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Yan's Dining Fine Shanghai Cuisine
#04-22 Mandarin Gallery
333A Orchard Road
Tel: 6836 1188
Open daily for lunch and dinner:
11.30am to 3pm; 5.30pm to 10.30pm
SAY whatever you want about Chinese restaurants, but you can't say they are small. When the food is all about communal eating, you can be sure the restaurants are geared towards high volume and higher turnover, in as large a space as they can squeeze diners into. If they had any intention to be 'intimate' or 'cosy', they would give their cooks smaller woks.
By name, Yan's Dining Fine Shanghai Cuisine is a mouthful, but in terms of Chinese restaurant size, it's tiny. Sitting on the fourth floor of Mandarin Gallery, it looks like someone sliced a shop space with a jagged knife and gave the uneven side to Yan's. The main dining area is just one narrow strip with enough space for maybe six to eight tables, and a glass partition that hides a private dining room. It looks a little makeshift, but the owners make the most of it by dressing it up in light neutral colours and vibrant floral centrepieces on some tables.
You can tell they don't want to waste their precious space on dining twosomes because the tables are sized for at least four people to eight. The same goes for the portions which work for at least four.
Don't be deterred even if you're just a couple because the cooking here - loosely Shanghainese with some overlap into other regions - is worth finding an extra stomach for. There's a rustic, home-style feel to it, with an added touch of elegance that shows someone in the kitchen has some pride in his cooking.
English isn't widely spoken in the restaurant among the staff, who are much more confident in Mandarin, which adds to the authenticity of the place. But authenticity also requires the command of a language that we failed in school, so what we read as Bean Curd Skin with Bak Choy (S$15) in the soup section turns out to be a double-boiled chicken soup with pine mushroom. The servers don't understand what the problem is when we point it out because the Chinese characters are correct, but the English translation is wonky. So like fake news, don't believe everything you read in the menu.
We enjoy the soup anyway - a comforting, long-brewed broth with the distinctive fragrance of the slightly herbaceous and earthy fungi also known as the pricey matsutake.
It's a good start to a meal that is picked pretty much at random but with some prodding from our gentle-mannered server.
For variety in small portions, get the Old Shanghai Delicacy Starters Platter (S$15) so you can sample a few without committing to just one. This portion gets you a choice of three - we pick cold crunchy marinated jellyfish for its bite and not-too-chemically-treated aftertaste; firm meaty drunken chicken slices with an assertive but mellow wine-laced finish; and the star pick of flash-fried smoked fish with a warm crisp exterior and meaty flesh with just the right level of sweet-sour tang.
That same tanginess lends itself to the sweet and sour pork ribs (S$22) - again a good balance of acid and candy permeating the meaty ribs that are only slightly tenderised so there's still some natural bite in it.
Crab Meat with Bean Curb (S$18) is a spelling error and nothing to do with restricting a crab's relationship with legumes. This is slippery soft cubes of tofu in a gravy thickened with very little crab meat but lots of oomph from its briny oomph of its roe and a possible cameo by some bottarga. You've got to love the bold rich umami of the sea to appreciate this, and just a touch of vinegar keeps it from going overboard.
Stewed Chicken with Ginger and Wine in Casserole (S$26) is Sanpei or three-cup chicken by any other translation and it's literally chicken braised in sesame oil, Shaoxing wine and soy sauce, with lots of ginger for this body-warming claypot favourite. Whole tender cloves of garlic and an intensely fragrant savoury sauce makes this claypot cry out for plain rice to be its friend.
But we deny it this companionship because we really want to try the signature dish of Noodles Served with Scallion Oil (S$26). There's quite a bit of oil in the noodles but they have an addictive chewy, resilient texture that is enhanced by the oil, slightly charred green onions, dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms.
Dessert is pretty standard with a hot sweet soup with tiny glutinous rice dumplings (a bargain at S$3) or a refreshing cheng tng-like Herbal Pear soup (S$3.80) with fat dried longans and bits of tender pear.
Size may not be on its side, but Yan's Dining has substance to make up for it. We're pretty sure that before long, it's going to make its presence felt.
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.