THE HILL is alive with the sound of chopsticks on crockery.
Dempsey Hill is the new home to Min Jiang, well known for its Cantonese and Sichuan cooking. The green pocket, on the outskirts of Orchard Road forms the restaurant’s verdant backdrop, which greeted us with butterflies hovering over flowering shrubs and fruiting quinine trees fronting it.
Min Jiang’s flagship restaurant – located within Goodwood Park hotel where it continues to operate – first opened in 1982. The brand started a second restaurant at Rochester Park in 2006 before relocating to its present Dempsey home, enjoying a dining space that’s 40% larger than its former location incorporating a brand new 8-seater bar.
Min Jiang’s architectural concept underscores the symbiosis between the verdant outdoors and Asian aesthetic elements inside.
The interior is decked out in natural wood and rattan from floor to high ceiling, with hexagonal lamps inspired by Asian fishing baskets. Natural light augments a sense of serenity that envelopes the entire dining space. It’s a calming ambience for unhurried dining.
The new menu, developed by Master Chef Goh Chee Kong, juxtaposes authentic flavours with contemporary presentation. Chef Goh continues to anchor the kitchen, having spent 17 out of his 32 years cooking at Min Jiang – a great assurance of consistency in food quality.
Here, dim sum offerings are works of art. We relished the platter of dainty, delicate and elegant “small eats”. There’s so much passion in each miniature morsel – the meticulous attention to detail not only reveals the dim sum chef’s dexterity in moulding and shaping,it also remotely hints of dough figurine craftsmanship that existed since the Han dynasty.
Take for example, the stingray dim sum. It came complete with a “tail” (tip of crab leg), encasing crabmeat and prawns brimming with briny freshness. There’s also the golden miniature pumpkin – deep-fried till crisp shielding a chewy glutinous rice filling with Chinese sausage and dried shrimps. The vegetarian blue pea dumpling, hand-shaped, had crystal skin with an al dente bite to it, displaying the chef’s skilful handling of hot water in Chinese pastry making.
Fat Irish Ducks
The ducks that make it into Chef Goh’s kitchen are short, have fat legs and sizeable chests. That’s because these migratory creatures, often subject to long journeys, develop firm breasts. Raised at Silver Farm in Ireland, this breed is highly prized for its rich-tasting meat owing to its high fat content from a diet of wheat, maize and soy beans.
The 30-35% fat level (versus 23% in Muscovy breed normally used for roasting) makes the bird mildly gamey with bovine-like richness often associated with venison. While some eschew ingesting duck blubber, the fat is what lends it flavour. Also, it is necessary to insulate the birds cruising in cold waters.
Expertly roasted in a wood-fired oven, the Beijing-style duck carved by our table was served 3 ways.
Slivers of crisp skin coated with sugar (reminds us of candied bacon) primed our palate for what came next. The breast meat, cushioned by a layer fat, wrapped in pancakes slathered with home-made bean sauce, were unctuous mouthfuls whereas the remaining meat wok-fried with spring onions and ginger was aromatic.
Freshness is highly respected in seafood dishes at Min Jiang. This appetiser had all of us peering into the goldfish bowl. The ‘goldfish’ inside was spawning – it was floating in a flavourful chicken broth streaked with egg white and bits of ‘goldfish roe’ – tobiko! It’s essentially a prawn har kow (dumpling) in modern guise with translucent skin tinted orange. The oomph in the soup came from the Chinese dry-cured Yunnan ham (China’s version of the Italian parma ham).
The diamond-shaped turbot, a hideous-looking flatfish highly sought for its lean, delicate white meat arrived with its deep-fried skeleton cradling meat cooked two ways: deep-fried as well as stir-fried with mushrooms and baby spinach. While the fried version smacks of British-battered fish familiarity, the stir-fried meat was succulent from light cooking.
A good selection of new cocktails that pair well with the food include the Dempsey Grove – a concoction of Bacardi, coconut rum, melon liqueur and pineapple juice; and there’s also the Plum Martini with Grand Marnier, Japanese choya and vodka. Alternatively, go for Bliss Out mocktail, a blend of lemon, honey, passionfruit syrup topped with soda.
Our meal ended on a light note – Chinese snow pear double-boiled with peach resin and rock sugar did the commendable task of refreshing our palates, removing every trace of greasiness on our palate.
Min Jiang 7A and 7B Dempsey Hill, Singapore 249684. Lunch: 11.30am to 2.30pm. Dinner: 6.30pm to 10.30pm. Accommodates up to 158 persons.