Monday, June 25, 2012

Crystal Jade Jiang Nan...southern Chinese cuisine

Jiang Nan generally describes the area in China south of the Yangtze River, covering roughly the cuisines of Szechan, Hunan, and Jingsu and Shanghai.

When Crystal Jade opens a new restaurant with a new concept, it is always interesting. Having started its roots in traditional Cantonese fare, Crystal Jade has, over the years expanded their offerings to include Shanghainese, Korean, and many of the regional cuisines of the Chinese persuasion.

The latest to their long chain of stores...I was told, now totals more than 110 around Asia is Jiang Nan.

Flower tea, fragrant, beautiful. Promises a great evening of good cuisine.

As we arrived, two starters were offered on the familiar, and one less so...

Deep fried white bait Wu-xi style

I found this to be quite superb and addictive. The crisply fried white bait, coated with sugar is wonderfully irresistable. The fish remained crisp and fresh throughout dinner, which lasted perhaps 2.5 hrs. Very nice.

And perhaps less common in Singapore, but apparently very common in Zhejiang is pigs ear

Marinated in spicy chilli oil and tossed with fresh cucumbers and sesame oil, this was also very addictive. The pigs' ears comprise almost totally of skin and cartilage. And provides a nice crunch on the palate.

Next, we were invited to see a demonstration of and even try our hand at making xiao loong pau.

The avant garde menu now presents XLP in 8 different flavours, well actually 9 if you count the round one in the middle stuffed with custard.

Many readers will know that XLP is one of my favourites...and I often reminisce of the one found at Joe's Kitchen in downtown Manhattan, which to date is my best experience...even surpassing those in Shanghai.

As XLPs go, the offering by Crystal Jade is quite good. The meat was nice and flavourful, the soup, captured within the thin skin is very delicious. And the skin itself, though could be a little thinner while still being resistant enough to allow picking up the pau with just chopsticks, was rather nicely textured and serves well as a tasty container to the treasures within. Surprisingly, I liked most of the contrast to my tasting at Paradise's multi flavoured XLP, where I only liked the original flavoured one. Here I quite liked the truffled flavoured, the cheese and also the prawn in addition to the original flavour. Well done!

Next course was a typical Szechuan hot and sour soup

One of my favourite Szechuan dishes...this is also a classical dish, but with a twist...a "snow mountain" of fresh, soft beancurd adorns. And when mixed into the hot and sour, appetite inducing soup, gives a nice smooth texture to contrast to the crunch of the bamboo shoots and savoury meat.

The next dish drew oohs and ahs as it was served...not only because of its impressive size, but also the beautiful colour and glistening sauce

This was a hot favourite on the table. I found the sauce to be very, coddling in its viscosity. I wished the chef had seasoned the pork knuckle longer or perhaps a smaller knuckle might have absorbed the seasoning better. But I found the meat a bit less rich tasting than it could have been. But having said that, it did not lack flavour, and the texture was excellent.

A series of hot and spicy soups were served next:

Known in China as "sui chu yi" (hmm my Hanyu Pinyin is attrocious!...but I was told, literally translated water cook fish), it is a very popular Chongquing dish, where a huge bowl of flavoured oil...imbued with spices, hot peppers and the typical mala pepper is used to poach fish. Certainly a favourite in China and amongst visitors, but I do admit, this is not a dish I have grown to like.

The Crystal Jade version, however, is pesented with a thick broth instead of just seasoned oil. And available with eel, beef, and other meats. I found the fragrance of the soup to be consistent to what I have found in China, so its authentic. And the taste of the soup to be consistent to what I know. I still have not worked up the love for this dish, but the Crystal Jade presentation is certainly much more palatable to me than those found in China.

From a lukewarm dish to a hot favourite for me...sauteed minced pork with french bean and preserved tamarind served with pita bread

Much more to my liking, and one of my favourites from the evening. Very similar to the Thai Phad Phet Kapow less the chillis and with a beautifully flavoured tinge of preserved tamarind...goes beautifully with the pita. Excellent.

Then a curiosity...titled Not Fried Rice

Certainly looked like fried rice. Smelled like fried rice too! Apparently, legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, the emperor challenged his chef to serve fried rice without using rice. The result was tiny pieces of bean sprouts, chopped to look like rice, diced ham, egg and vegetables was presented to the emperror...

Very intresting. Taste was also similar to fried rice...but with the crunch of the bean sprouts replacing the mushy carbs of the rice. Very nice, and worthy a try.

Back to the traditional, lamian...

A variety of hand pulled noodles were offered...from thin wiry samples to thick, lasagne like cut sheets.

Served with cold, spicy chicken, century egg and crunchy cucumber in a hot and spicy sauce...not quite the mala one gets in China, but almost there. Quite delicious, I must say. I particularly liked the thick, broad noodles.

And for desserts, two offerings...a pumpkin cake with red bean paste and salted egg yolk and a Japanese glutinous rice dumpling with fruit and cream.

Both were very nice. The skin of the cake in the foreground is made from pumpkin paste, and encapsulates a wonderful aromatic bean paste core with a tiny bit of salted egg yolk for richness. And the rice dumpling tasted like a fresh mochi. Both superb.

This is an invited medial tasting. Many thanks to Samantha Yap of Crystal Jade and JJ Koh and Geri Kan of Linea Comms for invitation and hosting the lovely dinner.

Crystal Jade Jiang Nan
#01-52 VivoCity

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