Story & photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet
All rights reserved
Food photos are of REAL food with no special effects or props
Tonight, in my opinion as The Travelling Gourmet, I tasted the BEST Peking Duck in Singapore! It was in the Singapore Marriott Hotel’s premier ‘haute cuisine’ restaurant, Wan Hao. Wan Hao specialises in ModCan (modern Cantonese) cuisine. I was there for a special celebration.
Beloved of the ancient Chinese Emperors, the big duck arrived beautifully glazed with a secret marinade. The skin was dark golden brown in colour like the sun tanned bikini clad beauties on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro .
Expertly carved by Frank from Shandung, the rectangular pieces of ueber-crispy duck skin had the fatty layer underneath removed before being wrapped in a pancake with some julienne of cucumber and scallions for taste and texture, plus slightly sweet Hoi-Sin sauce. Ay, yai, yai Caramba! It was so yummy!
It went hand in glove with the Blanc de Blancs Champagne Esprit from Maison Henri Giraud that I selected. The good prickly ‘attack’ gave me goose bumps while the refreshing kalamasi notes with hints of baked brioche from the “sur lie” treatment were most delightful. The pancake was soft, yet not too dry and leathery like in some other restaurants, and it was not green in colour. Some time ago the Mandarin Orchard’s Pine Court experimented with a spinach crepe that was green in colour like the “Incredible Hulk”! It did not go down well at all.
Another most appetising dish is Sliced Abalone 3mm thick with blanched Broccoli, still with that crispy bite, and that most delectable of mushrooms, Ling Zhi. Ling Zhi when done well can taste almost like good Abalone from Chile. The sauce of a very good viscosity and not overly thickened with cornflour.
I selected a really excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Val de la Loire with really clean, crisp herbaceous notes nad a taste of fresh cut red capsicum. Fournier Pere et Fils 2010 is very different from the New World Sauvignon Blancs with their explosive and somewhat over-powering gooseberry and sour pineapple notes. If it were a woman, it would be Angelina Jolie, the Audrey Hepburn of the 21st Century with savoir faire and finesse. New World Sauvigon Blancs always remind me of blond sex-bomb Marilyn Monroe…brash and somewhat brazen.
One plus point about dining here is that there is NO Monosodium Glutamate in the food. Dieter Ruckenbauer, the Director of Food & Beverage makes sure of that and even checks the sauces used to make sure they are MSG-free. Wan Hao is ably helmed by Chinese Executive Chef Raymond Lai from Hong Kong.
The piece de resistance of Wan Hao’s Signature Roasted Chicken was superb with the almost fall-off-the-bone tender meat…so moist and juicy and not overly salty. No elaborate sauces but most flavoursome. Sometimes the simple dishes, done well are the tastiest. It went well with the Louis Fournier as its acidity balanced the savoury taste of the meat. The garnish which looks like deep fried Tagliatelle pasta is actually 5mm wide strips of Cod fish fillet flash fried to tasty crunchiness!
Wok fried Minced Duck Meat served in a lettuce leaf ‘bowls’ was a palate pleaser. I crunched through the crisp fresh lettuce to find earthy, slightly gamey duck meat brunoise spiked with Hoi-Sin. With it I selected a classic Italian Amarone. The red wine’s Espresso coffee, dark fruit and bitter dark chocolate flavours added sumptous ‘spice’ to the duck and made the dish so much more enjoyable. Amarone is a very special wine and it is made in a very special way. The grapes are air-dried for months which is why the attractive flavours are so complex, concentrated and intense. Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2006 DOC from the north east of Italy has 16.5% abv but its good balance and smooth texture makes it very palate friendly.
I also recommend the marvellous Mango Pudding on a Narumi bone China plate. The simple presentation is good with fresh mango sliced to form a flower. Slinky cream is poured on to your taste a la table. It is also not too sugar laced so you can taste the freshness of the mango used.
With this, I chose Ernest Hemingway’s favourite Grappa from the ancient town high in the Dolomites called Bassano del Grappa. Nardini Grappa is the world’s oldest Grappa maker and the CEO Antonio Nardini is a dear friend. Nardini Riserva Aquavite 23 years old is so smooth that drinking it is like skating on clear ice.
There are those who always disparage hotel restaurants. There are those who always recommend unhygienic street food by sometimes unlicenced hawkers. There are those who always say small independent restaurants in back alleys are so much better. They are misinformed.
The Chefs in hotel restaurants are more often than not well trained by premier institutions like CIA, Le Cordon Bleu and LeNotre. Hotel restaurants enjoy economies of scale. The ingredients are of the best quality and the chic ambience is usually so much nicer. Would anyone in their right mind condemn Alain Ducasse‘s haute cuisine restaurant in the Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris? Would they condemn ‘mi buon amico’ 3-Michelin Star Chef Heinz Beck’s La Pergola in romantic Roma? La Pergola is in the Cavalieri Roma. The Cavalieri Roma is a hotel.
To live well and be well, one must eat well and drink well. Good taste is a form of genius.
WAN HAO Chinese Restaurant
Level 3, Singapore Marriott Hotel
320, Orchard Road
Tel: 68314605 (Reservations recommended)