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Garden variety Chinese, with flashes of potential
Resorts World Sentosa
26 Sentosa Gateway,
#02-137/138/139 (Entry by Festival Walk and Crockfords Tower)
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 4pm; 6pm to 10pm.
IT never fails to bemuse us: Why is there this insatiable need to get foreign restaurants to come and open unimpressive outposts in Singapore, when we are perfectly capable of doing that ourselves?
Avenue Joffre is one of several culinary collaborations we've seen popping up in Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) with varying degrees of success. This latest one is named after a street that existed in Shanghai's French Concession in the 1930s, where a famous filmmaker hosted soirees for the glitterati who dined on sumptuous Shanghainese fare cooked by his personal chef. Between RWS and a Hong Kong dining group, Avenue Joffre was created to house different styles of Chinese cooking under one roof.
While Zhejiang, Sichuan, Beijing and Guangdong are supposed to be represented in this large, somewhat unconvincing tribute to Shanghai's cinematic heyday, the emphasis is still mainly on Cantonese fare with a smattering of everything else. There are little symbols against each dish to identify Cantonese from Sichuan, and perhaps Beijing (the efficient but geographically indifferent staff do not waste time trying to explain what is from where - in fact, they really don't care what you order, they just want to serve the food and be done with it).
We finally find a lady manager type who does try to make some recommendations, although our final list still ends up looking like a regular Cantonese dim sum menu with some spicy additions. Unfortunately, both the marinated chicken in spicy sauce (S$15) and marinated sliced beef and beef offal (S$13) float in the same salty, gingery chilli oil bath which tingles but lacks any depth of flavour. The thinly shaved beef and tripe, though, enjoy a little more success than the chicken.
The dim sum is garden variety - juicy but porky siew mai (S$5); sticky chive dumplings (S$5); xiao long pau ($7) that doesn't achieve the required thinness of skin; so-so salted egg yolk bun (S$4.50). The manager's recommendations are pricey: a double-boiled fishmaw soup (S$28) that's thick but bland; a competent double-boiled black chicken consomme (S$30) with chewy sea whelk and sad-looking morel mushrooms.
However, there are flashes of potential that saves this from being a barely average meal. After making our way through the dim sum, soup and pepper crab with no sign of the barbecue platter of suckling pig, char siew and roast pork that we ordered at the start, a male manager appears to tell us that it will take 45 minutes for the pig to be ready. He looks visibly cheered when we say we don't want it. He is open to our request for just the char siew and roast pork belly (S$25), although it takes another 20 minutes and a threat to cancel it before the plate arrives. The char siew is porky (again) and under-marinated, but we're pleasantly surprised by the juicy pork belly that's fresh out of the oven and wears a lovely thin crackling skin. And we enjoy the house special white pepper crab (market price or S$56 for one small crab) - pricey but beautifully deep fried pieces of meaty mud crab with a peppery coating served in a claypot filled with white peppercorns. Even the kitchen helper auntie who brings it out comments on the fragrance (the pink polo-shirted kitchen staff are the most genuine and nice folk in the whole restaurant). Even the coral in the shell is tasty enough to make us peel off all the tender eggwhite-like bits.
Like Ginza Yoshihiro, Avenue Joffre also needs to sharpen its act. Unless you're already in the area, it's going to take more than just a vague foreign connection to make you walk up this street.