Tung Lok Signatures, Vivo City

This has been an interesting friendship.

I don’t have many gay friends. I know many gays, but they aren’t friends. We’d all love to think that we’ve come out to a community that accepts the freedom to love, but the fact is, it’s more of a sorority than a community – a political faction that has its own prescribed values on preferences, habits and lifestyle of its members. The lure of that sense of camaraderie was, I’ll admit, seductive, but there were realities that I had to face up to. This life, this pink ticket: it wasn’t really me, so I went it alone. For a while, the journey was slow, almost depressing even, but even in the darkest of dark times, I’d stumble into individuals who, like a pillar of strength or a beacon of light, help illuminate my life journey.

A few weeks back, Titus had invited me to have a simple birthday dinner with him and a couple of friends today at Tung Lok Signatures at Vivo City. It preceded Keidi’s confirmation that today was a go, so I had no choice but to turn down the latter in favor of the former, which was just as well since I wouldn’t be seeing Titus until after he comes back from Brunei, the States and China – a mere three weeks before we fly to Japan. The Tung Lok Group is one of Singapore’s oldest and most well-known Chinese restaurant chains, serving some of the finest in Southern Chinese cuisine in the world. What started with a few restaurants serving exquisite Cantonese food has turned into a conglomerate of different concepts from fast food to a myriad of concept restaurants dedicated to the subcultures of Chinese cuisine. Tung Lok Signatures at Vivo City, as the name suggests, brings the best of Tung Lok Group in a one-stop destination – you’ll find dishes from the north and central to the south and west. The restaurant’s menu even unabashedly promotes the medicinal properties of the collagen rich shark’s fin soup – a delicacy whose procurement is sooo cruel and unethical than many East Asians, who regard it as an age-old delicacy, have stopped eating it while restaurants across East Asia have either or plan to stop serving it.

Today’s dinner was paired with a Jacob’s Creek Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon which Titus brought for the occasion.

On Jane’s suggestion, who in my opinion, is a splitting image of Tiffany, one of my favorite interns at my previous workplace; we had a starter of roast pork. Smeared with a strong flavor mustard by the side, it enhanced the natural flavors of the roast pork. The golden brown pork skin was crisp but thankfully not bitingly crunchy like Paradise Group’s interpretation of it. Perhaps the great complement to the chef is the complete lack of any decorative paper under the meat (that you’d usually find at Crystal Jade and the others) to absorb the excess oil.

Titus had made no secret of his desire to order multiple side dishes, so the next dish that followed was unsurprisingly, another side dish. The fried silverfish in itself, isn’t a very exciting dish, but it did its job of stimulating our appetites. The batter was adequately crusty, and the silverfish’s natural sea salt seasoning gave it a briny finish. While good with mayonnaise and or Chinese style chili sauce, I have to wonder whether the investment was worth it, considering Lei Garden, considered the best Chinese restaurant in Singapore, offers this as a complimentary appetizer in addition to their famous walnuts.

The cold jellyfish that followed started to evoke the glamorous awkwardness of Chinese wedding dinners – it being regularly served as a dish in a platter which also includes some Chinese style cold cuts and lobster salad. It turns out that it wasn’t a favorite with most of the table, but the birthday boy ordered it, so I can only surmise he likes it. Sliced into small and long strands, the jellyfish had the consistency of an inelastic flat rice noodles. With its gelatinous personality, served cold and seasoned with a tangy and spicy sauce, the texture and flavor was just downright weird.

Before we were allowed to cower in fear over the thought of salivating over jellyfish to keep up pretenses, the mains began arriving. The first one that arrived was a fried cod served with a sumptuous fruit salad. I’m not too sure what it was, but it wasn’t a simple fried cod – it was infused with something savory, which contrasted well against the sweetness of the fruit salad.

The claypot chicken, a Southern Chinese classic, infused with a caramelized black bean sauce, onions and chili peppers, had an additional hot element which gave an appropriate kick to an otherwise homely, comfort food.

Titus originally ordered prawns cooked in Chinese herbal wine, but this came out instead. Dinner service that evening was pretty busy, so it might’ve been the reason why the staff weren’t performing – they were too busy shuttling from the kitchen to the tables, so we decided to leave it at that and just have this. The presentation was well curated and the fresh-looking prawns were undeniably seductive, calling out to each and every one of us.

Last, but not least, were the vegetables – simple, crunchy and fresh.

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