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Forbidden Duck runs afowl
8A Marina Boulevard, #02-02 Marina Bay Link Mall
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 10pm.
HE SPENT decades convincing people that Chinese food tastes better when it's turned into edible condoms and spherified xiao long bao, finally nailing three Michelin stars in the process. But if you're hoping for a taste of "demon chef" Alvin Leung's innovative cooking from BO Innovation in his maiden Singapore venture, well, good luck. Or should we say, "duck".
Chef Leung has picked something less fiddly to execute - namely his Forbidden Duck concept that he started in Hong Kong which serves Chinese food from a fowl point of view. We need another duck restaurant like we need another London Fat Duck, but Michelin stars talk in this town, so here we go.
Forbidden Duck takes over the space vacated by Crystal Jade Prestige, which has since been split into two - half taken by the Duck, the other half by Qi, House of Sichuan - the Singapore offshoot of its one Michelin-starred outfit in Hong Kong.
While the Sichuan part has renovated and looks like it should, Forbidden Duck is like an awkward guest in someone else's home. It sits in Crystal Jade's original decor, with the same blue-grey upholstered chairs and twinkly "stars" embedded in the ceiling, painted like an abstract blue sky. There's nothing to indicate the colourful chef Leung's involvement, and if you didn't already know the connection, this would be just your run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant priced in the mid-high (more high than mid) range.
The staff are well-meaning if amateurish, and don't know the concept of "enough" as they punctuate each of your choices with an "anything else"?
The Iberico char siew (S$30) starts off tender and juicy, but a lacklustre char and an odd pinkish colour inside the meat when it cools off gives us a sneaky suspicion that the meat has been cooked sous-vide rather than charcoal-roasted. We could be wrong of course, but somehow that possibility and the "dampness" of texture lessens our enthusiasm.
A strong whiff of salted fish and wet dog hits us in the face when our next dish arrives - an unusual fish mousse stuffed in lettuce with preserved clam sauce (S$22) which we order because it's one of the cheapest things on the list of chef recommendations. The tender fish paste pressed into a lettuce leaf is light, delicate and tasty, but we can't fathom why the clams taste like they've had all life, flavour and meaning sucked out of them, leaving dull, clam-shaped imposters in their place, surrounded in a funky sauce of displeasure.
Stick instead to the duck, so named because it's the mainstay of the menu with two main stars - regular Forbidden (Peking) Duck or its signature slow-roasted duck (S$88). The latter has supposedly been slow-roasted for three hours to achieve a moist, pink-hued meat that's tender enough to bite through, with a thick layer of fat between the skin and meat which suggests that the temperature never got high enough for the fat to be rendered off. A final high temperature treatment crisps up the skin - not to Peking Duck standards but decent enough.
Served deboned and sliced with the usual condiments of hoisin sauce, garlic puree, shredded leeks and sugar, you fold the meat into flat, yellow-hued buns which are heavier-going than conventional pancakes.
This, and the comforting seafood rice in aromatic duck soup (S$32) are the two go-to dishes if you find yourself eating here. The broth appears piping hot in a claypot and continues to sizzle for some time even after your server dumps crispy rice in unceremoniously. She also plonks in an oversized industrial-grade steel ladle into the claypot, as if they'd run out of serving cutlery and the chef handed her a ladle he was stirring a giant vat of stock with.
The duck soup itself is mild rather than full-bodied, but the crunchy rice and little chunks of duck meat and seafood make it a satisfying end to the meal. It can't hold a candle to Hua Ting's crispy rice and garoupa broth, but we're comparing apples and oranges here.
We want the much-touted giant egg tart for dessert, but despite being the first customers for dinner, we're told they've run out of it. We have to settle instead for a forgettable coconut, aloe vera and taro soup (S$7) where we remember only cloying coconut milk and little else.
Coming from a Michelin-starred background is a double-edged sword. It attracts people to your door, but expectations are also higher. In this case, Forbidden Duck is going to need more than the luck of a "demon" to make it sizzle.
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.