Monday, 5 September 2016

Review of Wah Lok Cantonese Restaurant, Carlton Hotel Singapore - Zero Michelin Stars, Zero F--ks Given

From the many to choose from, one of the most egregious shortcomings of the inaugural "Michelin" Guide Singapore was its harsh treatment of Singapore's excellent Cantonese restaurants.  The idea that classic stayers such as Cherry Garden, Hua Ting, Hai Tien Lo, Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck (amongst others) were not worthy of any recognition, while Forest (owned by the major sponsors of the "Michelin" Guide, Resorts World Sentosa) and Shisen Hanten deserved one and two stars respectively, is questionable if not downright laughable.   Indeed, according to the geniuses at "Michelin",  Singapore's best Chinese restaurant is a Szechuanese restaurant adapted to Japanese tastes.  Go figure.

Another of those old stayers is Wah Lok Cantonese Restaurant at the Carlton Hotel Singapore (the one near City Hall MRT, not the Carlton City Hotel near Tanjong Pagar).  This was my first meal there, despite having heard many good things about it over the years.  And how glad I was that I did finally manage to visit.

After a very successful Alsace Society tasting of Domaine Albert Mann's excellent new vintages, we took a few of the leftover bottles (all of them, actually) and a few fresh ones to Wah Lok, where a pre-ordered suckling pig awaited...

We weren't really in a mood for a set menu with all that alcohol coursing in our veins, so with the exception of the suckling pig, all of the dishes were ordered a la carte on the evening and are generally available every evening.

Amongst wine drinkers, the most popular start to a Cantonese meal seems to be the Oily Trinity: Cantonese siew yoke (roast pork belly with crackling), deep-fried whitebait and fried frog legs with ginger.  And it's hardly surprising: across all human civilisations which have mastered the production of alcoholic beverages, the combination of heat, salt and grease are universally regarded as the best sponge for alcohol.  The siew yoke  and whitebait are very good, but not really much more than what you would expect from a restaurant of this standard.  The frog legs with ginger, on the other hand, are outstanding.  Some might find Wah Lok's version a bit heavy as the slices of young ginger are also battered, but they are so tender, juicy and without any overt gingeriness that I could eat these all day, especially with a glass of the Emmanuel Brochet Champagne which we had at the table.

Then it is time for the pig, which is served in two courses.  First the skin (as above),  served with steamed buns, scallions and hoisin sauce, utterly gorgeous and a beautiful combination with the full-bodied and textured Albert Mann Pinot Gris Hengst Grand Cru 2013.  Secondly, the meat fried with salt and pepper, which is perfectly fine but which I felt could do with a bit more salt.  On a side note, I was blown away by the Mann wines from the Furstentum Grand Cru, elegant and restrained unlike so much Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer on the market. I haven't had anything remotely resembling an ordinary wine from Furstentum's limestone-clay soils, and would recommend interested folks to also explore the Furstentum wines from Weinbach (especially their Gewurztraminer, and any late-harvest wine) and Paul Blanck (and of course Mann).

Beef cubes fried with black pepper sauce are tender and extremely flavoursome.  Slivers of deep-fried garlic add nuttiness and a lovely textural counterpoint to the spicy beef.

A couple of other dishes also hit the spot: a croquette of mashed yam with duck, a mixed vegetable dish with vermicelli in a thick brown sauce, and an amazing soupy rice, traditionally a simple finish with soup poured into the claypot after cooking rice, to loosen the last grains, but enhanced with the addition of crab meat which added a very welcome sweetness without detracting from the subtlety and finesse of the dish.  This dish was never part of my family repertoire, but it must have appealed to some atavistic gastronomic memory.  Simply bloody superb.

With some very decent desserts (cold guilinggao with sugar syrup for me), the final bill added up to some $88 nett per head (or around $74++).   And we were as stuffed as foie gras ducks.

Some of the excellent Alsatian wines served at dinner

In these days when the Singapore restaurant market is looking for more casual dining experiences (the final proof of this being the casual but excellent Bar-a-Thym's Francois Mermilliod opening an even more casual bistro in Clementi), it is always a genuine pleasure to find a "new" top-flight dining experience, where good food is served in a very comfortable environment.  And I like the fact that it does not charge corkage for BYO wines, although they are only prepared to provide one wine glass per diner for the evening.  BYO-ers should therefore also BTO glasses.

Wah Lok is a stalwart and has shown that it is capable of delivering superb food even after all these years.  While I am sure its management put on a brave face about "Michelin"'s omission, the fact remains that it will lose ground relative to its competitors who were so recognised, especially among tourists and the more fickle-minded in the local market.

And say, was that Marco Pierre White having dinner next to us?  Yes it was, and MPW was also spotted at Bar-Roque Grill earlier this week.  It looks like he is going for what's genuinely good and appreciated by the locals.  Must have a really sensible guide.

Carlton Hotel Singapore
76 Bras Basah Road
Singapore 189558
Tel: +65 6311 8188
BYO Policy: Corkage-free all week, but limited glassware available.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.
Reservations recommended


  1. Possibly my favourite title of a blog post ever :) lols

  2. And also.... I have wanted to go here for ages and this review has now sealed it. That pig looks a-mahzing!!

    1. Ha ha, thanks Tori. As angry and schadenfreuded as I am about "Michelin", this remains a family blog, so asterisks and all that ;)

      Yes, you absolutely should go, just don't ask for extra wine glasses or you will be slugged $30++ a piece!