Hua Ting, Singapore
March 1, 2008
On February 23, 2008, Mary, Frances, Linda and I dined at Hua Ting in the Orchard Hotel in Singapore. This Cantonese restaurant has won prizes and many favorable reviews.
On the table when we arrived were some delicious sesame biscuits, a bowl of sliced green chilis which Mary used liberally during the meal and a bowl of soy dipping sauce. There were also, surprisingly, little red boxes for each of us which looked like upscale fortune cookie boxes. We restrained ourselves from opening them until after dessert even though Frances said that she had never had a fortune cookie before.
The à la carte menu was enormous. There were also quite a few set menus, including several for ten people. We chose the third set menu as it seemed to have the right amount of food (just a little too much) and did not include shark’s fin or sea cucumber. Glasses of tea were served to everyone and we ordered a bottle of Salitage (WA) Pinot Noir.
The first course was Suckling pig accompanied with pan fried goose liver wrapped in bean skin and marinated jelly fish. As you can see, the “suckling pig” was just the skin, but it made a good contrast to the slice of cucumber and the jellyfish salad. The package with foie gras inside was also lovely. With this course we discovered that Hua Ting was “Gourmet Cantonese,” as Mary put it. This had mixed results, but worked well in the first course. .
(Research on Google reveals quite a few versions and theories on Buddha Jumps over the Wall. In the past a scholar composed a poem, saying: “All the neighbors enjoy pleasant aromas when the dish is served; and even a Buddha who is attracted by the smell jumps over the wall.” Hence the name. It has its origin over 100 years ago in Fujian province. It includes many ingredients which are slowly cooked. Beyond that the versions diverge. Now for special occasions or for expensive restaurants, expensive items such as shark’s fin or sea cucumber are used. If they were in the broth of this one, it was not evident to me.)
Fifth we had Stewed noodle with sea perch in xo sauce. This was very good. It conveys two lessons. Happily they had not felt constrained by the European idea that fish always precedes meat. The use of xo sauce shows “gourmet” tendancies, but in this case they worked. XO is derived from the cognac designation for Extra Old. The product was developed in the 1980s in Hong Kong for Cantonese cuisine. The sauce is made of roughly chopped dried seafoods, such as scallop, dried fish and shrimp that has been cooked with chilli, onion, garlic and oil. Once a prestigious concoction named after trendy upscale cognac and confined to gourmet seafood restaurants, XO sauce is now widespread.
The dessert was Double boiled harsma with red dates and lotus seeds served with deep fried pumpkin bun. The broth is one of those Cantonese things which is best left unexplained. The slightly sweet flavor was interesting. The hot fresh buns were excellent. They reminded me of the famous pumpkin doughnuts at The Bakery in Chatham NY in October. People line up to buy and eat them as they come out of the hot fat. It is the freshness that makes them good, not the pumpkin in the dough.
The whole experience was interesting for me. Conventional wisdom is that the foody tourist in Singapore should concentrate on eating at the hawker stands. But we also wanted to try a restaurant which is regarded as something special by the Singaporeans. Most of the meal was at a level well beyond what we found at the food courts. If the scallop and the venison had been as successful, it would have been a terrific and memorable meal. www.millenniumhotels.com.sg/orchardhotelsingapore/restaurant/index.html