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Predictable Chinese cooking at Jia He
Jia He Chinese Restaurant
1 Farrer Park Station Road
Tel: 6694 8988
Open daily: 8am to 10pm
NOT every restaurant can be a star. We get that. Just as an army has its generals and elite commandos, it also needs its foot soldiers. Jia He is a foot soldier in the restaurant world. It hasn't got the kind of firepower that ignites your tastebuds or sets your Instagram handle alight with photos of your latest great food discovery. Instead, it's a low-key, no-fuss-no-muss, no-spark kind of eatery that fulfills your basic need for passable Chinese food, but doesn't seem inspired to do more.
Jia He sits just outside One Farrer Hotel - a compact space with one main dining hall and two private areas in a floor area you can cover in just a few steps. The decor is deliberately non-descript with faux wood grain laminate walls and PVC upholstered furniture. It does such a good job of managing your expectations that you are not terribly surprised that the candied walnuts taste like they might have been fresh in the not so distant past.
The restaurant is currently serving a limited Chinese New Year menu and populated with the usual suspects of roasted meats, shark's fin, abalone, market price seafood and assorted cooked dishes.
Roasted crispy chicken with tangerine peel (S$24) is a signature dish, so we forego the Peking Duck that another table is enjoying. Our chicken could probably compete in the looks department with its burnished honey-golden skin and to its credit has an appropriate crispness to it. Strips of candied orange peel add to its attractiveness. But just as you can't judge a fowl by its skin, the meat is disappointingly dry and stringy, saved only by some chunks of relatively juicy drumstick that gives a hint of what it could have been.
Double-boiled Superior Chicken Broth with Stuffed Fish Maw (S$22) is suitably collagen-rich and milky white, although instead of the dense slippery thick fish maw that would justify the price, we get the fried fish bladder variety stuffed with a fish meat paste. It's still satisfying even if we feel vaguely shortchanged.
We like that it puts old-school Szechuan Hot and Sour Soup on the menu (S$9.80) even if an artificial sweetness pervades the mildly peppery thick broth with all the fun bits of black fungus, tofu, chicken strips to munch on, plus a fat prawn as a bonus.
So far so predictable, until a surprisingly fusion creation of roasted cherry tomato wrapped in not too salty bacon ($18) jolts us out of our stupor with the refreshing mouthfeel of bursting tomatoes and cured meat, drizzled with salad cream.
But any hopes of the chef getting his mojo back soon fizzle out as we're served the house special of home made bamboo charcoal tofu (S$22) in a shade of ashen grey - a shell-shocked eggy, steamed pockmarked custard smothered in a eggy gravy. It tastes like it's lost all hope for the future, lacking in personality, heart and a certain amount of seasoning.
However, there is a slight comeback in the form of crispy seafood hor fun (S$26) where a large tangle of deep fried skinny kway teow appears like a nest of light airy keropok. Looking like an out of control hairdo, it's easily tamed with lashings of a thickened seafood gravy - again underseasoned - full of plump prawns, scallops and squid of middling quality. We discover a little too late that the noodles taste pretty good when they're still crisp, with just a light smattering of gravy for the best effect.
Desserts-wise, we find ourselves wading rather happily through chewy black glutinous rice and vanilla ice cream in a ring of firm white coconut jelly (S$8), even as we highly object to paying S$6 for a tiny deep fried sesame ball filled with a smidgen of durian. To add insult to injury, you're compelled to order two.
Jia He may not want to be in the spotlight with its safe, one-dimensional cooking, but if it wants to keep people going back, it should look at rising up the ranks.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
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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.