SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) Have you ever stepped into a Cantonese restaurant and felt like you wanted to hug the dim sum?
At Sky View Kitchen, we want to squeeze the har kau affectionately and whisper, "it's been a long time since we met a dumpling that didn't come out of a Pandan Loop central kitchen". Or pat the siew mai and say, "you look so much better without a baby abalone on your head" while nudging the pan-fried carrot cake, "You certainly hold your shape a lot better than the flabby new guys - been working out?"
Forgive our excitement, but it comes from age and our pensiveness whenever a new Chinese restaurant opens. Nobody wants to do same-old, same-old anymore. Everybody wants to use foie gras and truffles, or turn dim sum into rainbow-coloured amuse bouche served by non-Chinese servers.
If you want classic old-school favourites, you have to seek them out - if they haven't been bought up by venture capitalists, they're probably just getting by in fraying old premises, on the strength of die-hard regulars and nostalgia buffs.
SKY VIEW KITCHEN
30 Raffles Ave
Singapore Flyer #01-04
Tel: 6854 5245
Open daily: 10am to 10pm
That's why Sky View Kitchen sends a frisson through us for all the qualities that new Chinese restaurants seem to be allergic to. It isn't fancy. It doesn't break new ground. It doesn't even serve shark's fin or abalone. There's hardly anything about it online. We have to find out about it the old-fashioned way - a tip from a fellow food lover. "The team is from Crystal Jade and the dim sum skins are divine," she says. And they are.
Sky View Kitchen is located at the Singapore Flyer - not the most optimum location unless you have tiresome overseas guests whom you can stuff into the big ferris wheel while you sweat it out at the heritage themed hawker centre. The plus side is that there's ample parking just across the street.
The restaurant itself is simple, almost underwhelming except for an entire wall covered in a night scene of the Flyer and Marina Bay Sands, and a wavy ceiling that both scream Singapore souvenir tackiness. But since we have the Singapore Flyer people to thank for wooing this talented team of chefs and managers from the Crystal Jade group after it was bought over by the LVMH group, we'll reserve further comment.
Instead, we shall wax lyrical about the dim sum - all made in house - from the resilient, chewy skin of plump har kau (S$6) that's not at all gummy; juicy siew mai (S$5.20) that's full of bouncy pork rather than mixed with prawns; and firm-textured radish cake (S$4.50) that was the norm before it became trendy to be soft to the point of mushiness. Steamed mushroom dumpling (S$4.50) shines with its glistening crystal skin covering a filling of slippery mushrooms and vegetables.
As everything is made by hand, you don't get machine-made consistency, but for us that adds to the authenticity of the food. A misbehaving yeast on our first visit yields char siew pao (S$4.50) with just slightly under-risen dough but is perfectly puffed out on our second. Having tolerated more than our fair share of damp paos crammed with too much overly sweet, gooey filling, we really like this combination of fleshy, fluffy bun with enough bite to counter the old-school chunky, lightly glazed char siew mixture.
When served by itself, the char siew (S$24 for combination) is too lean for our taste, but the wafer thin crackling skin on the roast pork is more than adequate. The thick cut jellyfish is alkaline-y, slippery, rubbery and artificial tasting - exactly as we remember and love from the wedding dinner cold starters of our youth.
Crystal Jade's signature deep fried chicken wings in shrimp paste (S$9) are also as we remember them - fat, impossibly crunchy and fragrant with its umami marinade.
Alternatively, you can also bite into marinated fried wings (S$10.80 for two pieces) stuffed with glutinous rice - priced no doubt to reflect the skill involved in deboning them (done with such precision that you don't ever want to be in the black books of the chef who does it). The burnished caramel-fragrant skin houses glutinous rice that's too dry and pasty when we prefer it more moist and with separate grains.
Meanwhile, crispy baked barbecue pork buns (S$4.80) recall the best days of Wah Lok when its bo lo buns were unbeatable - these neat little buns are covered with the airiest, milky crumb crust filled with just enough pork filling for that perfect bite.
Without shark's fin, abalone, sea cucumber or any of those wallet-choking ingredients that restaurant staff love to push at you (the live fish and crabs are there to test your expense limits), you're faced with a comprehensive list of homey, familiar dishes that hit the spot.
Simmered garoupa head with Chinese wine and herbs (S$26.80) makes you feel healthy just ordering it, and even more so after a bowl of this thick, potent, very herbal-tasting broth.
If you're averse to medicinal brews, steer clear. Instead, check out the unassuming yet well-executed sauteed conpoy with scrambled egg (S$19.80) which is a take on the old favourite of sauteed shark's fin and egg scooped into crisp lettuce leaves, or the intense braised beancurd, eggplant and bell peppers stuffed with a fluffy fish paste made from mud carp. It's just really good yong tau fu stewed in black bean sauce that aches for a bowl of rice to soak up the gravy.
You don't dine at Sky View Kitchen expecting the same indulgent feasts from the big boys like Crystal Jade, Imperial Treasure or even Jade Palace with its extravagant seafood tanks. This is a strictly modest affair, focusing on flavours close to the heart. You won't spend a bomb here, neither will your meal be mind-blowing. Sky View is a new restaurant with an old soul, and sometimes, we don't give places like this enough credit.
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.
This article was first published on April 4, 2016.
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