April 26, 2009
Capella hotel's Chinese restaurant 'borrows' from the Western kitchen, but not always successfully
By Wong Ah Yoke
E ven as anticipation mounts over the launch of Resorts World in Sentosa next year, last month's opening of Capella hotel has already stepped up the glitz.
The hotel, a combination of old colonial buildings and modern architecture by Norman Foster, is a stunning property matched by equally stellar prices. Rates for a night's stay start from $700 - among the highest here.
One can therefore expect prices at Cassia, the hotel's glamorous Chinese restaurant, to be equally hefty.
They are certainly not cheap but compared to upmarket Western restaurants, not cut-throat either. And comparisons do arise because some of the ingredients used, such as Yorkshire pork and Australian Grade 9 wagyu beef, are those you get more often in Western restaurants.
The attention to presentation, too, is borrowed from the Western kitchen although the chef sensibly sticks to the Chinese style of just scooping stir-fried food onto the plate and getting it to the table as quickly as possible.
But having said that, I have to point out two grossly overpriced items. A bowl of white rice costs $5 and tea, $12 a person. For a table of four, these items alone will add up to $68, a ridiculous sum.
As for the food, you can actually find more reasonably priced dishes if you steer clear of items such as abalone and shark's fin. For example, among the cold appetisers is a very nice chilled Anxin chicken with fennel seed ($18). Except for dishes that are designed for one person, servings here are enough for two.
Anxin chicken is a Chinese monicker given to free-range chicken, and this version of the popular Sichuan cold dish, kou shui ji or salivating chicken, is toned down for those not used to fiery flavours.
But the spicy sauce, served as a dip instead of being mixed with the chicken, is tasty. The dish is presented very prettily with the chilled chicken medallions ringed by a slice of rolled-up cucumber.
Malaysian executive chef Ooi Soon Lok, who has worked in various five-star hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton Guangzhou, G Hotel Penang and Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, shows a penchant for introducing touches from his home country in his cooking.
With dishes where flavours are authentic, he has a winning formula. The stewed Australian Yorkshire pork belly with dried chilli, wild mushroom and salted fish ($20) is one of them.
It is lightly stewed in a claypot and the pork is thinly sliced. The fragrance of the salted fish is evident and the chilli is mild enough not to overpower the flavours.
But in cases where the chef dilutes the strong Malaysian flavours too much, the results are not as good. For example, the Nyonya cincaluk oyster shooter ($22) has so little cincaluk (fermented shrimp) in it that the flavour of soya sauce dominates.
Chef Ooi takes inspiration from other cuisines too, sometimes even combining a few ideas in one dish. An example of this is the fennel seed prawn soup, assorted mushrooms and poached Norwegian salmon fillet ($16 a person).
The base is a classic bisque and the salmon is cooked Western-style, but the mushrooms are Japanese varieties such as shimeiji, and the soup is served with crispy grains of toasted rice that are Chinese-inspired. It works surprisingly well.
Desserts are very good too. The doubleboiled pear with tangerine tea ($8 a person) is excellent. The pear is just soft enough and has an ambrosiac sweetness to balance the sweet-sour tangerine.
And the mango pudding with cream and Chinese petit four ($10 a person) boasts a rich, smooth pudding and a lovely pastry with a little cube of mango kuih. But it is the smallest serving of mango pudding I have ever seen.
Fennel seed prawn soup, assorted mushrooms and poached Norwegian salmon fillet ($16)
Chock-full with ingredients, this soup is heart-warming and filling.
Capella Singapore, 1 The Knolls, Sentosa Island, tel: 6591-5045
Open: noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm daily
Food: *** 1/2
Price: About $90 a person for dinner