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A mix of colourful desserts and meals with an artistic touch
Janice Wong Singapore
#01-06 National Museum Singapore
93 Stamford Road
Tel: 9712 5338
Open daily: 11am to 11pm (Mon to Thurs); 11am to 1am (Fri & Sat); 11am to 6pm (Sun)
FOR the whimsical at heart, acclaimed pastry chef Janice Wong is your guardian angel. Enter her candy-coloured world and you are in a safe haven of lollipop swirls and cotton candy perspectives. She will unleash your imagination the way she has her own, achieving artistic heights with edible squiggles and shapes, sculpted and illustrated with colourful chocolate paint. She invites you to do the same at her new eatery in the National Museum - shed your cultivated work persona, find your lost innocence, and set yourself free.
That's really sweet, but the thing is, I don't have any imagination and I just wanna eat.
There is a Disneyland gift shop aura about Janice Wong Singapore - in the sense that first you believe the fantasy, and then you buy a chunk of it to bring home. Shelves and counter space are filled with jars of chocolate paint, ice cream and bon bons that form a psychedelic frame around the showpiece art work featuring dramatically dripping paint.
It's a lively contrast to the drab, grey, cement screed standard issue space in which a few dining tables are crammed, for people to have dessert at all times of the day, or a proper meal out of the menu of noodles and dim sum - the latter being the real reason for opening this restaurant in the first place.
The idea is intriguing: Why does fun have to be limited to dessert? Why can't you take the same flights of fancy that sweet things can be, and apply the same principles to the likes of xiao long pao?
And that's what you get - steamed buns in swirly designs, hot soup dumplings inspired by a Pantone colour chart and noodles with poetry that you have to quickly read before it melts into your soup.
Chef Wong makes a good attempt, but by dabbling in dim sum she sets the bar higher than if she had just created her own brand of savoury cuisine. It's such a painstaking craft in itself, and by giving diners a frame of reference, the instinct is to compare. So while pink xiao long pao stuffed with whisky infused pork may seem like a good idea, the execution doesn't justify the price, which is higher than the uncoloured classic, and not as tasty.
That said, the whisky pork dumplings (part of the S$28 set lunch) is one of the better bites on the menu, with a shot of alcohol infusing the hot soup. The only drawback is the pink skin which is soft rather than resilient.
While the set lunch sounds like a good deal, it's only if you have the stomach of a pigeon - you get a choice of two dumplings or a "whimsical bun", a bowl of noodles and dessert.
You may need to supplement your meal with other bites such as the Signature 5 (S$15) a line-up of dim sum designed to showcase variations of dumpling skin texture, although we seriously couldn't tell the difference between elastic, crystal and matt. One is a sui gao-like chicken dumpling, another a multi-hued scallop morsel and the third a caponata filled siew mai which just busts all our boundaries of what siew mai should and shouldn't be. They all look pretty, but don't go beyond so-so.
Whimsical buns, by the way, are puffy little steamed doughy pao with decorative swirls on the surface filled with a choice of salted egg yolk, braised veal or minced vegetables. Each costs S$4 for a two-bite bun. Again, they almost, but don't quite make it. They're nice and fluffy only about two-thirds through, when it gets soggy just before you reach the filling of bland minced veal or an odd vegetable mix. BBQ candy pork buns (S$14) are cute as can be - striped candy wrapper shaped dough but with an indistinguishable filling and off-kilter sweet pork floss scattered on the plate.
The noodles, being oddball enough to be of interest, fare slightly better, especially when you dunk in the selection of surprisingly good table condiments - addictive mushroom sauce, well-balanced chilli-vinegar dip and a pretty good XO sauce. All help to elevate the crispy nest of charcoal noodles (S$22) that sit with braised pork belly slices in thickened, sticky collagen broth and a very long poem written on a sheet of mushroom paper. Because we think it's pretentious, we refuse to read it so we don't know what it says before it disintegrates. But we're quite content with the chewy noodles and passable pork belly, even if we have a sneaking suspicion that it's more than collagen that's thickening the broth.
The desserts we're offered with the set lunch include a dessert bar-worthy sticky chewy warm chocolate fudge brownie, vanilla ice cream and a smear of peanut butter jazzed up with pop rocks. It's a lot better than the chocolate mochi roll with its disagreeable pasty texture coiled around chocolate paste and the same peanut butter paste.
Despite the patchy food, there is a pleasing ambience to enjoy here, and the sincerity of the young, eager staff. If you still want to indulge your inner kid, there is much from the dessert menu to pick from. But for the rest of the menu, what it needs is a good reality check.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication