Do you long to re-experience cuisine from a bygone era?
Until time-travelling becomes a viable option, from now till end-May, Intercontinental Singapore's Chinese restaurant, Man Fu Yuan, is offering a blast from the past with its new menu - "A Taste of Nostalgia".
To adapt to the current fast-paced, profit-driven F&B environment, today's kitchens often replace manual processes with automation, drastically altering the taste of the food. Dishes and techniques from the past are almost non-existent. But restaurant manager, Patrick Ng, says they were compelled to recreate traditional cuisine using basic ingredients with the right techniques after often hearing people reminisce about food from the past, and how it tasted better. As such, after months of thorough research and experimentation, Man Fu Yuan will be offering customers "a taste of nostalgia".
But the nostalgia occurs even before the menu-tasting. It begins the moment you step onto the hardwood flooring of the newly refurbished Man Fu Yuan, located in the heart of Bugis, a heritage-rich district, where you are greeted with a combination of Peranakan-inspired louvred windows, rich tapestry and tabletop ceramics - an authentic setting that subconsciously throws you back to the precious golden days governed by rich traditions and strong culture.
The establishment has a seating capacity of 100 in the main dining room with four private rooms and four semi-private rooms accommodating up to 72 people - catering to business luncheons, family reunions and intimate dinners.
You are recommended to begin your fond trip down memory lane with the double-boiled winter melon with seafood soup. The clear and delicate soup, light on the palate, comprises prawns, scallops, crabmeat, conpoy and duck steamed and served in a whole winter melon, setting the bar for the rest of the meal up high.
As a follow-up appetizer, try the Hong Kong style steamed pork belly in shrimp paste. The pork belly is slathered in steamed fermented shrimp paste from Tai-O, a fishing town in Hong Kong, almost synonymous with its iconic shrimp paste, where for years it is prepared traditionally by indigenous methods, producing a strong aromatic flavour that enhances the meat.
During its experimentation process, Man Fu Yuan had tried making the dish with a handful of different shrimp paste brands before settling on the current, which most robustly brings out the flavour of the dish, says Mr Ng.
You may wish to pair your dishes with thoughtfully selected teas, a unique Man Fu Yuan offering. A hot cup of tea is an almost indispensable component of both ancient and modern Chinese cuisine. And Man Fu Yuan acknowledges this fact with its tea-infused menu, which most recently includes a co-creation by Mr Ng and Man Fu Yuan's Chinese executive chef, Kwan Yiu Kwan - the tea-smoked pork belly char siew - pork belly marinated in a combination of Chinese rose wine and barbecue sauce, and prepared by combining Cantonese roasting methods with a Szechuan technique of smoking the char siew, producing flavourful and succulent char siew delicately infused with the smoky aroma of Royal Red Robe tea, and finished off with a mouth-watering maltose glaze.
With char siew, the meat that you use needs to be sufficiently fatty to ensure that it remains succulent, but eating a lot of fatty meats tends to be a little heavy on the palate, says Chef Kwan. To counter this, Man Fu Yuan concocted a unique method of smoking the meat with tea after it has been barbecued, which adds another dimension to the overall taste.
The six treasures seafood, another highlight in "A Taste of Nostalgia", is a classic throwback to banquets in the '60s, comprising scallops, fish and lobster lightly pan-fried, and topped with crabmeat. The dish comes with deep-fried salted egg yolk, king prawns and braised abalone. Perhaps it had been one of the items at your own wedding banquet dinner, and Man Fu Yuan is offering you the chance to revisit those precious golden memories.
In many ancient cultures, animal fats were the only way of obtaining oil for cooking and were commonly used. But over time, the introduction of alternative cooking oils has led to a reduction in the use of lard.
Now, lard makes its comeback with Man Fu Yuan's steamed fish head with home-made black bean sauce. The morsels of lard studded onto the dish are a simple addition that is not commonly associated with luxury cuisine, but adds an irreplaceable depth of flavour to the dish.
At the restaurant, lard is also served with egg noodles. So unique and flavourful is lard that the restaurant wants you to appreciate it fully, with minimal culinary distractions.
As such, according to Chef Kwan, the restaurant had experimented with different types of noodles, sourced from places such as Thailand and Hong Kong, and tested with different cooking and cooling durations, which affect the overall texture and consistency of the dish - a time-consuming but necessary step in creating the menu - before finally offering duck-egg noodles, served with first-pressed soy sauce and topped with crisp-fried lard.
It may sound enticing, but you might still find yourself in a bit of a pickle as there are other noodle offerings on the menu with similar history-rich promises, such as traditional wanton noodle, a mainstay in Cantonese cuisine, and flat rice noodles with river prawns drenched in roe-infused sauce.
Other dishes, too, will grab your attention - the mixed beef stew with handmade beef balls and the tender imperial chicken poached in a flavourful broth and served with minced ginger - both bursting with endless potential to recreate unforgettable memories of yesteryear.
Man Fu Yuan
80 Middle Road, Level 2, Singapore 188966
Tel: 6825 1008
Open from 11.45am to 3.30pm for lunch from Monday to Saturday, 11am to 3.30pm on Sunday and Public Holiday, 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Complimentary Tea-smoked Pork Belly Char Siew with minimum $100 spend (usual price: $24). Simply go to www.btinvest.com.sg/promos/bteats and print out the voucher. Voucher is valid for redemption at Man Fu Yuan restaurant for dinner only. Voucher must be presented upon arrival. Not redeemable or exchangeable for cash. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer, promotion, discount, voucher or loyalty programme. Voucher is not redeemable on eve and on public holidays, special occasions and other blackout dates apply. Voucher is valid till 31 May 2014. For reservation or more information, please call +65 6825 1008, or visit our online reservation page at facebook.com/ICSingapore.