah Street
Singapore 079329
Tel: +65 6224 0991
Reservations recommended.
BYO Policy: Corkage-free, seven days a week.  For a list of Singapore restaurants and their BYO policies, please click here.

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