Dinner at Jade Palace
Located in the basement of Forum Galleria, Jade Palace is a Cantonese restaurant which is well-known for its dim sum, seafood and lap mei fan (claypot rice). Apart from food, the restaurant is apparently also famous for its collection of fine wines, although I suspect that a number of the bottles in its cellar are (i) either not for sale; or (ii) stored there by the restaurant’s customers.
I had the privilege of dining in one of Jade Palace’s six private rooms, specifically the private room located in the restaurant’s wine cellar itself. Although the concept of dining in a wine cellar may not be new, this was my first time actually doing it. Being surrounded by so many bottles from so many different parts of the world (or, primarily, so many regions in France) gave the impression of dining in a gallery of windows, each one offering a peek into history; when I happened to glance a bottle that I had actually tried before, a feeling of nostalgia overcame me and I recounted not the taste of the wine, but the memories, conversations and meal at which that wine was drunk at. Practically though, this was an excellent opportunity to snap away at the impressive wines on display.
For the first course we had chilled prawns. I don’t think they were tiger prawns but they were certainly very fresh and meaty. Still though, I think I would have preferred this served fresh out of the steamer. The meat seemed a little too rigid when served cold.
The next dish was battered frogs legs served with thinly-sliced, crispy ginger strips. This was heavenly; the meat on the frogs legs was tender with a texture somewhere between chicken and fresh garoupa whilst the batter was not over the top and light enough. The real winner, however, was the sliced ginger which added an additional dimension to the frog legs – simply put, this elevated the dish from good to great.
Up next was the live Alaskan King Crab, which Jade Palace traditionally does in two styles. The legs were fried with salted egg yolk whilst the head and meat was steamed with egg-white and served with truffle oil.
There was no fight between the two – the crab legs with salted egg yolk won by miles. I appreciated the fact that the kitchen did not “overdo” the salted egg. It was apparent to me that the decision to only lightly batter the legs was a deliberate one designed to leave a lingering taste of the egg yolk but not overwhelm the palate, particularly since the fresh, ocean taste of the crab should be given primacy. I was also quite curious as to how it seemed that the kitchen was able to almost sear the salted egg yolk into the crab shell itself. My best guess is that this had to be done with over a very strong flame (and lots of oil) or possibly in an oven with very high heat.
The crab meat steamed with the egg white was, by comparison, a disappointment. Further, I thought the addition of truffle oil overwhelmed the taste of the crab (and the crab milt), which should have been the main thrust of this dish. The dish was well-cooked, the egg-white was not overdone but this just did not work for me and I can’t say that I will order this dish again – it just seemed such a waste of Alaskan king crab.
The next course was lamb ribs fried with garlic. It was an extremely simple, straightforward but nonetheless tasty dish. I for one love the taste and smell of lamb, although it is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you are one such person, this dish may not be ideal as the lamb taste came out quite strong, although it was well balanced by the deep-fried garlic.
Next on the menu was glutinous rice wrapped in suckling pig skin. It may sound impressive, but my conclusion was that this was a waste of suckling pig, which I would most definitely have preferred done in the traditional style. The skin was also slightly over-cooked and the crackling could have been crispier.
The second last course was the restaurant’s signature lap mei fan with chinese sausage, liver sausage and waxed duck. Whilst the rice, chinese sausage and liver sausage were at their usual best, the waxed duck was hard and frankly inedible. I’m chalking this up to a one off as the lap mei fan has consistently been excellent over the years I’ve had it there, though if this happens again I may reconsider my position.
The final dish was beehoon with Canadian clams, which was really good! The clams were fresh and the seafood stock was thick enough without being gooey or overpowering. It was also evident that the beehoon had soaked up much of the stock as it was well-flavoured with a good depth of taste.
In conclusion, Jade Palace deserves its reputation as serving up top class Cantonese cuisine, comparable with Imperial Treasure and Peach Garden. The only drawback I see is that the prices can be rather steep (and the bill rather frightening) if one orders live fish, crab or, frankly, live anything. I think, however, that this goes with the territory of eating live anything at a fine-dining Chinese restaurant and, against that background, Jade Palace’s prices are nothing out of the ordinary. If you are on a budget, stay off the seafood and go for the dim sum lunch. You won’t be disappointed.