Jiang-Nan Chun, the Chinese restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel, reopened just in time for Chinese New Year last month, after being closed since October for renovations.
But only festive menus were available then. Now that the celebrations are over, the restaurant is ready to showcase its new look and menu.
Compared with the previous look, which was rather nondescript, the interior is now more elaborate and new private rooms have been created that diners can access without entering the main dining area.
While Chun means spring, Jiang-Nan refers to the area in China south of the Yangtze River and covers places such as Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. Jiang-Nan Chun also includes Guangdong province in its definition. These are lands of plenty, known for the abundance of food harvested or hunted from the sea, rivers, land and sky.
Elements from the area have been included in the new design, though one would probably need to be told that a feature wall covered in green tiles represents rice fields or that the multi-toned blue floor tiles leading to the private rooms are meant to evoke a flowing river.
Other elements, such as figurines of plump birds perched on metal structures throughout the restaurant, or the fishermen baskets used as hanging lampshades, are more self-explanatory.
190 Orchard Boulevard, Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, tel: 6831-7220, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambience: 3½ stars
Price: Budget from $80 a person
The menu has also been refreshed. While typical deluxe dishes such as braised abalone and steamed live seafood still have their place among the offerings, the chef has also come up with a number of new dishes for the relaunch. There is also a section of claypot items for diners who prefer a meal of homey dishes rather than banquet fare.
For me, the highlight among the new dishes is the Signature Jiang-Nan Chun Peking Duck ($98). A wood-fire oven was built during the renovations and mesquite wood is used to fire the duck.
The wood is used more often to smoke meats in Western cuisine, but works marvellously here. It imparts a lovely smoky aroma to the duck that wafts over the table while the chef is slicing up the bird at the side.
You are asked if you want it sliced Beijing-style - which is thicker, with some meat attached to the skin - or Hong Kong-style, which is just a thin layer of skin.
I prefer the slices thick because I can enjoy the juicy meat and aromatic skin together. They also feel less fatty than just skin.
There are two sauces served with the duck - the more common sweet sauce and a salty one that I don't quite care for. And there are two types of steamed crepe, a plain flour one and a green one that is blended with spring onion.
There is more. The duck comes with a serving of sevruga caviar, which is a first for me. You can eat it wrapped with the duck in a crepe with spring onion and cucumber or on a piece of duck. It is a novel combination and not an unpleasant one, as the salty caviar matches the sweet sauce pretty well.
You can eat the caviar on its own, too, of course.
The dish is already a good deal at $98. But until the end of next month, if you mention a 25 per cent discount (adding that you read about it in this review will not hurt either), you will get the discount. You just have to order the duck at least a day ahead. Asking for the discount when you are at the restaurant will not work.
Another new dish I like is Soft Shell Prawns With Sliced Almond And Crispy Rice ($15). This is listed under appetisers, but you get four big prawns, which is pretty substantial if you are a party of two. The prawns are lightly dusted with flour and deep-fried before getting tossed in a spice mix with the other ingredients. The shells are soft enough for you to eat the entire prawn, and the tasty rice grains and almond slices, which remind me of bar snacks, are addictive.
The claypot dishes have also found a place in my heart for bringing the flavours of home to a fine-dining environment. They range from such humble dishes as Assorted Stuffed Vegetables In Black Bean Sauce ($22) to a more pricey Soon Hock With Pork Belly And Seasonal Vegetables ($85).
The stuffed vegetables, which include eggplant, capsicum and jalapeno, are like claypot yong tau foo without the beancurd. Each piece is stuffed with a paste of mashed prawns that is more springy than any I've eaten before. The sauce is tasty and not too salty, though it is ideal to eat the dish with some steamed rice.
The rice will also go well with the soon hock claypot. This typical Cantonese dish is delicious too, with the 600g fish first floured and deep-fried before it is cooked briefly in the claypot with chunks of roast pork and fried beancurd in a brown sauce. A bit of Chinese spinach covers the base of the pork and soaks up the flavours of the ingredients.
Desserts, however, are less traditional. The Yoghurt Cream, Mung Beans, Longan, Chia Seed, Sour Plum Granite ($14 a person) is as odd as it sounds, but the combination of sour and sweet grows on you. The chia seeds, however, are what we often call basil seeds or selasih in Malay.
I like that the new Jiang-Nan Chun has something for everyone. You can have a celebration banquet, a business lunch or a family dinner - and at different budgets.
But whatever reason you are there for, order the Peking duck.
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- The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.