Monday, 19 December 2011
Din Tai Fung, 290 Orchard Road, #B1-03 The Paragon, Singapore
You've got the mojo and you know it.
This is our latest Favourite Dining Place In Singapore.
To be fair, we've only been in Singapore about two weeks, and between conquering my fear of directions and Hubs being at work, we've been doing pretty well (I'd like to think) as far as food is concerned. Having had dinner almost every day at Plaza Singapura, we decided to try something new on Orchard Road at the weekend.
When we were in Singapore a few years ago, our friends and us stopped by at Din Tai Fung and had one dumpling each. Yes, the 8 of us went into the restaurant (it wasn't peak time otherwise I doubt we would've been too successful) and ordered ONE portion of 'Siew Long Bao' to be shared.
Roughly around $$1.25 each, and 1.25 dumplings per person.
We also decided that it was going to be Christmas Shopping Saturday, so, fueled with the anticipation of finding all sorts of interesting and joy-giving presents, we made our way towards the myriad of shops along Orchard Road.
3 exhausting hours later, we were still lost in the labyrinth that is the Singapore Underground MRT - Shopping Complex Maze.
Designed to confuse tourists and make us think that the outside world does not exist, it was impossible trying to find our way out of the place. Everytime we came up an escalator, we were in another mall.
HOW DO WE GET OUT OF THE STATION?!?
When we finally found some (day)light at the end of the (escalator) tunnel, I was grumpy, tired, without presents, and very hungry. It was around 4pm - perfect time to have an early dinner / late lunch and to avoid the hungry crowds, we thought to ourselves - smiling at how brilliant we were.
Turns out, Singapore is full of brilliant, hungry diners who all thought at 4pm was the perfect dining time.
When we were fighting our way through the crowd, it didn't even occur to me that this could have possibly been the waiting queue. I thought that this was the meeting point or that people just liked waiting around there for their friends.
Wanna know how popular this place is? There is a dedicated counter at the front of the restaurant which just hands out numbers to waiting diners.
Efficiency at its best.
We walked up to the counter, were told that it was going to be around 20 minutes for a table, were given a piece of paper with a number on it, and then handed a clipboard with which we were to place our food order.
These kinda things bring out the slightly unreasonable in me. Why can't I tick every box?
After a bit of give-and-take negotiations, we finally decided on our order, and proceeded to wait for number 229 to be called out. Around 20 minutes after we were given our number, the signboard flashed.
229 = It's Our Turn!!!
I know I'm jumping to the end here but I really, really, REALLY like this place. Something about the whole experience (even the waiting bit) made me feel excited and yet comforted at the same time.
The setting of the tables, the lighting, the food, the service - everything came together really well, and I felt like I could've sat there all day.
I guess other people flock to this place because of how fresh everything is. All the dumplings are made by hand, on site, by the trained chefs in the kitchen.
I stood there watching them for a bit, and came away amazed at the efficiency of their production-line methods.
One guy portions out the bits of dough required for the dumplings, and actually weighs them to make sure each piece of consistent with the others. Then, the little round dough balls are given to the guy behind him to be rolled out into flat circles.
Those are then given to another guy who fills them up with a variety of fillings, and the dumplings are then sealed with precision. I read somewhere that it's really important how many folds there are in a dumpling - didn't wait to count any of them though while I was munching.
OK, you know how the bill usually comes at the end of a meal?
Not here. Here, the bill is placed at your table pretty much the moment you sit down at it. It's quite unusual but also good in a way because it means you know upfront how much you've (mistakenly) ordered, and if you don't decide to add anything else to your order, you can just get up after the meal, head towards the counter and leave.
I quite liked that about this place. Again - efficiency at work.
My favourite bit about a meal is usually the condiments. I know, chefs are waiting to throw me out, right?
Bla bla bla.
Give me a bottle of ketchup and I'll probably have finished it by the end of a meal.
Loving the black vinegar here. If you've never had Chinese black vinegar, it's kinda like malt vinegar but with a more intense, slightly sweet and yet more sour taste. I much prefer this version of vinegar to the malt version, but that's because I like my tastes intense.
Not being an expert in any way, so don't take my word for it - but I've always eaten dumplings / siew long bao this way. Shredded ginger and vinegar in a small plate - and the dumplings are dunked generously in this mixture. Sometimes I even drink a small spoonful of vinegar after I'd chewed on a dumpling.
Hot and sour soup (small) S$6.80
Described as 'small' on the menu, this was big enough to feed the both of us and with third helpings too. It wasn't hot (as in spicy) to me, and neither was it sour enough for me, but a little addition of the vinegar solved that quickly enough. I loved the soup. Full of crunchy vegetables, soft silky tofu, and plenty of taste, I almost finished the entire soup myself.
Picked cucumber in vinegar (around S$2.50)
Mmm mm mmm my favourite type of dish. Served cold, each baton of crunchy cucumber was lovely accompanied by the slight heat from the chilli oil, and tang from the black vinegar.
Pickled mustard with shredded meat S$2.50
And another one of my favourites. I'm tellin' ya, I like this place a lot.
The mustard leaves must have been rinsed slightly of their pickling juice as it wasn't anywhere near as salty as I'd expected it to be. Crunchy and tender, the leaves surrounded a small surprise of delicate shredded pork which lent a nice contrast to the textures.
Stir-fried Hong Kong kailan with special sauce S$10.00
Hubs ordered this for me as he knows how much I like kailan. When we were in London, we'd get our kailan from either Gold Mine or Peninsula, and since arriving in Singapore, we'd not had much vegetables in our meals.
This was done very nicely with the kailan maintaining the green, tender texture without being overcooked.
Veg pork wantan tossed with well-seasoned chicken broth S$6.50
This dish is what I describe as an 'extra'.
You know what I mean - the kind of dishes you order when you're very hungry, and when everything on the menu looks good. So you go ahead and order it, thinking surely I'll be able to finish it all. No problemo.
Then, the dish arrives and while it's not a let down, it just doesn't compare to the rest of the dishes on the table.
While it would have been perfectly top class in any other restaurant, and while it tasted fresh, juicy and all that, the flavouring of it wasn't as good as the other dishes we had on offer. I suppose it's meant to be slightly more bland (not being cooked in anything other than chicken broth) but I much preferred the stronger-flavoured dishes we had that day.
Oriental wantan with black vinegar and chilli oil (around S$8.00)
Oh yup uh huh gimme more.
The juicy little parcels of meat were floating in the chilli oil and vinegar mixture in the bowl, just waiting to be munched on. Each bite produced a burst (literally) of meat, meaty juice, chilli heat and saliva-inducing tang from the vinegar.
Like a perfectly co-ordinated X Factor song.
Only it's much, much better than the X Factor.
And it doesn't make me wanna punch the television.
Steamed crabmeat and pork dumpling - 10 pieces for S$13.80
"Those people outside are queuing up to see you, Mr. Bao."
"Oh really? OK, tell 'em they can come kiss my hand. But only for a minute or two."
And kiss their hands we did. One gulp at a time.
First, take one beautiful, elegant, gorgeous mouthful of a Siew Long Bao and place it delicately in a spoon.
Then, bite of a TINY piece of the dumpling from the top, allowing the steam to escape.
Drink a little bit of the juice to allow space for the vinegar to be added in.
Be very liberal with the vinegar.
Open your mouth.
Steamed pork dumpling (siew long bao) - 10 pieces for S$9.00
As we were here mainly for the Siew Long Bao's, we ordered 2 different versions of the dumplings. Much preferred the second version which is actually the original version consisting of mainly just pork.
I liked this better as it was more meaty and also had a better texture to it compared to the crabmeat one which was kinda mushy because of the crab.
Hubs had ...
THIRTY FIVE dumplings in total, including the ones in chilli oil.
Steamed Chinese layer cake (around S$6 if I'm not mistaken)
Hmm well, we took this back as a takeaway. Partly as I didn't like the taste of it much, and also partly because we were stuffed.
Victory is ours.
And although it would've done us good to have walked back from where we were, we didn't take that option. Instead, we walked around Orchard Road for a bit - Christmas lights are up!
We missed the switching on of the lights on Oxford St this year (not that we were there at the other years' but just saying) so it was nice to savour the lights here. Almost the same designs and colour - wonder if they bought it from the same people?