The idea of updating Chinese cooking is not new. Many restaurants do it regularly when they introduce new dishes or new ingredients to their menus.
But few do it across the entire menu and among them, there are even fewer who have done it well.
Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House on Sentosa is one such restaurant. It gives traditional Chinese dishes an original spin without taking it down the fusion route.
An example is its version of chilli crab, which does away with the ketchup in the original recipe and replaces it with fiery chillies. And to balance the heat, bitter-sweet pomelo sacs are sprinkled on top.
The same modern Chinese concept is applied to Blue Lotus Chinese Grill House, the latest addition to the group. It opened in Tanjong Pagar Centre 11/2 weeks ago.
The menu is different from the Sentosa restaurant's and the open kitchen, outfitted with a Josper oven and induction hobs, looks Western. Yet the food, with a few exceptions such as grilled vegetables, is recognisably Chinese.
There is no Chilli Pomelo Crab here, but the restaurant is so proud of the spicy sauce that it is used here in three dishes.
BLUE LOTUS CHINESE GRILL HOUSE
01-13 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street, tel: 6910-0880, open: 11.30am to 10.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays). Closed on Sundays
Price: Set lunch starts at $18; for dinner, budget about $60 a person
My favourite among them is Crab Balls, Chilli Pomelo Sauce ($22), an excellent idea created for diners who want to eat crab without having to use their hands. The crab balls are made with lumps of fresh crabmeat compressed into ping pong-size spheres and deep fried. The crabmeat tastes sweet and the sauce layers it with the aromatics of herbs and spices.
Chilli Pomelo Australian Blue Mussels, Fried Mantou ($22) is similar to the chilli crab version, but the sauce matches slightly less well. The advantage is that mussels are easier to eat than crab.
The third dish, Chilli Pomelo La Mian Soup, Crabmeat is available only in the set lunch menu, where it comes with a choice of starter and dessert for $22. The sauce is diluted into a soup, which does not work for me. I'd prefer it kept as a thick gravy, though the level of spiciness may need to be toned down for the general diner.
If you are not a fan of the chilli pomelo sauce, fret not. There are other dishes that are worthy of repeat visits.
Hickory Smoked Honey-glazed Kurobuta Pork Belly ($16) is an amazing creation that takes the Chinese char siew to a new level. It looks like the Cantonese barbecued pork and yet the hickory smokiness makes it taste very different.
It does not matter though because, to me, the fat-moistened, juicy meat beats the dry char siew of many popular roast stalls in flavour.
From main courses, I like the 140g Australian Wagyu Beef Ribeye ($48), which comes with caramelised onions, grilled ladies' fingers and red pepper chilli puree. The meat boasts good flavour and has a fat marbling score of four - ideal for a steak. Too much fat in a steak makes me feel sick at times.
Besides, I would use my fat quota for a return visit at lunchtime for the Hot Stone Pork Lard Truffle Flavoured Fried Rice ($18 with starter and dessert). It not only tastes wonderful, as do most dishes cooked with lard, but you can also have some fun as you do the frying yourself at the table.
The egg-fried rice comes with condiments such as diced Chinese sausage, baby asparagus, crispy pork lard, spring onions, shallots, soya sauce, truffle oil and a lump of lard - plus a red-hot stone bowl. You melt the lard in the bowl, then add the rice and condiments one by one, frying them with a spoon as you do so. The result is a cross between fried rice and claypot rice as a crust forms at the bottom where the rice comes in contact with the hot stone.
It is delicious, though I would lay off the truffle oil the next time I order the dish. It is a tad overpowering and since it comes separately in a plastic pipette, it can be added later if you want.
For dessert, I'd recommend the Durian Creme Brulee ($14). Made with D24 durian, it is not too sweet and has a paper-thin sheet of caramelised sugar covering the smooth custard.
Dining at Blue Lotus is an adventure because very often, the dish does not come the way you expect it to.
Sometimes, as in the case of the Prawn Paste Boxing Chicken ($14) and Roast Rack Of Lamb, Five Spices ($32), they are decent rather than spectacular. But most dishes are really good and, being original creations, you cannot eat them anywhere else.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.