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Cooking decent but not memorable
Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant
Level 3, Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel
320 Orchard Road
Tel: 6831 4605
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 12pm to 3pm and 6.30pm to 10.30pm (Mon to Fri); 11.30am to 3pm and 6.30pm to 10.30pm (Sat, Sun and public holiday).
IT'S been closed just a month for renovation, but it may as well have been years for us. That's how long it's been since we've set foot into Wan Hao, part of the old guard of hotel Chinese restaurants that dominated the dining scene before independents like Crystal Jade and Imperial Treasure started to slug it out in the "where you open I will open next door to annoy you" battle ground.
Hotel Chinese restaurants have stayed largely off-radar, coasting on the strength of regulars, hotel guests and the always-healthy appetite for Chinese food. Sometimes they get the urge to keep up with the times/competition. When they do, the pattern is almost always the same: close for renovation, re-open with a fresh wardrobe and start cooking with truffle sauce. We don't know why. It's like a rite of passage. A rubber stamp that a restaurant is totally on trend - look cool, cook with truffles. What's wrong with just making better char siew pao or bo lo bun?
So Wan Hao has gone modern and somewhat truffle-y. Modern in the sense that it has taken its visual cue from what a Chinese scholar's house might have looked like in ancient times - if Kanye West had paid him a visit. There's bold calligraphy hanging on the walls, and a gold and black decor that's opulent but not too blingy.
While the look has changed, the cooking still remains as we remember it - decent but not memorable, and a little inconsistent. Deep fried fish skins (S$12) are thin, crisp and hot when it arrives on the table, but the mandarin orange sauce that you dip them in tastes like cloying melted sour plum. Where's the salted egg yolk when you want it.
Classic dimsum like char siew pao (S$4 for two) - pass muster with a nice doughy bite and sweet filling although the steaming leaves the bottom damp. Deep fried prawn mango roll (S$4) is a fun match of gooey sweet mango and prawn in a crackling crust. We rather like the kick of poached prawn and pork dumplings (S$8) rolling around in a spicy chilli vinegar and oil sauce.
Among its newfangled creations, the steamed shrimp dumpling with black truffle and cordyceps flower (S$6) is a palatable combination of plump shrimp and cordyceps stems wrapped in opaque skin and topped with minced truffle paste. Deep-fried taro dumpling with mini abalone and scallop (S$10.50) is also a hit - for the solid braised mini abalone that sits on top of creamy yam filling and scallop.
Less successful is the pretty, swirly sweet corn bun ($4.50) that's filled with a weird mixture of almost-custard mixed with maybe-corn, possible-water chestnut and marginally-sweet potato bits. Not quite nice. The pan-fried five-grain pumpkin cake (S$4.50) looks like a brownie but tastes like a radish cake that went to vegetarian school. It overcompensates for its lack of Chinese sausage and dried shrimp with a gummy mixture of mixed black grains that is vaguely tasty but ultimately blah.
From the ala carte menu, the roast meat trio platter (S$36) we pick has nice thin slices of Spanish iberico pork char siew, acceptable roast pork belly and tasty but tough honey roasted pork ribs. A strong porkiness and frozen meat aftertaste is the main drawback, but the not-too-sweet char siew sauce with a just-nice consistency that is not gummy or artificial tasting helps to balance it off.
We can't say the same about the deep fried prawns (S$35) coated in a plasticky truffle mayonnaise that law-abiding citizens shouldn't have to eat. This is served to us by mistake - we actually ordered the sauteed prawns, scallops and celery (S$42) in black truffle sauce which is slightly better if one-dimensional. The prawns and scallops are dutifully plump but otherwise tasteless.
Dessert is a more consistent bag. The chilled coconut pudding with purple glutinous rice puree (S$10) is lovely - wobbly coconut panna cotta with strips of coconut flesh in a pulut hitam soup topped with coconut ice cream. Lemongrass jelly (S$10) in a dragon fruit shell with red wine granite (tastes like pleasant grape slushee) and dragonfruit balls is refreshing. Deep fried crispy durian (S$16) is a goreng pisang-like tempura of melting soft durian, albeit with more crust than durian.
Service is slow and impersonal, and prices are higher than we're prepared to pay for what we get. But it's something you tend to expect from a hotel restaurant and for some reason, Wan Hao can't, or doesn't see the need to, be anything else.
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.