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DRAGON and phoenix motifs on the wall, heavy rosewood furniture, and abundant use of gold and red all around - it used to be easy to spot a Chinese restaurant. But the new age Chinese restaurant no longer follows that path. Instead, it's taking a leaf out of its Western counterparts, going chic, moving away from garish reds and adopting more subtle shades such as greys and beige, but still incorporating little splashes of colours.
One restaurant that has adopted this trend is Yan, at the National Gallery Singapore. The restaurant is the second in the Park Hotel Group which has gone mod. Its other Chinese restaurant, Mitzo at Grand Park Orchard, has mirrored ceilings, tinted glass panels, and plenty of sleek and shiny surfaces. It's hard to tell that this is a Chinese restaurant until the food is on the table. At Yan, designed by award-winning firm Asylum, the restaurant is adorned with sculptures befitting its location.
Diners these days are a lot more demanding, says Park Hotel Group's executive director Tan Shin Hui, and operators cannot compete on food quality alone.
"Dining is not only to satiate but is part of a lifestyle and is an enjoyment," she says. "With Mitzo and Yan, we are trying to deliver a dining experience that not only keeps diners' tummies satisfied with the food offering, but also engages the sense through various brand touchpoints and overall ambience; allowing them to enjoy their time spent with us."
Another restaurant that's hoping to take the stuffiness out of traditonal Chinese cuisine is Empress at the Asian Civilisations Museum - run by The Prive Group and designed by Takenouchi Webb.
While Empress is sleek with an upbeat vibe, old school elements like rattan-backed dining chairs and round wooden tables with lazy Susans add nostalgia. "We wanted a design that respects the location; that reflects approachability but also elegance, and has the balance between modern and traditional Chinese. So it was like sliding the scales on an equaliser," explains Prive group chairman Yuan Oeij.
After all, it's important for restaurants to keep themselves fresh in order to appeal to the younger generation, who seem to prefer Western cuisine to Chinese cuisine these days, says Executive Chef Ip Chi Kwong of Avenue Joffre at Resorts World Sentosa. He adds: "Nowadays you mostly see middle-aged or older people dining at Chinese restaurants, so it's important to keep yourself current. Then hopefully the younger crowd will come and embrace Chinese food again."
The Empress' new clothes
1 Empress Place, Asian Civilisations Museum, #01-03
Tel 6238 8733 | www.empress.com.sg
Open 11.30am-3pm, 6pm-11pm, Mon-Sun
With all the hype surrounding the opening of the new National Gallery Singapore, it's easy to miss the re-opening of the Asian Civilisations Museum just around the corner, along with its own slew of fresh dining concepts.
One of them is Empress by The Prive Group, which soft-opened on Tuesday serving classic Chinese cuisine in a contemporary setting, alongside the Singapore River.
"I wanted a place that's a little bit more fun," says Yuan Oeij, chairman of The Prive Group. "The environment is something that's a little bit more vibrant, but the food we still want to stick to classic Chinese food because food is not to be messed around with, but at the same time you don't want to be completely boring."
He adds that the restaurant focuses mainly on traditional Cantonese cuisine, and their specialty is in their roast meats prepared by executive chef Ricky Leung from Hong Kong. One of the highlights is a triple roast platter of Empress char siew, crackling roast pork, and Empress sticky & sweet pork ribs (S$28-S$56).
Other dishes on the menu include deep-fried tofu & salted egg yolk (S$10-S$20), king prawn dumpling in supreme broth (S$14/person), lobster mapo tofu (S$22-S$56), and a vegetarian-friendly fried brown rice medley (S$20-S$40).
Desserts, on the other hand, were an opportunity for Empress to be more creative, says Mr Oeij.
One of his personal favourites is the cempedak creme brulee (S$13/person), with both fresh and dried jackfruit sitting atop the classic French dessert.
By finding a balance between the traditional and the modern in both food and ambience, Mr Oeij hopes to present a "uniquely Singaporean experience" and stay true to both the concept of a Chinese restaurant, as well as the heritage of the building it is in.
"I think there's a place for everything, like the really old school Chinese restaurants. People have grown up with Chinese food, and there's still a love for that," he says. "But I've been on dates with my wife to some traditional Chinese restaurants, and they don't feel like a date. There's that difference - I don't feel like I'm on a night out, I feel like I'm just having a nice Chinese meal, that's all. So I'm trying to create a place that will feel like a night out." RL
Tastes of China
28 Sentosa Gateway, #02-137/138/139
Tel 6570-3213 | www.avenuejoffre.com
Open noon-4pm, Mon to Sun;
6pm-10pm, Sun to Thur;
6pm-10.30pm, Fri, Sat and public holiday eve
A meal at Resorts World Sentosa's new restaurant Avenue Joffre, is like a ticket to tasting the cuisines of China without even leaving your seat.
The restaurant was named after an area in Shanghai's French Concession back in the 1930s and 40s which is now known as Huaihai Road, and opened in late September in partnership with the Hong Kong hospitality group Epicurean Group.
The décor was inspired by a Cantonese filmmaker's home as well as the Chinese movie industry during that time, while the menu has a variety of dishes from different parts of China including Beijing, Guangdong, Szechuan and Zhejiang.
In the kitchen are four Asian master chefs each with their own area of expertise, including Head Chef for Szechuan cuisine Chef Gu Xiao Rong, Shanghainese cuisine Master Chef Zhou Yuan Chang, Dim Sum Culinary Master Ge Xian'e, and Executive Chef Ip Chi Kwong who specialises in Cantonese cuisine and oversees all culinary operations.
"The dishes that are served here, for instance the Cantonese dishes, the Sichuan dishes - most of them stick to traditional methods. But there are also aspects that we have added elements of modernity to," describes chef Ip, 62, a native of Hong Kong with 46 years of experience under his belt.
Highlights include a Szechuan poached sliced Mandarin fish in chilli oil (S$38-S$76) and braised tiger king prawn with homemade tofu (S$22/person), and of course dim sum selections like steamed Shanghai pork dumplings (xiao long bao, S$7) and steamed crystal prawn dumplings (har gao, S$6) as well as Chinese roast meats like crispy pork belly (S$20-S$40).
According to chef Ip, some of the ways the restaurant makes an effort to stay updated is in the décor, as well as the way dishes are plated. He explains: "In the past, Chinese cooking presented things in very big pieces, like dim sum. Over the years, dim sum has become more exquisite to make it look prettier and more appealing to a younger crowd."
"A lot of the Chinese dishes that are served here are traditional dishes but presented in a very modern way which is very close to Western plating. It's like a fresh presentation of something that everybody is very familiar with," adds the chef. RL
Marina Square, #03-128A/B Marina Square
Opening Dec 7
The soon-to-open Kai Garden at Marina Square, could well give the other Chinese restaurants in the area a run for their money. After all, the restaurant is opened and headed by executive chef Fung Chi Keung, who has had an illustrious career.
The Hong Kong-born chef was head chef at Pine Court at Meritus Mandarin Singapore, and then later group executive chef at Paradise Group, where he came up with the idea of colourful xiao long bao packed with unusual fillings such as foie gras and black truffles.
Chef Fung was also the executive chef at Xin Yue Modern Chinese restaurant at River Valley Road.
At the 200-seater Kai Garden, Cantonese cuisine will be the draw, and chef Fung will be giving his interpretation of heritage Cantonese classics, such as Peking Duck with Pumpkin Crepes and Double-Boiled Shark's Fin with Collagen and Chinese Herbs Soup.
"Cantonese is one of the most popular cuisines in the world and I truly believe that there is still so much to discover about the food," says chef Fung. "The paradox of full flavour yet delicate taste, of vibrancy of colours yet subtleness in presentation - this is what I love. I want to maintain this purity that makes Cantonese cuisine so unique but at the same time, create new and memorable experiences for the diners."
Just as how the menu will be today's interpretations of Cantonese classics, the interiors will be modern as well. The restaurant is still being fitted out, but from the artist renderings of the place, the colour theme revolves around greys, and dark browns. There will be Chinese screens adorning the ceiling and walls, with artworks lining some of the panels.
Apart from the main dining hall, there will also be a function room that can seat 60, and four private rooms. TSC
The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
Tea Salon opens from 12pm-10pm daily
Summer Pavilion at The Ritz-Carlton recently unveiled a new look, nearly two decades after its opening.
"A revamp was necessary in order for our signature Cantonese restaurant to remain competitive. Diners are now more discerning and apart from good food, they also consider the service and overall restaurant ambience," says Fabien Gastinel, the hotel's executive assistant manager for food and beverage.
At the new Summer Pavilion, diners will feel as if they are dining in a garden. There is a new "moon gate" entrance access, while the main dining room is surrounded by a modern Chinese garden. Colourful Italian porcelain tableware, floral motifs used in the restaurant's collaterals and objets d'art in the restaurant, all play up the summertime experience.
What's new are the four private booth seats in the main dining room, ideal for an intimate meal or business discussions. More private dining rooms have been added, with names inspired by Chinese plants and trees, such as plum and bamboo.
Also new is the Garden Suite, which comes with a separate entrance and can seat up to 30 people, making it ideal for extended family reunions.
Executive chef Cheung Siu Kong continues to helm the kitchen. The menu features Cantonese cuisine, with new dishes such as double-boiled sea whelk soup with fish maw and chicken served in a whole coconut; braised four-head South African abalone; poached rice with lobster, and braised estuary grouper with dried beancurd skin.
The restaurant now also boasts a Tea Salon (below) on its premises. "Tea culture has always been an important part of Chinese culture and tradition. We wanted to enhance the Cantonese fine dining experience for our guests by offering a selection of 10 speciality teas from Tea Bone Zen Mind to pair with their meals," says Mr Gastinel.
In addition to traditional Chinese teas such as Pu Er and Tie Guan Yin, unique blends such as Lychee Oolong and Momo-in-Black (black tea with Chinese white peach) and Jade Oolong are available. These teas and other artisanal tea accoutrements are available for purchase for diners who want to replicate the tea experience at home. TSC
National Gallery Singapore
1 St Andrew's Road #05-02
Open 11.30am-2.30pm, Mon to Sat; 2.30pm-5pm, Sat & Sun;
6pm-10.30pm, Mon to Sun
If not for its Chinese name, YAN, meaning feast in Chinese, this could pass off as an European restaurant.
The facade of the restaurant is lined with a semi-see-through oak screen, that allows diners to look out onto the roof top garden.
Several works of art can be seen throughout the restaurant, starting with a grand lighting feature hanging above the reception desk at the entrance. Created by Italian designer Diego Bassetti and architect Andrea Panzieri, the ceiling light resembles a giant Chinese scroll with fine nickel chains cascading down, creating a visual connect into the white gradient treatment of the reception stand.
But while its look is distinctively modern and elegant, the food is still traditionally Cantonese, with dishes such as crispy roast suckling pig and braised abalone with vegetables.
Tan Shin Hui, executive director at Park Hotel Group, which owns YAN, says that the cooking is still principally authentic Cantonese as the group believes strongly in the core principles and discipline of traditional Cantonese cooking.
"The provenance of the ingredients, and wok hei remains very important to us. What we have done is to bring a little more refinement into the typically boisterous Chinese restaurant, putting in more effort in the curation of chinaware and the art of plating; bringing Cantonese fine dining to another level," says Ms Tan.
She adds that essentially, the restaurant is still serving up familiar flavours but in the language of today.
Ms Tan notes that in Singapore, Western restaurants have been a lot more progressive in this respect, and there is a gap in the market for Chinese fine dining that is a little more refined and deliberated. At YAN, they do away with large sharing portions of food. Instead, dishes are mostly individual servings, so that small tables of two or four can still have a meal without dealing with leftovers.
This new approach, says Ms Tan, has attracted a younger crowd, while still getting positive feedback from regular diners.
"We have seen many younger diners bring their parents and even grandparents here; and we do get very good feedback even from the more mature diners," says Ms Tan.
She thinks preference for more modern Chinese restaurants are not the exclusive domain of the younger generation. "We would love to make Chinese dining chic, a place that the young would love to hang out; instead of only being reserved for the occasional multi-generational family dinners," she says. TSC