Summer Pavilion’s Chef’s Tasting Menu: A Toast to the Star
You find your way through from the MRT station to the tiny corridor that leads into the glamour and grandeur of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Easing your way, slowly, almost dramatically through the passageway, you allow the cold drafts of air to calm the nerves as you approach the high order posed by the freshly minted, one Michelin star, Summer Pavilion.
Friendly dolled-up faces with lips painted the brightest shade of red, greet you at the door and you’re led swiftly into the airy main dining room with no hesitation. A large function is taking place tonight in the partitioned left wing of the restaurant, only evident from the boisterous laughter drifting through, and from the autocratic barking of orders from the kitchen. You pray silently that the quality of food tonight won’t be a poor showing. Across the hall, you’ll see small families, corporate dressers indulging in too much wine and groups of well-heeled friends ready to chow down. It’s a dark, soft room, bedecked in heavy drapery and ornately oriental patterned linen. It feels like a throwback in time, and rightfully so, as the focus here is on pure food quality that pays tribute to traditional, exacting techniques.
Celebrating its Michelin Guide one star rating, the restaurant has curated a tasting menu prepared by Chef Cheung Shu Kong, who suffuses deep and penetrating flavors into the simplest of dishes. You’ll start the meal with the smoked Australian abalone in golden syrup sauce and assorted mushrooms. It arrives to to the table tender to the knife and jaw, imbued with a heavy smokiness from wood chips and a shower of golden sauce rich with the ocean’s sweetness.
Clearing the table with the deft hands of a ninja, the service team here is unobtrusive and elegant. My cup of tea stays suspiciously ‘full’ between sips and throughout my meal–I never notice it being filled. At any Chinese fine-dining restaurant, there is a soup of preternatural silkiness and delicacy, and huge flavour. This time around, it comes in the form of double-boiled chicken soup with sea whelk. The addition of soaked gnostic algae reaps felicitous results–subtle bursts of flavours of the sea benefit the collagen-laden broth. If you’re feeling adventurous, scrape your spoon gently across the inner shell of the young coconut and the chunks of coconut flesh steeped in chicken soup will detonate with deliciousness in the mouth.
If you’re still waiting for a hearty chunk of meat, your prayers will be met with the sauteed, diced Japanese Wagyu beef in sun-dried tomato bread. The slice of tomato bread laced with Italian herbs benefits from a swab through the black pepper accented sauce, it’s piquant tanginess playing off the rich succulence of the beef. The neat row of scallion however, contribute nothing but aesthetic value to the plating.
Locking eyes with the next course, a pan-fried Canadian Lobster, proved to be a perilous moment of thrilling pleasure. The gently curled crustacean drapes seductively over seared green asparagus, next to a sweep of umami-filled black truffle sauce. The pleasures of biting down on this pizza were both physical and auditory, the crunch of my bite psyching my palate up to receive the flagrantly meaty lobster.
Following that, is a poached rice and estuary grouper dish, the fish broth jacked up with natural collagen flashes warm notes of ginger while being poured into the bowl, and gleefully pulls the layers and textures of the dish together. I swoop in on the creamy slices of grouper, the firm flesh yielding oodles of remarkable flavour. On hindsight, this dish has a slight resemblance to the ubiquitous hawker dish of fish porridge, delivering tastes familiar from childhood, transformed and presented to pay homage to the intricacies and back-breaking work that is involved in creating such humble fare.
I find it hard to nitpick. All I can whinge about is the tendency for Chinese restaurants to plate their sweet endings in trios or duos instead of one cohesive dessert. However, beauty and conflict are often intertwined, and it is apparent that Summer Pavilion’s dessert has that effect on me. The sweet potato dessert dishes out a triple threat of varied textures and temperatures, starting with the chilled osmanthus jelly, middling out with the hot sago pudding and finishing off in the rich chocolate lair that is the crunch bar. The tendency to over-sweeten is to be noted, however my personal penchant for sugary treats means that there are no complaints. A satiated tummy convinces the mind that such excessive indulgence can be afforded.
Chef Cheung’s special tasting menu will be available until 30 September at both lunch and dinner for just $148++ per person with an additional $68++ with wine pairing.