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Reliable fare in lush surroundings at Min Jiang
Min Jiang at Dempsey
7A & 7B Dempsey Road
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 6.30pm to 10.30pm
DEMPSEY Village is like a gift that keeps on giving. It just keeps sprouting F&B concepts left,right and centre. Even before the inital buzz has settled over COMO Dempsey's big bang opening of Culina marketplace and bistro - we hear of yet another sizeable opening in a yet to be discovered corner of this vast colonial-era food park.
Don't be intimidated when you drive past Muthu's Curry and think you're headed to a dead end. Venture further and you won't miss the giant billboard that tells you that you've found the new - or rather, newly relocated - Min Jiang restaurant.
Min Jiang is a blast from the past - one of the earliest standalone Sichuan restaurants in the equally resilient Goodwood Park Hotel. Its flagship still remains there - but its new premises in Dempsey comes after it closed down its Rochester Park branch.
Greenery seems to be a priority for it, since it's swopped one leafy location for another at the lush, quiet nook it now inhabits. The restaurant is in the last building of its block, so it's got an uninterrupted view of shrubbery, and a medium-sized carpark that fills up fast.
If it feels more resort-like than Chinese restaurant, it could be a leftover vibe from its previous tenant, a luxury spa retreat. But while the spa was dark and divided into private treatment rooms, Min Jiang is huge, airy and light. There's a lounge area in the foyer if you're early, so you can have a drink and wait for your therapist - we mean hostess - to lead you to your table in the vast, conservatory-like dining room with its cool wicker furniture, woven screens and retro mosaic floors in neutral tones. If you want to engage in some table fun, wager on who can unravel their tightly knotted lotus-shaped napkins first
Having won your approval just on its Ernesto Bedmar-designed looks alone, the food plays an almost secondary, albeit competent role.
While it hails itself as Cantonese and Szechuan, it's the Cantonese side that shows who's the boss. Lunch features a sizeable dim sum menu but since we're there for dinner, the only representation comes in the form of the deluxe dim sum platter (S$38) which features a pair each of four different dumplings.
Blue pea flower shows up here and there, as if to flag the chef's attempts to be contemporary in his cooking. The blue stains the surface of a slippery-skinned dumpling filled with chopped turnip and other vegetables which is quite good; so too a flat chewy envelope of crabmeat topped by a single crab leg tip and a bouncy scallop dumpling. Fried glutinous rice with lap cheong bits shaped into a pumpkin shaped ball of fried dough starts out delicious until your nose is assaulted by a strong whiff of ammonia from the yutiao-like pastry, thanks to an overzealous hand with the ammonium bicarbonate used to make it puffy.
It's a minor hiccup (accompanied by apologies) that doesn't detract from the overall meal, which is safe and predictable but not disappointing.
Sichuan hot and sour soup (S$12) hits the spot with its tangy, vinegary broth chock full of finely julienned beancurd, bamboo shoots and preserved vegetables, served piping hot in a stone bowl that helps to keep it that way. A long, skinny prawn stuffed spring roll served with it doesn't do much for the soup but it's a tasty snack on its own.
If you don't want to clear your sinuses this way, a plain-looking double boiled chicken soup with dried scallops and cordyceps (S$12) is a nice pick-me-up.
If you're looking to try the signature Peking (S$108) or crispy (S$118) duck, come in a group as the restaurant doesn't do half portions. But the pan-fried kurobuta pork with melted onions (S$18 per person) acquits itself well as a fork-tender steak (although boosted with a bit of baking soda) with a light fruity glaze rather than the heavy-handed gluey sauces that invariably prove why Chinese restaurant chefs shouldn't mimic Western chefs and vice versa. In this case, veteran Min Jiang chef Goh Chee Kong takes a Goldilocks approach and makes it just right.
The same, too, with a classic braised fish maw and sea cucumber (S$28)- glistening, gelatinous pieces of dried seafood quivering in a light thickened gravy with a mound of lightly simmered Australian spinach.
That same spinach - with its soft, slippery texture - also appears in the homemade tofu with crabmeat and mushrooms (S$28). This time, the hand-shaped patties get extra bite from mushrooms and black fungus, lightly braised in a thickened gravy that's full of peeled crabmeat.
We skipped the iberico pork fried rice for a lightly braised meepok (S$22)with minced meat and XO sauce - the noodles are fine and stop short of being mushy, although it does little to keep our interest, especially with the thick spears of bland eggplant that stick out like extras who walked onto the wrong movie set.
Speaking of wrong movie, someone might have lost the plot when dreaming up an oddball dessert of blue pea-coloured lemongrass jelly with lime sorbet, jelly pearls and a square of custard layered ma lai ko or Malay sponge cake (S$12) that tastes more jarring than cohesive. It makes for a fancy presentation with its dry ice accompaniment, but we prefer the familiarity of Sichuan pancake with red bean paste filling (S$8) and no frills vanilla ice cream.
Min Jiang aims for a contemporary spin, which it's slightly awkward at. But when it's just being itself - with comfort food that's familiar - that's when it feels more real. This sense of reality - amidst lush surroundings and decor - is what it should aim at perfecting.
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.