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Garden variety dimsum at Tang Lung
Tang Lung Chinese Cuisine
#01-12 The Pier at Robertson
80 Mohamed Sultan Road
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 10pm
ROBERTSON Quay at lunchtime on a weekday always feels like the aftermath of a big party, or the lull before one. There's a sleepy, sluggish air, and hardly any activity beyond the sun steadily roasting the empty alfresco spots in the area including the Pier, where we are. Some restaurants see no sense to open; those that do are hopeful - partly that customers will come, and partly that they won't, so the midday stupor can continue uninterrupted.
It's a place you associate with watering holes, night-time reverie, the occasional revoking of a work pass or two. Restaurants are aplenty, but mainly there to fill the hunger gaps, not aspire to any higher level of cuisine despite what is imagined in their publicity material.
As long as you calibrate your expectations accordingly, you'll have a perfectly decent meal here. Such is the case with Tang Lung, which doesn't raise the bar on Chinese cooking, but doesn't set out to either.
It seems an odd place for a run-of-the-mill Cantonese-style eatery, though, until it turns out to be the sister shop of Le Fusion a few doors down - an ambitious Chinois-meets-Francais mishmash of ideas and wobbly execution. No such identity issue at Tang Lung, where dim sum and the usual suspects are on offer, with a few minor twists.
Garden variety siew mai (S$7.90), for example, is bouncy enough, but hides an arbitrary heart of salted egg yolk to be different rather than better. Pineapple char siew tart (S$6.90) is a gunshot wedding of bolo bun and flaky tart pastry - there's too much of a sweet crumbly topping and a dry layered bottom, filled with an agreeable char siew filling but some nasty offspring of mouth-puckering sour pineapple chunks.
Tang Lung just passes the litmus test of char siew pao and double boiled soups. The pao is decently doughy with the same filling as the tart, while the daily herbal soup (S$8) of old cucumber and a gnawable pork rib and cordycep flower soup (S$12) are thin but with recognisable flavour. A smallish portion of char siew (S$16) is itself dry but correctly marinated, and you have to persevere to chance upon some welcome juicy bits.
We're saving our money for the restaurant's piece de resistance of market-priced steamed flower crab in Shaoxing wine, so we skip the menu's other high end choices in favour of homemade beancurd with minced pork and pickled radish (S$16). It's unpretentious, salty-savoury, satisfyingly jiggle tau hway, snuggled under a blanket of braised, savoury pork gravy. Plenty of white rice is needed to do it justice.
Then with some fanfare, the star of the show arrives: two beady-eyed flower crabs that the market has priced at S$79.20 that day. We originally wanted the equally touted steamed glutinous rice with crab roe to save us the hassle of manipulating shell and claws, but a half price promotion has rendered it 'sold out' barely half an hour of opening on a weekday lunch, with maybe three tables occupied including ours. Tip: Order ahead so there's no excuse.
No matter. We turn back to our own beady-eyed creatures, which confirm to us yet again that you can have flesh or fresh but not both in the same flower crab. It's not particularly their fault since good crabs, like F&B manpower, are hard to find. Here, our crabs are relatively meaty but mushy, steeped in a river of Chinese wine like an alcoholic in his happy place. The flavour of the wine is more harsh than appealing, a biting rawness on the tongue that even the crab's juices can't mitigate, although the slippery smooth glass noodles are a temptation.
If you're in need of carbs, the Thai-style hor fun (S$28) is not culturally appropriate but nicely done - charred broad noodles in a lightly thickened gravy anointed with fish sauce and lime juice, and dressed up with pieces of flat fish maw, shrimp and squid.
Staff that are happy to see you regardless of the time of day are a plus at Tang Lung, even if the kitchen needs to sort out more than a few kinks to get the food on the right track. Half price specials and weekend dimsum promotions will draw in some foot traffic, but we hope they'll up their game too, so they can turn the midday stupor into an afternoon delight.
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.