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Duck and more at Kai Duck
#05-10/11 Ngee Ann City
391 Orchard Road
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30 am to 3.30pm (open at 11am on weekends); 6pm to 11pm
YOU can never have too many Chinese restaurants in Singapore. At least not to the folks at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, where you don't have to throw a stone to hit one - you just move one step forward.
Just check out fresh entrant Kai Duck on the fifth floor of the mall, that looks joined at the hip to its unrelated neighbour East Ocean. In fact, be careful that you don't step into the wrong restaurant after a toilet break and panic when you can't find your dining companions.
But the good part is that if you're stuck in a Saturday lunch queue at the latter, just shift your feet and you'll be tucking into Peking duck and an assortment of "modern" Cantonese creations at this offshoot of Kai Garden.
At first glance, it looks like your typical noodle-congee-dim sum outfit with its no-frills, pastel green open concept layout and pay-at-the-cashier setup. It's casual for sure, with no signs of abalone or market-priced seafood in the colourful picture menu. But it has higher aspirations than your average mid-priced eatery, going by its star attraction Peking duck and attempts to tailor the classic to a younger crowd with duck-influenced sliders and hand rolls.
As its name suggests, you can have duck every which way - from appetisers to soups and stir-fries. But Kai Duck also operates an equal opportunity kitchen, so fish, crabs, pork and beef also have a say. Neither is it limited to Cantonese cooking, thanks to the heavy Sichuan mala influences that will bring more than a tear to your eye.
But first, its signature Peking duck (S$68 for a whole bird). This is not your familiar sliced skin on pancakes with scallions and hoisin sauce affair. It is, sort of, but Kai Duck replaces the hoisin with a sweet-salty miso like paste that looks slightly dubious, along with a platter of what looks like deep-fried dehydrated beancurd wafers. The pancakes are also slightly smaller so you can barely make little parcels once you've loaded it with wafer, skin, scallions, cucumber and a cautious dab of "miso".
Surprise - the wafers, which are made of corn and airy-crisp, are perfect partners with the fat-lined skin and sauce. Each bite has an undeniably satisfying crunch, chewiness from the pancake and skin and the oomph from the sauce. It's not the most sophisticated production, but we can see ourselves just sharing a duck and a soup and having a complete meal.
What we don't really understand is why the price doesn't include the meat, which is held hostage by the chef and released for a ransom of S$22, in your choice of stir-fry or in noodles. If you want to free your bird, the stir-fry with green onions isn't bad.
If the whole duck is too much or not trendy enough for you, you can have the skin incorporated into hand rolls of deep-fried popiah skin cones filled with a cucumber salad and topped with a couple of slices of skin (S$4.80 each with a minimum order of four pieces). There's way too much fried skin to work through for just a couple of slices of skin, so it's not quite worth our while. There are mini burger options and canapes of crispy corn wafer topped with the skin if you like.
From the soup section, the hot and sour soup with shredded duck meat (S$9.80) is on the wrong side of appetising from a visual angle with its muddy brown colour and unnaturally thickened consistency, but dig a little deeper and the different variables of pepper, spice, shredded meat and fungus conjure up familiar memories of this London Chinese takeaway staple.
Put aside your fears and dive into a pot of poached sliced fish in hot chilli oil (S$24.80) - a cough-a-minute potent brew of chilli and oil-laden broth topped with milky soft fish. You'll need to get right into it for the full effect, pulling out long strands of dried beancurd skin and slippery mung bean noodles, along with crunchy soy bean sprouts. Taste how these ingredients, bland on their own, suddenly fire up (literally) with a savoury punch.
The rest of the meal needs a few more tweaks. Starting with the mushy and weirdly alkaline pan-fried carrot cake "pizza" (S$13.80) and the overly salty oyster omelette (S$14.80). Dessert is a non-event, although the airy crispy balls coated in peanut butter (S$5.80) taste like dehydrated muah chee and are rather pleasant.
Kai Duck doesn't quite cut it in terms of finesse but it has its moments and the staff are friendly. We can see it being a dependable standby when you're in town and hungry, and well, you really can't have too many Chinese options after all.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times 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.