Restaurant Review

No ordinary dim sum at Janice Wong Singapore

Nothing is predictable when dessert chef Janice Wong tries her hand at dim sum, but it tastes good

Walking into Janice Wong Singapore at the National Museum is a little like entering the world of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

Like in the popular children's book by Roald Dahl, colourful and whimsical confectionery is the focus in this weeks-old restaurant by famous dessert chef Janice Wong.

The space itself, at the corner of the museum building where Chef Chan's Restaurant used to be, is left raw and industrial-looking.

But it is adorned with colourful abstract art that Wong points out is all edible. Don't try to lick it off the wall, though, because the chocolate "paint" is varnished with resin to preserve it.

The tabletops, too, are painted in colourful swirls of chocolate, which are protected by glass panes.

Jars of the chocolate paint, which comes in varied pastel hues, are sold at the restaurant for those keen to create their own edible art at home. And for inspiration, you can check out the wares at the retail counter.

  • JANICE WONG SINGAPORE

    National Museum Singapore, 93 Stamford Road, 01-06, tel: 9712-5338, open: 11am to 11pm (Monday to Thursday), 11 to 1am (Friday and Saturday), 11am to 6pm (Sunday)

    Food: 4/5 stars

    Service: 2.5/5 stars

    Ambience: 3/5 stars

    Price: Budget about $80 a person for a la carte. The $68 five-course degustation menu for dinner offers a selection of dim sum, noodles and dessert

Colourful lollipops in different flavours hang on one wall, while on the counter are life-sized "balloons" made of solid chocolate. In the glass display cases are chocolate bon bons, some of which look like Lego bricks, and there is mochi coloured a pretty blush of pink.

There is ice cream too, with flavours such as rice lemongrass, pandan kaya and Kochi yuzu.

The savoury food selection is not as wide as the range of desserts, with just a selection of dim sum, buns and noodles. But they are not the usual Hong Kong fare you find at other dim sum eateries.

If those are what you are looking for, do not go to Janice Wong Singapore. You are unlikely to leave happy.

The food is good, but you do not find the best dim sum here. For that, go to restaurants opened by the Imperial Treasure and Paradise groups.

Wong's prices are also much higher. Most dim sum, such as xiaolongbao and siew mai, cost $5 a piece, which seems exorbitant considering that many Chinese restaurants charge about that price for a basket of three pieces.

And some of the noodles cost more than $20 for a small bowl, which is unlikely to fill you. But these are not ordinary dim sum and noodles.

What you pay for at Janice Wong Singapore are her ideas and fastidious attention to quality and ingredients.

It is Chinese cuisine approached with a global outlook, the same way that chefs at fine-dining restaurants around the world incorporate ideas and ingredients - especially from Japan - in their dishes.

So you find siew mai served in a trio called Mini Pots ($15 for three pieces), each in different flavours of portobello rosemary with caviar, shrimp with Parma ham and scallop with olive caviar.

They look like siew mai, albeit in strange shades of red, pink and green, but they do not taste like the fatty pork-filled dumpling. Each comes with an explosion of unique flavours, including the vegetarian one filled with chopped portobello mushrooms, which I really like.

It is the same with the xiaolongbao. First-timers can order the XLB Tasting Platter ($20 for four), which comprises flavours such as Whisky Pork, Truffle Cheese Chicken, Foie Gras Pork Cherry and Shrimp Ebi Kombu.

If, like me, you fancy more of the foie gras dumpling, you can place another order of it for $15 for four pieces or $21 for six. The skin is a little too thick, but the filling packs quite a punch - especially the delicious meat broth enriched with the distinctive duck liver flavour.

The variety found in dim sum is showcased in the Signature 5 Dumplings ($15), where each piece is wrapped in a different kind of skin - from a slightly elastic Teochew- style version to a translucent crystal one to a floury one that you see on potstickers to a crispy deep- fried one.

For these, the fillings are the common scallop, prawn and chicken, as the focus is on textures. But they taste good.

I try only one of the Whimsical Buns, the one filled with Braised Veal ($4), and am captivated by the chocolate swirls on it. It looks like it belongs in a candy store, something that Willie Wonka from Dahl's book would use to lure children to his factory.

Taste-wise, the slow-cooked veal is good enough to be on a Western restaurant menu, but I've eaten lighter and more fluffy bao doughs.

The noodles are very good though. The Scallop Somen ($22) justifies its price with the generous amount of lightly seared scallop topping the thin Japanese noodles. There are shreds of dried scallop too, as well as sakura ebi and fish roe, in a salted egg yolk sauce.

The Crispy Charcoal Nest ($22) is a more unusual creation comprising deep-fried black noodles topped with a sheet of mushroom paper, on which is printed a poem by American Henry David Thoreau - Wong's favourite. Under the noodles are thin slices of pork belly and a hot collagen broth is poured over it at the table.

For me, the star of the dish is the broth, which has a creamy texture and a rich flavour of old chicken. The noodles are a bit chewy and I enjoy them more after leaving them to soak in the broth for a while.

Since Wong made her name as a dessert chef, you should not miss her sweet creations.

The Tiramisu ($18) is a safe choice, based on a traditional recipe which Wong says she first tried when she was nine years old. It is good, but I'm over the Italian dessert.

Those who like tart desserts should check out the Cassis Plum ($24), a confection of frozen cassis bombe with elderflower yogurt foam, choya granita, yuzu pearls and yuzu rubies.

But my favourite is Shades Of Green ($19) because it reminds me of kaya. The pistachio sponge is served with cocoa mousse and a scoop of pandan ice cream - flavours that will touch the hearts of Singaporeans.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Dim sum or dessert?'. Print Edition | Subscribe