May 24, 2009
Tung Lok's new outlet offers dishes from various Chinese regions such as Hubei and Sichuan
By Wong Ah Yoke
After making a strong presence in the Chinese food scene here with more than 10 Chinese restaurants that focus on a particular style of cooking, the Tung Lok Restaurants group has scoured the length and breadth of China for ideas for its latest outlet.
Housed in a spanking new glass building at the Chinese Swimming Club, the three-week-old Tung Lok Classics offers dishes from areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Hubei and Guangdong.
In appearance, the new 200-seat restaurant has the same bright, contemporary design that characterises the Tung Lok Signatures outlets in VivoCity and The Central which offer a collection of signature dishes from Tung Lok's other Chinese restaurants. Price-wise, it targets the same executive and weekend family crowd who can comfortably afford $40 and more a person for a meal.
Even the menu looks similar, with lots of colourful photos of the dishes that make you want to order everything. But look more closely and you will find that, except for a few common items such as the all-time favourite crispy roast pork belly ($9), most of the dishes are unique to the new outlet, which has many Sichuan and Shanghai dishes seen for the first time in Tung Lok menus.
The Shanghai dishes are the highlight for me. Most of what I have tried in my three visits so far are authentic enough despite being modified to be less oily and sweet to suit local palates.
A good dish to start with is the Shanghai-style braised duck ($9), which is a generous portion for an appetiser. The meat is tender and the sauce, fullflavoured without being too sweet.
You must also try the Shanghai-style braised 'mian xian' with fish puff ($7 per person). The noodles, which are like Japanese somen, come in a delicious, milky fish stock and the fish puffs - fish meat that have been whipped with egg white and deep-fried before being braised in stock - are wonderfully fluffy.
Check out, too, the sweetened red dates stuffed with glutinous rice ($5). Though soaked in honey, they are not cloying and the glutinous rice filling has a nice chewiness without being hard. If you cannot get used to the idea of a sweet appetiser, order it as a dessert instead.
What I don't fancy is Grandma's braised pork belly with beancurd knots ($18). Although the pork is evidently cooked in high-grade dark soya sauce, it needs a bit more sweetness to give the flavours more dimension.
If you are in the mood for some fat meat, the braised 'Dong Po' pork ($20) is a better bet. The sauce is thick and fragrant and the meat, with just enough fat to moisten it, is beautifully tender.
When it comes to the Sichuan items, dishes such as sliced pork with garlic sauce ($7) and beancurd with sliced fish ($10) are not very authentic because of their lack of fire.
But while I like my Sichuan food authentically spicy, I can understand that not many Singaporeans can stomach it. Besides, the beancurd with sliced fish is still tasty even with less chilli and peppers. It is a combination of two classic Sichuan dishes, Mapo beancurd and watercooked fish, with slices of fish placed on top of the spicy beancurd.
When it comes to Hubei fare, another fish dish comes up even better: braised fish head with pickled lantern chillies ($28). It looks pretty too, with the fish head covered by rectangular pieces of red capsicum.
Pickled chillies are used to cook the braising stock, giving it a nice acidity and spiciness that goes brilliantly with the fish.
Desserts here are standard Chinese restaurant fare such as mango pudding ($5) and almond cream ($5). But there are also attempts to be creative, as in the chilled herbal jelly with 'cheng tng' ($5).
There is also a version of chilled mango, pomelo, sago and ice cream served in a young coconut ($8) that looks very attractive. It is pleasant enough, but not outstanding.
The savoury dishes, on the other hand, make a splash.
Shanghai-style braised 'mian xian' with fish puff ($7 a person)
The stock is delicious and the puffs have a nice fluffy texture.
TUNG LOK CLASSICS
21 Amber Road, 03-01 Chinese Swimming Club, tel: 6345-0111
Open: 11.30am to 3pm Mondays to Saturdays, 10am to 3pm Sundays and public holidays, 6 to 10.30pm daily
Service: *** 1/2
Ambience: *** 1/2
Price: Budget about $40 a person