SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - ONCE upon a time, people went to eat at Imperial Treasure because of Alfred Leung. He and his brothers could regularly be seen hobnobbing with regular clientele as they worked tirelessly to build up their breakaway restaurant brand after Alfred's now-legendary fallout with his brother-in-law Ip Yiu Tung over Crystal Jade. With his personality, networking skills and sheer competitive drive (opening new restaurants just doors away from Crystal Jade, for example), Alfred became synonymous with Imperial Treasure and its emphasis on quality and military precise service.
Then time passed. Crystal Jade was bought out. Mr Ip stepped down. It couldn't have been as much fun competing with a conglomerate like LVMH, so when venture capitalists knocked on Imperial Treasure Group's door, they opened it too. Before long, the same rumblings about fallen standards at Crystal Jade were repeated for Imperial Treasure as well, with fans of the popular Great World City branch drifting to the Paragon outlet, said to be the best in the group at the moment.
Alfred is still the CEO, but he hasn't been opening new outlets with quite the same gusto as he used to. So the new Imperial Treasure Fine Teochew Cuisine is perhaps a test of whether he can still spin the old magic in a much more competitive environment.
The new place sits on the third floor of ION Orchard, one level below a string of Chinese restaurants that includes its own steamboat sister. It's really a vamped-up version of its old premises next door in Ngee Ann City, which is now closed. It's also quite large, as you navigate a narrow corridor between separate dining sections and hidden private rooms, passing a glass-screened kitchen area displaying roasted and marinated meats before finally entering the main dining hall. Dazzling bright sunshine pours in through the glass windows that overlook the streets below, giving the whole restaurant a nice, cheerful vibe.
The first thing you notice is that there aren't many staff around - which is unusual when you're used to seeing someone pop up to refill your cup at every moment. So expect some peekaboo moments as you play spot-the-server. In return, the servers play ignore-your-dirty-plates, which means they don't get changed during the meal. Either they really don't notice or they're trying to shame us into being less messy eaters.
Imperial Treasure Fine Teochew Cuisine
ION Orchard #03-05
2 Orchard Turn
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 10.30pm (Mon to Fri). 11am to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm (Sat). 10.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm (Sun).
But to the kitchen's credit, the mess comes from enjoying most of our food - comforting, unpretentious Teochew fare that hits the spot. To cover all bases, there's a full Cantonese dim sum menu but the tiny sampling we have doesn't impress. The charsiew bao (S$4.50) fails the moist, doughy test as it leans towards dry and boring. A steamed Teochew dumpling stuffed with peanuts and shredded turnips is tender but with a gummy chew, and it's the same with the dessert dumpling filled with sweet roasted ground peanuts (S$4.50).
You can't go wrong just ordering everything on the chef's recommendations list. Sauteed baby oysters is an unexpected delicate surprise (S$28) - fresh juicy little morsels tossed with a motherlode of chopped spring onions and chilli bits to achieve a pleasant savoury gooey-ness with texture from the spring onions. This is far superior to the oyster omelette (S$24) which appears pizza-like and cut into wedges at the table. Far from the orh luak we're expecting, it's a weird mixture of scrambled oyster and potato starch slurry sandwiched between wafer thin discs of very crumbly egg sheets. We're not sure what the inspiration of this Asian quesadilla is, but just stick to the oysters au naturel is our advice.
The traditional braised duck and various accompaniments from marinated pork belly and cuttlefish to duck's tongue and pig's intestines (S$34 for a combination of four items) are a perfect accompaniment to a bowl of plain white porridge. The braising liquid is the star, giving instant flavour to the gruel while the meats and innards complete the meal. Add a portion of marinated beef tripe (S$16) - which beats a lot of versions we've tried before - meaty slices, braised till tender but with a resilient bite.
Also good but quite heavy is the braised yellow croaker fish (S$28) - stuffed with mushrooms and chilli, it's deep-fried and simmered in a rich, thickened broth enhanced with preserved soya beans. Chunks of melting soft radish round it off. The smooth, slippery textured braised fish maw and mustard greens in a thickened gravy with minced pork is another option (S$38).
Imperial Treasure does a very good tau suan (S$4.50) - tender but firm mung beans in a sweet sticky syrup with waterchestnut and gingko. Smooth yam paste with gingko (S$5) is equally enjoyable.
Apart from service hiccups and some kitchen slips, we like the new Imperial Treasure. It looks good, the food is reliable and the menu features an extensive range of decently priced home-style dishes. Throw in an occasional appearance by Alfred Leung, and it'll feel just like old times again.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.