Food critic Chong Yap of popular food blog Make Your Calories Count, checks out the Crystal Jade Golden Palace at The Paragon, and finds Teochew and Cantonese-style fine dining for the health conscious.
Stepping into the exquisitely designed Crystal Jade Golden Palace for the first time, we quickly realised that it was not the usual Crystal Jade franchise restaurants that are readily spotted at shopping malls. Offering Teochew and Cantonese-style fine dining with a contemporary twist, the menu would please those who are health conscious as it even has a section that offers healthier options. This multiple award-winning restaurant not only specialises in its food offering but more importantly the wide range of fine wines, not forgetting premium Chinese liquor such as maotai.
We were shown to our table, located at a cosy corner of the restaurant which suited us well since it was a small family reunion. The manager left us to deliberate over our preferred dishes and stepped in with his recommendations after a while when he sensed that we were still undecided. He first warmed up to us by conversing to us in various dialects from Cantonese to Teochew and that immediately struck off on the right note. I personally find that it takes passion from one to be able to deliver such dedicated attention and service in your line of work. It is often walking that extra mile, offering that additional personal touch that impresses customers and turn them into regulars as a result.
This was highly recommended over its normal Salmon Yu Sheng which was offered at S$43.80 so we were highly piqued about how special this Yu Sheng was and decided to let our taste buds do the testing! The fresh vegetables were hand-shredded and we really enjoyed the thick and generous slices of salmon and hamachi (otherwise known as yellowtail).
This was initially offered only to the VIP guests when it was first launched in 2012 but due to popular demand, it is available to public at a slight premium. This was however well justified with the premium ingredients used, such as hazelnut oil and the quality fresh fish. For the health conscious, expect to be delighted as the unusual addition of pine nut, sunflower seed and pumpkin seed makes this a must-try. The homemade sweet plum sauce was so good that I had to find out what was in it and later did I realise that honey and fresh lemon juice was added to control and create the balance in flavours. Apparently it was so good that some of the staffs use it as a spread for their bread!
Everyone at the table loved the beautiful layers of textures created with the crisp Chinese yam ("淮山") complemented by the crunch of the nuts and seeds. The strips of fresh mangoes paired with the acidity of the lime made this a really refreshing dish and for someone who is not a huge fan of Yu Sheng, I actually had three rounds of serving!
A full duck would portion out about 16 servings of the roasted duck skin wrapped by the pancake and instead of leaving it to the diners, all portions were made for us. We opted for half the remaining duck to be chopped and served and the other half to be diced and stir-fried separately.
The sharp crispness of the roasted duck was highly commendable and we found that it was comparable to the one tried at Imperial Treasure Super Peking! The distinct difference was that all 16 slices of the roasted duck skin served here was purely skin with no underlying flesh while Imperial Treasure does it both ways.
While retaining the crispness of the skin, the meat was also succulent, maintaining the moisture within the flesh. Served with a classic homemade hoi sin and plum sauce, a quick survey post-dinner had half the diners agreeing that this was the best dish of the evening.
The second half of the roast duck was diced and stir-fried with chopped water chestnut to give it texture and an added tinge of sweetness. We would scoop it into the lettuce leaves provided, wrap it and savour the crunch. I particularly enjoyed the dried vermicelli added for that extra crispness and crunch. For those used to a heavier palate, this would suit them perfectly. Otherwise, the cooking might be a little too savoury for some.
The portion was generous and it was cooked to perfection. The chosen technique of sautéing the frog legs ensured that it was not over-cooked while locking in the moisture, leaving each mouthful reminiscent of the last. It was also beautifully complemented by the honey peas which adds a subtle level of sweetness to the savouriness of the dish, which would an ideal dish to go with some white rice.
While this was another dish that would go well with some fragrant Jasmine white rice, there were elements that disappointed. When it comes to fine-dining, it is only fair to expect the basics to be done right. The two pieces of crackers served were nowhere close to crispy, tasting limp and flat.
While we enjoyed the slight crispness of the nest surrounding the chunks of chicken and cashew nuts, it lacked the level of crispness desired. The flavours of the savoury dish were spot-on but when it comes to introducing layers of textures, it requires some work yet.
While the permanent staffs serving our table were courteous and polite, we were at times attended by a part-time server who was not very familiar with the menu nor able to converse in English. At one point, there was a Caucasian couple who sat at a table beside us and had some requests but it was neglected as the part-time server was unable to apprehend their needs. I helped to convey the message but by then the couple were frustrated and after thanking me, left the restaurant. Not trying to sound arrogant nor snobbish but simply putting facts on the table; in the event that I have my business associates or partners with me and I am visiting this restaurant due to its fine-dining impression, subsequently to be let-down by the customer service; I believe it causes much injustice to the restaurant. That being said, the harsh reality that Singapore companies have to face is that they are unable to hire sufficient skilled labour to meet the demand.
Coming back to our dining experience, I was highly impressed by the professionalism shown by the restaurant. Keen to try a seemingly interesting dessert on the menu, I was later informed that due to quality issues, the chefs had removed it from menu for the evening and repeatedly apologised for the lapse.
As such, when it comes to customer service, I was divided in terms of delivering my overall verdict. I understood that due to shortage of labour during the festive season, part time staffs were hired to tide over the situation. I believe we would return to try their food but it would probably be after the busy season so as to enjoy a proper and good Chinese dinner.