Level 1, Park Regis Singapore
23 Merchant Road
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10pm.
FOR the longest time, chefs have been trying to crack the old chestnut that East is East, West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet. But like the US and Russia, Romeo and Juliet or cream of bak kut teh and chorizo, attempts to unite can be pretty painful. Especially with the latter, when restaurants which venture beyond tried and true classics into silly dish territory make modern Chinese cuisine more of a threat than a promise.
Such is the apprehension that accompanies a visit to Royal Pavilion - a self-styled modern Cantonese eatery at the blink-and-you-miss-it Park Regis Singapore in Merchant Road. It's a four star hotel recently bought over by a Chinese tycoon, which may explain the conversion of the lobby coffee house into a discreet, upscale eatery that seems more five star than its premises implies.
Any modernist leanings here are kept under tight control by head chef Chung Ho Shi, whose confident cooking reflects his previous tenure at the helm of Golden Peony in the Conrad Centennial Singapore - one of the better hotel Chinese restaurants in town. Although he offers vaguely funky creations like coffee-infused smoked salmon, grilled siew mai on skewers and foie gras in every conceivable form from pan-fried lobes to sauce, he keeps the flavour profiles within an acceptable boundary.
Some of his twists are even a nice change from the conventional, like mixing preserved Chinese vegetable mei cai into the filling of char siew pau ($4.50), to add a slight savouriness and texture to the generally sweet barbecued pork mixture. We're undecided about the siew mai skewer ($5) with an oily sheen on the surface of the otherwise bouncy grilled dumplings topped with tobiko, although we like the slightly crispy skin.
What we really like is the fried carrot cake ($8.80) cubes tossed in the chef's home made XO-like sauce made with fried silver fish, dried prawns and chilli which goes so well with the wok hei-infused firm yet soft radish cake. It could do with more sauce so you can get enough of it with each mouthful of carrot cake. We end up asking for more and are rewarded with a little dish of the precious condiment all to ourselves.
Chef Chung dabbles a little in Western plating with his foie gras combination plate ($22) comprising pan-seared liver on a slice of grilled pineapple, scallop in a sweet brown sauce and deep-fried prawn, each element well-executed with a nice medley of sweet, rich and savoury flavours plus extra crunch. Considering that each could have been a dish on its own, there was no one-upsmanship involved, with each getting its share of the limelight.
Another good display of balance can be found in the deep-fried Hokkaido scallop in Thai sauce ($16.80), which sits on a bed of salad sprinkled with julienned green apple to mimic the sourness of Thai salads, moistened in a neither too sweet nor too tart dressing.
Chef Chung is also a deft hand at smoking, turning out deliciously fragrant crispy duck smoked in lychee wood ($35 for half/$68 whole) with near Peking duck-crisp skin and thick chunks of slightly lean meat. The ducks are from Malaysia and aren't as juicy or fat as their China counterparts which can't seem to waddle fast enough to sneak past our immigration check points. But Chef Chung makes do and does a commendable job of it. We like the bird better than the grilled pork rib wrapped in bacon ($10 a piece) which pretty much tastes the way it's described.
End your meal with a comforting bowl of fragrant piping hot almond cream with bits of egg white and sign off on a dependable, enjoyable meal that is priced reasonably enough for regular visits. Incidentally, Royal Pavilion marks Chef Chung's switch to chef-owner status, along with Taste Paradise alumnus Ken Ang, who mans the front of house. Together with their partners, the aim is to open a string of Royal Pavilions in other Park Regis hotels, including Sydney and Dubai.
As the task at hand for the weeks-old restaurant is to get the product right, there's going to be some tweaking along the way. Which is good because that means the kitchen is always on its toes, and there's still room to up its game.
And regardless of whether Chef Chung stays East or veers a little West menu-wise, we're fairly confident he's headed in the right direction.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good