FOOD CRITIC WONG AH YOKE RECOMMENDS

Food Picks: Hairy crabs at Royal Pavilion, truffle thrills at Raffles Grill

TWIST TO HAIRY CRABS

With hairy crabs in season, one is spoilt for choice with a number of Chinese restaurants here serving it.

The best way to eat the delicacy is to have it steamed with dried perilla leaves and washed down with ginger tea. The leaves remove any strong smells from the crab while the tea, which is heaty, balances the cooling effect of eating the crabs.

Cooked this way, one can savour the creamy roe and the sweetness of the crabmeat. The crabs are usually served with a sweetened black vinegar dip, but I prefer to taste them au naturel.

But those who have had their fill of plain steamed crabs may be piqued by the varied ways of preparation thought up by the chefs at Royal Pavilion. There is baked hairy crab with wild mushroom and sake, steamed hairy crab with egg white and Chinese wine, and flambeed hairy crab with sea salt served in claypot (left), among others. All are priced at $68 a crab.

I think most of these recipes work better with mud crabs than hairy ones, as the delicate sweetness of the meat gets overwhelmed rather than enhanced by the sauces or liquors. The dish that survives the extra treatment best for me is the crab buried in sea salt and flambeed. The touch of saltiness is light enough in this case not to spoil the crab.

But if it's your first hairy crab of the season, go for the plain steamed one. It's cheaper too, at $60 each.

Where: Royal Pavilion, Level 1, Park Regis Singapore, 23 Merchant Road MRT: Clarke Quay When: Till the middle of next month Price: From $60 a crab Tel: 6818-8851


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JUST DESSERTS

Pu Tien Restaurant is serving hairy crabs, too, and at good prices. Female crabs, which are at their best now, are $35 each and male ones, best eaten next month, cost $40.

But what I find most memorable in the restaurant's autumn menu is a simple dish of iced pear stew with yucca root paste (left, $4.90 a person). The yucca root is actually what the Chinese call shan yao, a starchy tuber that is used in medicine.

Here, it is blended into a paste and served with a puree of korla pear, which is from Xinjiang and considered one of the best varieties in China. The chilled dish makes a good dessert with its light fruity sweetness and I find it very soothing after a sumptuous meal.

Where: Pu Tien restaurant, various outlets including at 127 Kitchener Road MRT: Farrer Park When: Till Nov 30 Tel: 6295-6358


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BIRD'S NEST WITH CRAB ROE

If you do not want to tackle a hairy crab whole, Li Bai's braised bird's nest with hairy crabmeat and crab roe (above, $88 a person) is a good way to savour two delicacies in one dish.

The dish makes complete sense as the bland bird's nest does not distract from the rich crab roe that makes hairy crabs so prized when they are in season.

And the good thing is, you do not have to mess up your fingers shelling the crabs.

It's like eating the traditional Shanghai dish of beancurd with crab roe, but a more deluxe version.

But if you would rather have your crab whole and steamed, that's available too at $60 each.

Where: Li Bai, Sheraton Towers Singapore, 39 Scotts Road MRT: Newton When: Till Nov 30 Tel: 6839-5623


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TRUFFLE THRILLS

White truffles are also in season and the Raffles Grill is one place to enjoy them in style. Chef Mickael Le Calvez has created three dishes to showcase the prized delicacy from Alba in Italy. For starters, there is the delightful Young Zucchini Risotto, with a zucchini flower tempura ($78), which offers a good contrast in textures. The truffle shavings impart an aroma that makes the delicious dish even more alluring.

For the main course, there is Stuffed Quail Rolls With Black Trompette Mushroom, Foie Gras, Butternut Gnocchi, Supreme Sauce And White Truffle ($88). This is a classic dish that is beautifully done.

If you do not fancy any of the new dishes, you can order other dishes from the a la carte menu instead and have white truffles shaved over them at an additional $19 a gram.

But leave room for dessert. The crepe souffle ($25), an unusual combination of two desserts with the souffle wrapped in a crepe, is quite wonderful.

Where: Raffles Grill, Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road MRT: City Hall When: Till December, depending on the truffle season Tel: 6412-1816