Wan Hao’s focus on contemporary Chinese cuisine (Cantonese, specifically) isn’t new — plenty of other similarly priced restaurants do it very well, from Jiang Nan Chun to Hua Ting. I have only dined at Wan Hao once previously — and it was heavily noted for having a dim sum buffet then (an unhealthy Singaporean obsession). Given the very good and consistent (from what I hear online) quality of food, I was happy to be invited by Eileen and Karen from Marriott for this food tasting given the pretty positive experience I had the last time round.
Settling in into its classy environs of black granite and gold-finished pieces of calligraphy, Wan Hao shows it means business in establishing itself as a fine dining establishment. The air is quiet, generally filled with a more predictable timbre of civilised chatter rather than the head-throbbing noise level you come across at a busy FoodRepublic in the midst of lunch hour. Servers, decked in black, glide between tables inconspicuously at an unhurried pace. The statement is clear — dining here is an occasion for the food, not an occasion around food. I head in to our private dining room for the tasting with bated breath.
Crispy Suckling Pig with Prawn Paste ($30)
Given that their roast Peking duck and meats in general have drawn great reviews, I was looking forward to this dish. My prior experience of having their Peking Duck in crepes was excellent and I harboured high hopes for this. It didn’t disappoint, although I thought the sharper saltiness that I looked for in such a dish was missing. However, it was not oily or fattening, sufficiently crisp without being rock hard, and the prawn paste was a good savoury-sweet complement to the meat.
Double-boiled Winter Melon soup with assorted seafood ($12)
The double-boiled winter melon soup was everything you expect from the sound of it — the light sweetness of the winter melon was refreshing, with the strong accents of seafood floating in the background. The slight sweetness of the scallops and prawns was a great choice in making this a delightful palate cleanser between each course.
Pan-fried scallop, shrimp paste and broccoli in spicy szechuan sauce ($32)
I actually found this pretty good, even though I am not a very big fan of shrimp paste. The spicy szechuan sauce (which was more sweet than spicy) was excellent in bringing the flavours of the scallop in shrimp paste. The scallop was succulent, and blended together with the shrimp paste, exuded a fresh sweetness expected from good seafood. The broccoli was more of decoration than anything though, or perhaps it was just there to mop up the sauce…
Wok-fried Australian beef tenderloin and marinated sour plum pear with light wasabi sauce ($30)
The highlight of the night was this amazing wok fried beef tenderloin — the flavour-packed beef was done to a succulent medium rare, coated in its savoury essence. The best part of this dish was that it let the beef speak for itself — it wasn’t heavily flavoured (perhaps just lightly seasoned with soya sauce) and smothered under some heavy tasting sauce. The beef was really good enough to eat on its own. The marinated sour plum pear added a layer of complexity to the taste — with sweet, sour and salty flavours swirling in your mouth — playing the limits of an overwhelming flavour explosion (but still within an acceptably palatable standard).
Claypot Eggplant and pork floss with spicy sauce ($22)
One of our food bloggers mentioned that this would go wonderfully well with plain white rice. I agree. Wet, moist strips of eggplant are drenched in a thick, viscous mess, happily peppered amongst little chunks of minced meat and pork floss. Can’t go wrong when it sounds this right.
Wan Hao Special Crispy Chicken ($22 for half; $40 for whole)
While some bits of the chicken were wonderfully moist, tender and bursting with salty goodness (all with a thin, crisp, roasted skin), the breast meat was slightly drier, and some of the chicken tended towards being too salty. It depends on what part of the chicken you get I guess. But the accompanying fried codfish strips were an addictive delight — crunchy and savoury with a hint of sweetness, like a really addictive barbecue potato chip of sorts. The salt/pepper mix beside it was almost an accessory of sorts (because everything was so flavourful); but the five-spice powder inside was a worthy mention.
Wok-fried Lotus leaf rice and waxed meat ($12 per person)
I generally am not a fan of glutinous rice because it tends to turn up quite dry, sticky and gelak. This was not too bad, because of the very generous bits of waxed meat (aka lup cheong) inside it, which provided your tastebuds with many moments of smoky sweetness. Sadly, while this was so, the fragrance of the lotus leaf and any savoury flavour of the glutinous rice were not highlighted — I thought it could have been more savoury to balance the flavours of the sweet waxed meats. Still, could be worse.
Cold Lemongrass Jelly, Red Wine Granite and Diced Dragonfruit ($13)
A simple, refreshing end to an 8-course banquet came in the form of a tantalising cold lemongrass jelly in a dragon fruit bowl, accompanied by cute balls of the said fruit and a sweet red wine granite. The granite was a highlight for me as the rich sweetness paired well with the citrus-y floral flavours of the lemongrass jelly.
To say the least, I find Wan Hao’s culinary offerings in the contemporary Chinese space conservative amongst its competitors. But I think it doesn’t need to when it produces food that is finely prepared. Plenty of restaurants like to make that claim to be the best — but Wan Hao isn’t interested in that, it just does good contemporary Cantonese cuisine well, on its own terms. And I think as a guest of Wan Hao, I am most impressed by that.
Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel
320 Orchard Road
Tel: +65 6381 4605
Open: 11AM-3PM (lunch); 6PM - 10PM (dinner), daily.