Whether it is Cantonese or Teochew cuisine, or a speciality such as Peking duck, the Imperial Treasure chain of restaurants has consistently delivered excellent cooking. And it has done it again with its latest restaurant, the month-old Imperial Treasure Shanghai in Ngee Ann City.
The restaurant doesn't look impressive. Taking over the fourth-floor space formerly occupied by Coca steamboat restaurant, the curved dining room is narrow and you have to weave through tables on the way in. And there is no view to speak of as the seats facing the atrium are turned into shielded pod-like booths.
But when you dine at an Imperial Treasure restaurant, ambience is often not what you are looking for. It's the food.
The extensive menu does not offer many surprises. Besides the live seafood items such as garoupa and lobster, pages are devoted to traditional Shanghainese specialities from cold starters to dishes cooked with fresh shrimp, eel and yellow cream crab.
Even though I've tasted only a small selection of the dishes after two visits, I'm a fan and I can't wait to go back and try the rest.
But I'd order the sauteed yellow cream crab with glutinous rice ($6 for 100g of crab) again.
Yellow cream crab is a direct translation from Chinese that describes the crab when it is fat with roe. When cooked, an orange-coloured oil oozes from the roe, which is delicious. It is used to flavour dishes such as tofu, noodles or, in this case, glutinous rice.
The rice was the highlight of the dish as both the oils and the juices from the crab had soaked into the soft grains, together with a fragrant dark soya sauce. In comparison, the crab meat tasted bland.
My two dining companions and I were pretty stuffed by the time the dish arrived, but it was so good that we polished off most of the 1kg crab and large platter of rice.
Whatever remained was not wasted. It was packed for takeaway as the rice would taste good too the next day.
The cold starters were pretty amazing. The fresh crab meat terrine ($12) certainly lived up to its name, with the shellfish tasting sweet and fresh. And the chilled gelatine that formed the terrine melted quickly in the mouth, turning into an intensely flavoured stock that was perfect with the crab meat.
Another starter, agate egg roll ($9), was also more refined than what I've tasted at other restaurants. A layer of steamed egg yolk and salted egg yolk was topped with a surprisingly soft layer of egg white. These contrasting textures and flavours made the dish simply tantalising.
If you like interesting textures, you have to order the thousand layer pig's ear ($9). The stewed ears were compressed and chilled before being sliced thinly. They look pretty with the brown skin and white soft bones forming layers of different colours. The bones also gave it a crunchy texture that was delightful when you chewed on it.
I didn't want to order the sauteed shrimp with honey peas and black truffle oil ($58) at first because of the price and the fear that the oil would be synthetic. But the waitress was persuasive.
It turned out to be another excellent dish, with the shrimp and peas dusted with black specks that reassured me that real truffles were infused into the oil. The shrimps and peas were sweet in their own way and cooked just right so that they stayed juicy.
And talking about juices, you should not miss the steamed minced pork dumpling ($7.80) either. The xiaolongbao here was very good, with the pork filling swimming in a pool of tasty chicken stock. And no, the thin pastry did not burst when we picked the dumplings up with our chopsticks - a sure sign that a master is in the kitchen.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
IMPERIAL TREASURE SHANGHAI
Takashimaya Shopping Centre, 391 Orchard Road, 04-22, tel: 6836-6909
Open: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm (Mondays to Fridays), 11am to 2.30pm, 6 to 11pm (Saturdays), 10.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 11pm (Sundays)
Price: Budget from about $60 a person
Sauteed yellow cream crab with glutinous rice ($6 for 100g of crab)
Not the healthiest dish but worth the calories and cholesterol when you need a treat.