SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) When you don't head out to the financial district much, you develop preconceptions about how the people there eat.
You imagine rubber-armed, tissue packet-wielding food court warriors. Desk eaters - without whom the entire Raffles Place takeaway sandwich and salad bar industry would collapse. Corporate suits seeking out any sit-down restaurant with a decent bread basket.
It's like a parallel dining universe which has decreed that eating out has more to do with business rather than pleasure.
So when a new restaurant opens at their doorstep which triggers memories of the dim sum brunches and Peking duck dinners from their off-duty lives, it's as if Chinese New Year has come early for the working stiffs of Singapore's Wall Street.
CRYSTAL JADE PRESTIGE
8A Marina Boulevard
#02-01 Marina Bay Financial Centre (Ground Plaza). Tel: 6509-9493
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 11.30am to 3pm (Mon to Fri); 11am to 3.30pm (Sat, Sun and public holidays). 6pm to 10.30pm
Of course, when Crystal Jade Prestige first opened, it was before the Chinese New Year and the crowds that packed into the 140-seater eatery in the Marina Bay Financial Centre were enough to convince you they were giving away pineapple tarts for free.
But now, even with the festivities over and done with, don't think you can get a table without a reservation, much less turn up a few minutes before your appointed slot.
Every seat is accounted for right till the last minute and any attempt to harass or cajole the hostess into squeezing you in somewhere, anywhere, will be met with a polite but firm variation of "Your reservation is at 1 pm, I can't kick people out of your table if they don't want to leave yet".
Like the name says, Crystal Jade Prestige ranks at the top of the restaurant group's food chain, so the hordes that fill it up are more than willing to pay uptown prices. Many are the power lunch crowd but we're surprised when those we expect to get out of the lift at the MRT underpass level follow us to the restaurant instead and haggle for a table.
The space is standard issue high-end in decor - dramatic pillars, plush chairs, glitter lamps and all. The food is standard Crystal Jade - meaning it's all confidently prepared and dependably good with nothing out of place. You always wonder how Chinese restaurants like this always manage to find quick, efficient staff who know exactly what to do. Assistant manager Jimmy Woon, for one, is a find - cool and on the ball, and happy to make recommendations that aren't on the menu's most expensive dish list.
Dim sum and appetiser-wise, the pan-fried carrot cake (S$12.80) is a must for its tender cubes of radish cake cut big enough for you to taste the bits of radish, spiced up with homemade XO sauce. Most of the enjoyment comes from finding fluffy fried egg clusters within the elegant mishmash.
Comfort food hits the spot most, especially with the creamy and again fluffy sauteed egg white with crabmeat (S$38). This white-on-white composition showcases freshly steamed crab plucked by hand (you know because of the tell-tale bits of shrapnel which are in this case tolerable evidence of freshness) and camouflaged in custardy whipped egg white.
Despite the staff's best efforts, being packed to the gills means that any semblance of order where your food is concerned goes out of the window. So your dim sum items may show up between your a la carte choices, but the only saving grace is that almost nothing disappoints.
A giant sharksfin dumpling ($10.80) is a monster luxe xiao long bao filled with soup which in turn sits in a bowl of superior broth. The thin skin breaks with just the lightest poke of the chopstick, yielding a generous pork stuffing with an ample amount of fin.
One of the chef's specialities is pastry, so don't miss anything baked. The baked char siew puff (S$6.20) is amazingly buttery and flaky - almost too buttery but still lovely. In the same category is the abalone chicken pie (S$6) which is a better fit with the crust a good foil to the creamy filling studded with bouncy abalone chunks.
If you're tempted to go the fusion route, by all means, although the results usually look better than they taste. One of its signature starters (S$32) of chilled foie gras cubes marinated in sake (crumbly), chilled baby abalone and sliced prawns in a sesame dressing is too fiddly, and truffle sauce turns up with homemade tofu which doesn't shine. Another dish that doesn't quite cut it is the Western-style Kurobuta pork chop - mushy from an overzealous baking soda massage, and smothered in a minced garlic sauce.
The best compromise between old and new would be the satisfying poached rice in lobster broth (S$30) - an intense, soupy seafood porridge with two fat chunks of lobster meat and paired with crispy rice that you toss into the soup for amazing crunch and mouth feel.
We can understand how folks in a parallel dining universe can get excited to have the kind of Chinese food normally found downtown. While we're not ready to leave our own sandwich-free world yet, at least, we know there's something to look forward to if we have to cross to the other side.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on March 14, 2016.
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