FOOD CRITIC WONG AH YOKE RECOMMENDS

Food Picks: Blueberry tarts, stewed Crocodile Paw, roast meats and more

Chinese New Year goodies from Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy hotel. -- PHOTO: GRAND MERCURE SINGAPORE ROXY
Chinese New Year goodies from Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy hotel. -- PHOTO: GRAND MERCURE SINGAPORE ROXY

GOODIES WITH A TWIST

If you're looking for Chinese New Year goodies that are different from the common pineapple tarts and bak kwa, check out the blueberry tarts and lemongrass cookies from Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy hotel in Marine Parade.

The blueberry tarts ($13.80 for 30 pieces) look like marble-sized pineapple tarts except they are filled with the berries. They are less tart than pineapple and not very sweet either. The fruit is laced with just a hint of acidity and combines well with the buttery pastry for a nice finish.

The lemongrass cookies ($12.80 a tub) are even more surprising. They look like normal butter cookies, but pop one into your mouth and you'll be amazed by how light they are. They crackle and dissolve in no time, leaving a mild aroma of lemongrass that is very pleasant.

Traditional cookies such as pineapple tarts ($12.80 for 25 pieces) and honey bee hive ($13.80 a tub) are also good, but the new creations will probably impress your guests more.

Where: Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy, 50 East Coast Road, Roxy Square MRT: Paya Lebar When: Till Wed Tel: 6340-5678


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TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

I'd almost forgotten about Yunnan Garden until I went there again recently for a preview of its Chinese New Year dishes.

The Chinese restaurant started near the defunct Nanyang University, now the Nanyang Technological University, where I lived in 1981.

The National University of Singapore, where I studied, was so new then that its hostels were not completed yet.

When I moved to Clementi West a year later, so did the restaurant, to Clementi Woods nearby.

It is now located at the NTU Alumni Club in One-North Gateway and the restaurant still brings back a lot of memories.

Photos of the old Nanyang campus, with its famous garden and picturesque lake, hang on the walls. And on the menu are dishes such as BBQ "Pipa" Roast Duck that date back to the restaurant's early days.

The duck is included in some of the many set menus the restaurant is offering for the Chinese New Year period. The menus are priced from $438 to $1,888 for 10 persons. There are also sets for smaller groups and even for just one person (from $58.80).

Dishes on the sets may comprise salmon yusheng, braised shark's fin soup and steamed garoupa, depending on which one you pick.

It's not fine dining, but it has a rustic flavour that, for me, recalls the days when dining at Yunnan Garden was a treat for a struggling undergraduate.

Where: Yunnan Garden@one-North, One-North Gateway, 03-01 NTU Alumni Club, 11 Slim Barracks Rise (off North Buona Vista Road) MRT: Buona Vista When: Till March 5 (except Chinese New Year reunion dinner, which is fully booked) Tel: 6665-8888


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CELEBRATE WITH CROC

Instead of the traditional stewed pork trotter, an auspicious Chinese New Year dish that portends unexpected wealth, you can try a stewed Crocodile Paw With Morchella Fungi And Tendons ($90 for six persons) at Long Beach Seafood for the festive season. It is cooked in a stock flavoured with morchella fungi, or morel mushrooms, and mild Chinese herbs such as wolfberries.

The morel mushroom is a popular ingredient this Year of the Goat because its Chinese name translates to goat stomach fungus.

If you think the paw would be tough, you are in for a pleasant surprise. The meat is tender and has gelatinous bits that remind me of the melt-in-the-mouth skin and fat of a well-stewed trotter. But it's a lot healthier as crocodiles do not have any fat. And the tendon provides lots of collagen.

Some people may find that the paw looks a little scary, but for me, it's a mental obstacle that I got over easily once I realised how tasty the dish is. Think of it as an oversized chicken foot if that helps.

If you can't overcome the mental block, there are other good dishes on Long Beach's new year menus.

The Smoked Roast Duck ($68) is good and so is the White Pepper Live Alaskan Crab (from $168 a kg). The chef has also come up with a dish called Braised "Chang Le" Fish Curd With Luffa (from $24). The fish curd is made by combining fishmeat and beancurd.

And if you're feeling extravagant, get the Steamed Superior Empurau In Hong Kong Style. The freshwater fish costs a whopping $680 a kg but, believe it or not, that is actually a steal. Many restaurants charge $100 to $200 more.

Where: Long Beach Seafood Restaurant, various locations including 25 Dempsey Road & Kallang Park along Mountbatten Road MRT: Orchard/Mountbatten When: 11am - 3pm, 5 - 1am daily (Dempsey), 5 - 11pm, weekday & midnight on weekend (Kallang Park) Tel: 6323-222/6344-7722


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ROAST MEATS WONDER

I find most hawker stalls in Singapore not worth going out of your way for. But there are some gems and Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop is one of them.

The roast meats stall is in a non-air-conditioned industrial park foodcourt in Loyang Lane, opposite the well-known Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple. Roast duck, roast pork and char siew with rice for one person costs $8, with a generous amount of meat piled on the rice in a disposable plastic plate. It looks ordinary, but the char siew and roast duck taste amazing.

While I usually like my char siew fat, I'll make an exception for the one here. It comes with just a wee bit of fat, but the meat is tender and so delicious that it does not need any more fat to moisten it. The marinade is not too sweet and has complex flavours that penetrate deep into the pork.

The roast duck, too, is excellent. The meat is tender, but not soft, and very well-marinated. The skin can be a little crispier, but the duck still comes close to perfection as it is.

In comparison, the roast pork is ordinary. The crackling is suitably crispy, but the meat itself is unremarkable.

Where: Chan Kwong Kee (S'pore) Roast Shop, 64+4 Food Court, 01-06, 4A Loyang Lane MRT: Pasir Ris When: 11.30am - 8pm (Mon - Fri), 11.30am - 3pm (Sat), closed on Sun