Sometimes you just know when a new restaurant will be a hit. That is how I felt after my first dinner at Joyden Canton Kitchen two weeks ago. Two more visits later, I am even more sure - despite the odds against it.
The casual Chinese eatery is not conveniently located. Unless you live in the Upper Bukit Timah area, the new HillV2 Shopping Centre, which is surrounded by condominiums, is probably not on your radar.
And the Cantonese "kitchen" concept already has plenty of competition from the Crystal Jade and Imperial Treasure groups.
What makes this place different, however, is that it brings a fresh take to the concept.
Instead of focusing on the Cantonese roasts, noodles and congee combination, Joyden interprets Canton as the larger Guangdong province and its menu includes Teochew and Hakka cooking which originate from the area. And the cooking is good enough to make getting to the restaurant worth the effort.
What appeals to me is the home-cooked flavours that characterise many of the dishes. These are what many Cantonese families may find on their dinner tables at home, albeit a bit more refined - dishes that can be easily enjoyed every day.
A dish I like is the Joyden Signature Soy Sauce Chicken ($12 to $32). The sauce used to poach the chicken has
a well-balanced blend of sweet and savoury flavours, and the addition of rosewater imparts a subtle fragrance to it. The chicken itself is cooked perfectly, juicy and tender with skin that is infused with the sauce.
An alternative is the Signature Traditional Hakka Salt Poached Farm Chicken ($17), which has less complicated flavours but is very tasty nonetheless. It does not have the crisp, yellow skin of true kampung chicken but its firm, tasty flesh is probably among the closest to the free-range chicken you find in Malaysia.
Fish Maw And Prawns With Glass Noodles In Homemade XO Sauce ($18.80) tastes like it is created for local palates. It reminds me of Thai-Teochew claypot glass noodles, but with a spicy kick which should go down well with diners here. There is also a generous amount of fried fish maw, which soaks up the tasty sauce like a sponge.
Those who do not take to spice may prefer the Signature Red Grouper Fillet With White Tofu Steamed In Black Bean Sauce ($16.80). This is classic Cantonese fare with the salty but aromatic black bean sauce balanced by the bland but smooth tofu. And the price is very reasonable too for garoupa fillet.
Some dishes, however, can be done better.
One is the Sliced Bittergourd With Pork Ribs In Black Bean Sauce ($15). The sauce is well-flavoured but both the bittergourd and the ribs could benefit from a longer cooking time. Simmering them further will not only make them more tender, but also allow the sauce to penetrate deeper into both ingredients.
The Traditional Chicken Wings Filled With Fragrant Glutinous Rice ($9) also just misses the mark. The light, crispy texture is a delight, but the seasoning, especially for the glutinous rice, is too light. Only liberal dips in chilli sauce could rescue the dish from blandness.
Luckily, confidence in the restaurant is restored when the Signature Traditional Rice Vermicelli With Poached Egg White, Crabmeat And Scallop ($15.80) arrives. It looks appealing with a raw egg cracked over the piping hot noodles just before serving. At the table, you stir the egg into the thick gravy, which is delicious whether on its own or with a few drops of black vinegar. It is a tasty and comforting dish and ends the meal on a high note.
The desserts pass muster too. The Homemade Herbal Guilin Jelly ($4.50) especially stands out for the cool sensation in the aftertaste.
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SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.