Among the spate of Chinese restaurants opening in the past couple of months, Kai Garden stands out for having the most creative menu that doesn't come across as gimmicky.
The Cantonese restaurant in the new wing of Marina Square is opened by chef Fung Chi Keung, formerly the Paradise Group's executive chef.
He left the group early last year and opened Xin Yue in UE Square with some partners, but has since left that too.
At Xin Yue, he repeated many of the signature dishes he created for Taste Paradise.
But at his latest restaurant, the new dishes he has come up with once again prove he is one of the more innovative Chinese chefs in town.
03-128A/B Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard, tel: 6250-4826
Open: 11.30am to 3.30pm (Monday to Friday), 11amto 4pm (weekend and public holiday), 6 to 11pm daily
Price: Budget from $35 a person for dim sum, from $80 a person for a la carte
One of the most fascinating is the Sweet & Sour Pork On The Rocks ($22), which is based on the traditional sweet and sour pork dish, but presented in a totally fresh manner.
Instead of pieces of pork, you get meatballs coated in sweet and sour sauce. These are skewered with slices of capsicum and pineapple on cocktail picks that are stuck in a bowl of shaved ice.
So while the meatballs are warm inside, they are chilled outside, with the sugar in the sauce turning into a thin, crisp shield around the meat. The flavour is that of sweet and sour pork, but the mouthfeel is totally different. It's a novelty, but one that is instantly likeable.
Another dish that is both familiar and fresh is the Braised Home-made Dace With Black Bean Sauce ($11.80).
This is a homemade version of the canned dace that many Chinese households here would have in the larder at one time or other. It looks like the canned fish too, but tastes fresher and less salty. I love it, though the price is rather high for an appetiser serving.
I order the Braised Chicken With Flower Crab ($48) mostly out of curiosity. I've never eaten a dish that pairs crab with chicken and the idea sounds strange to me. But it tastes good.
It's not that the ingredients - there's roast pork as well - are particularly well-matched, but the robust, oyster sauce-flavoured gravy just goes so well with each of them. It's a little salty - from the roast pork perhaps - which calls for a bowl of steaming rice.
The other dishes I try are more traditional. The Nourishing Double- boiled Sea Whelk Soup ($68) lives up to expectations with a broth that is sweet with the flavour of dried seafood and meat.
Braised Vermicelli Topped With Simmered Fish And Dried Scallop ($24) is the classic Beijing dish, sai pang xie, with beehoon added to it.
Fish meat is scrambled with egg white over very low heat, resulting in a smooth texture and a seafood flavour that resemble crabmeat.
The dish is usually a little salty, which works perfectly with the beehoon in this case. A drop or two of black vinegar makes it even more appetising. And the crispy shreds of dried scallop sprinkled on top add little punches of flavour.
What I don't like is the Crackling Pork Belly ($14.80), which is too lean. And the crackling is not very crispy. Perhaps it has been left around for too long, in which case the restaurant should not have served it.
But one disappointing dish in a meal is still not too bad.
Going back on a Sunday afternoon, it's a more casual but no less interesting experience.
The chef has put his creative juices to work on the dim sum menu too.
The Pan-fried Charcoal Pork Bun ($6.80) is a grey version of Shanghai fried bun, with the colour coming from both charcoal and squid ink. It makes a pretty photo and tastes a little more complex than the common white flour bun.
The Steamed Cheong Fun With Char Siew And Preserved Vegetable ($5.80) is new too, adding the sweetness of mei cai (sweet preserved vegetable) to the barbecued pork cubes. The steamed rice roll is not as smooth as I would like though.
I prefer the Wok-fried Cheong Fun In XO Sauce ($8.80), as the rice rolls here are smoother and there is a pleasant aroma from the wok as well as the chilli sauce.
Kai Garden occupies a big space, with seats for 200 people. The decor is pleasantly simple and the ambience good for family dining. Business diners can ask for one of the four private rooms if they do not wish to be in the main dining area.
But while the restaurant doesn't look remarkable, the food is. And if you are a foodie, you would agree that is so much more important.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.