Would you come all the way if I told you the food was good?
As far as Singapore is concerned, the concept of Cantonese cuisine has evolved throughout the years. In fact, it used to be synonymous with the trends being observed in Hong Kong restaurants. In recent years however, there has been a divergence between Cantonese and Hong Kong cuisine – what was once one and the same is now no longer. With the opening up of China, the middle kingdom’s culinary secrets are now no longer secret, but a treasure trove for all seekers to explore. Whatever the reason, our understanding of Chinese cuisine has deepened.
Cantonese cuisine is in fact, a myriad of tastes classified, by the Chinese government as Cantonese (or Yue) cuisine. Basically, it encompasses everything within Guangdong province including those from Shunde, Hong Kong, Chaozhou and Shantou. This means, technically speaking, Hakka and Teochew also form under the umbrella of Cantonese cuisine. It’s from this hollistic and precise definition of Cantonese cuisine that accurately paints the canvas of Joyden Canton Kitchen.
While the northerners have Ban Leong Wah Hoe, those in the west have traditionally looked to West Coast Seafood as their defacto seafood restaurant. Typically, a company adopts a new persona either because it has gotten into a squall with a similarly named more dominant brand, or when it has expansion ambitions. For this, I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter. The restaurant renamed its original Clementi outlet to Joyden Seafood, and opened a new experimental concept at HillV2 called Joyden Canton Kitchen.
The restaurant is spacious, and because it’s all part of laminate manufacturer Lamitex’s realistic range of woods, Joyden Canton Kitchen joins Tim Ho Wan, Pine Garden amongst others in using the oak collection. The result is a contemporary Chinese meets Nordic atmosphere that wouldn’t look out of place in a Cathay Pacific lounge.
Seeing as HillV2 is in the middle of nowhere, and few peers of mine enjoy the simple pleasures of Chinese cuisine, I was willing to go wild. However, Darren seemed a little conservative and what’s more, you can’t have proper Cantonese food without rice. So, 4 dishes it was.
We started off with the Sliced Grouper Fillet with Pine Mushroom and Black Fungus in Rice Wine Broth. It was hearty, light but anchored by the hypnotic rice wine which was aromatic but not overpowering. It might have been a bit much on its own, but when paired with rice, it was like a chicken soup for the soul.
The Braised Homemade Beancurd Coin With Poached Shanghai Baby Cabbage was probably my least favorite. The “homemade beancurd coin”? It might as well have been fishcake from Fei Xiong, because it had the same surimi taste. Besides that, the cabbage was soft – bordering on overcooking but not quite – and its sweetness amplified by the pork bone stock.
Darren didn’t like this dish too much, but I really enjoyed the Hakka Salt Poached Farm Chicken. I think salt, besides functioning as a spice, is infinitely more fascinating when used as part of a cooking technique. Why do we rub our fish with salt before seasoning it? What does salt baking achieve? I don’t know how, but salt acts as a barrier, locking in juices and flavor, and it did just that. In fact, it reinforced the freshness of the poultry. But more importantly, it reminded me of the steamed chicken my mother would always prepare for Chinese New Year reunion dinner. Very simple, but very effective and very flavorful.
I must confess myself initially being unenthusiastic about the much loved Fish Maw and Prawns with Glass Noodles in Homemade XO Sauce. I was thinking that it wouldn’t be any different from those Thai glass noodle dishes, and this was distracting us from the main signature dish, but I couldn’t be further from the truth. The homemade XO sauce made with dried scallops and jinhua ham…the legendary jinhua ham…regarded for its ability to produce the mythological fifth taste, umami. This mainland Chinese charcuterie has no less than 191 identified volatile compounds, i.e. the number of distinct flavors. Consider that curry only has 30 volatile compounds. Ultimately, it was like eating a dish prepared with hebi hiam.