Restaurant Review: Hot pots at Peach Garden

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 29, 2013

If you are seeking a quiet dinner in a Chinese restaurant, check out The Metropolis. Not Superman's home, but a new two-tower office development in Buona Vista where the latest Peach Garden restaurant opened about two weeks ago.

Although it has the same name as the group's five other restaurants in places such as Novena Gardens and OCBC Building, it is different. While those serve Cantonese or Sichuan dishes for just lunch and dinner, the new outlet stays open the whole day. And while its a la carte menu offers the same Cantonese dishes served in most of the other outlets, it also serves all-day dimsum. And for dinner, there is steamboat as well.

Steamboat is something new for the group, ostensibly introduced in this outlet to attract families living around the area, as the office crowd at lunchtime dwindles to a trickle at the end of the day and on weekends.

Available only as a la carte orders, the steamboat is a mid-priced version similar to what you get at other eateries such as Crystal Jade Steamboat Restaurant in Balestier Road. It is better than most buffet steamboats but not as good as high-end ones such as Imperial Treasure Steamboat Restaurant at TripleOne Somerset and Ion Orchard.

What makes it above average are the stocks. You get a choice of six, ranging from Cantonese-style superior soup to Teochew-influenced fish head to Thai tom yum.

Like the other mid- and high-priced steamboat eateries here, the meal begins with a robust stock so food cooked in it tastes good right from the start. Cheaper restaurants, however, start you off with a weak broth, which gets tastier as you cook food in it. That, however, makes no sense. After all, you want to enjoy tasty cooked ingredients, not try to make soup with them.

Peach Garden does not offer twin stocks, and charges $10 if you want to change the broth during the meal. So to try two different stocks - superior soup ($20) and tomato pork bone soup ($16) - I go for dinner twice.

Between the two, I prefer the superior soup. Brewed with chicken and pork, it is robust and the flavours are well-balanced. The tomato pork bone soup tastes more of pork than tomato, which is a little disappointing since I expect more tartness from the tomatoes.

And if you like fish, it is a good idea to get something like the red garoupa steamboat ($35), which comes with half a fish, because an a la carte order of red garoupa fillet already costs $35.

The handmade meatballs are a must here. You have a choice of pork meatball ($8), mud carp fishball ($10), prawn ball ($12) and beef ball ($12). Being freshly made, they all taste superior to frozen and factory-made varieties. The fresh prawn dumplings ($6.50) are good too, plump with succulent prawns wrapped in smooth flour skins.

I would also recommend the drunken chicken ($18 for half a chicken). Add this to simmering stock, wait a few minutes and then fish it out before you add the other ingredients. Avoid the temptation to let the stock boil, even if the service staff urge you to do so. You want the chicken to be poached, not boiled, so the meat is smooth and sweet rather than soft and tasteless.

The other ingredients on the menu are pretty pedestrian, and you just need to ensure that nothing gets overcooked, especially seafood items such as scallops ($10 per 100g) and prawns ($5) which turn rubbery and tasteless if you do not keep an eye on them.

Premium meats such as American kurobuta pork belly ($11) and American sliced beef ($16) are not as flavourful as I expect, but I cannot really complain since they are so much cheaper than good-quality Japanese meat. Still, I would rather get a plate of pork neck meat ($14), which has a nice succulent texture.

The choice of sauces here is limited to soya sauce with toppings of minced garlic, spring onion and cut chilli, and a sweetish chilli sauce. But they are enough for me, as I prefer not to have strong sauces which will mask the freshness of the food.

The steamboat is good, not excellent, and I would not recommend you go out of your way for it. But if you live in the western part of the island, it is certainly a good alternative to making your way to town or fighting with the crowds in a mall.

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

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