(THE NEW PAPER) - To call Royal Pavilion an undiscovered gem may be pushing it a little, but it is one of those restaurants that makes me wonder why more Singaporeans did not discover it earlier.
It has many pluses: It serves Cantonese food - always popular in Singapore - and the restaurant looks suitably grand. Service is friendly and the prices are friendlier.
Now that it has on board new executive chef Chai Ngen Kin, who has updated the menu, the time is right for you to check it out.
Chef Chai kick-started his career after coming up tops at the now-defunct Chen Fu Ji's Fried Rice Competition in 1997. And he has reproduced the winning dish - Spinach Fried Rice ($22) - for Royal Pavilion.
The rice is fluffy and not oily, with bits of seafood between the grains. It is simple but hearty. You can order it without seafood if you are looking for a vegetarian option.
Another winner is the Deep-fried Crunchy Ribs with Superior Chilli Sauce ($13.80 a serving). The housemade sauce has heat and just the right amount of savouriness. It goes well with the ribs.
Many restaurants serve a version of the Wok-fried Carrot Cake with Royal Pavilion's "Lao Gan Tie" Chilli Sauce ($10.80), but this is no different from most. It is a signature dish here, created before chef Chai arrived and too popular to be taken off the menu.
There is only so much one can do with it though: The chilli sauce is punchy, but that does not make the dish special or superior.
Some dishes at Royal Pavilion tend to veer towards sweet, which is not a surprise given the chef's fondness for incorporating fruit in his food.
One example is the Braised Mashed Fish Noodle with Scallop in Celery Sweet and Sour Sauce, part of the seven-course dinner menu ($98 a person). The fish noodles are delicious with the right texture, bite and flavour, but the sauce is too distractingly sweet for me.
Another example of a nice-but-too-sweet dish is the Crispy Prawn tossed in Beetroot Salad Mayonnaise (also part of the $98 set dinner). The prawn is expertly fried with a crispy coat, but the mayonnaise just overwhelms it. Classic case of "less is more".