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Five-star Restaurants: In Singapore, Tokyo, and Peru

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Restaurants in Multiple Parts of the World

Summer Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(2) page(s): 5, 8, 29, and 30

Yes, great Chinese food matching the finest French cuisine is available, if you seek it out. Of course, it is not priced at the take-out level nor found there. Neither does it have to be outrageously priced, made with exotica or rare endangered species, served by a careless staff, or located in an unpretentious environment. On recent travels, we found superb food, outstanding service, and special attention paid to every aspect you would expect to find in any five-star restaurant of any great cuisine anywhere in the world.

IN SINGAPORE: Charismatic owner and very active restaurant manager Andrew Tjioe has a five-star winner in his stable of twenty-two restaurants, all but two of which are in Singapore. The other two are in Jakarta. All are under the umbrella name: The Tong Lok Group. The first was started in 1984; it and newer ones get lots of his attention.

The current winner in Andrew's many eateries is CLUB CHINOIS at 02.18 Tanglin Road; phone: 65-834-0660. It is named after the legend-making 1925 French Concession restaurant, Tan Zhuan Qing, the nobleman who owned and ran the original place in Shanghai. This eatery is named after that Club Chinois and the Shanghai owner can rest in peace knowing that his Club reincarnation is also for culinary connoisseurs. We hope that he will enjoy that fact and that he not bristle that neither membership nor an invitation is required at this Club.

Club Chinois is five years old and resides comfortably on the second floor of Singapore's Orchard Parade Hotel. Enter it and you relax immediately as you are led to a seat in its large room or one of its many private salons. The walls are understated, there is considerable fine mahogany and other woods, a glass enclosed wine cellar near the doorway, and cream- and jade-colored dishes and table napery to help set the stage. There is also a large caring staff to see to your every need. And they do, all you need to do is ask!

The restaurant serves classic Chinese cuisine married well with its fine wines and other western-style touches. They meld with the ambiance and provide a Chinese taste sensation that charms the palate and wins your heart. Tan Zhuan Qing would be proud of this namesake and the fact that it serves more than sixty dishes; also twenty different (i>dian xin or dim sum items every day from eleven in the morning until two-thirty in the afternoon.

Tops among their offerings is their Pocket Soup; it may be the best in the world. The Orange Duck Spring Roll with Tamarind Dip is feasting on food with a thrill. Tasting Har Kao (spelled har gao eleswhere), is savoring shrimp dumplings at their best. And, for those who must taste many items but are limited by their own small stomach, try the Yabby Har Kao. It is their eight-item lunch menu with many fantastic tastes. Dinner-time has sampling menus, too, but only for those attending or making a banquet or another special event. There are many of these, should you be lucky enough to be invited to one, but take note that getting a time-slot to do one can be problematic on popular days and times.

Every dish here has terrific tastes, wonderful textures, and maintains Chinese traditions. Some may look as though they are jumping off the plate and into the future; they are not. They are all well grounded and picture perfect. One example is the especially Crispy Beijing Roast Duck Skin. This dish is a modern-day pleasure with Peking-style duck made in a very classic fashion. The skin is served cut off in strips before it flies right into today’s world sitting on top of a divine Five-Spice Fois Gras. So its roots are ancient, its lacquered look and accompaniment shining into the future. Incidentally, the salad of Apple and Mango that comes with it is a true trip heavenward as you enjoy it on earth.

The Marinated Rack of Lamb comes as two chops. It, too, tends to ancient traditions. When it makes its way to your plate it is resting on the very best turnip-cake square ever made. And this wonder then soaks up a lamb reduction on the plate that is almost too good to be true. The Chili-mint Chutney and the String Beans in XO Sauce are lovely sitting on the plate, too, as is the coriander oil and mint. This lamb is just wonderful, so good we almost ordered yet another portion; and we probably should have indulged ourselves.

The Honey-Glazed Pork has similar traditional roots married to newer presentations. Try it and the Soya Sauce Chicken. We also recommend the Jelly Fish in Fried Garlic Dressing. Together these made a wonderful meal with Hot and Sour Fish Soup. The latter was made with many pieces and kinds of mushrooms, asparagus, and ginger flowers. You can also indulge, as we did, in another soup, their Smoked Bean Curd and Morel in Creamy Soya Bean Soup. It was very creamy but without a single French culinary accent, other than the morel.

The Braised Sea Bass has the thickest and most succulent Fragrant Black Mushrooms, the superior bean curd skin with it was top notch, as well. Fired Tiger Prawns come wrapped in a different kind of bean curd skin. They look flower-like, are plated in a circle, and have green rosemary set among them and their sauteed egg whites.

Shanghai cuisine is known for its sweet tastes which may seem western; but that is far from the truth. They are very distant from any cloying western sweetness. Two fine examples at this Club are the Crispy Skin Chicken Roast which comes in a haw and poached red wine and apple sauce. Its fruity sweetness blends with the succulent poultry. The other item that illustrates this well, is the Fresh Lily Bulb with Vegetarian Ham. What fascinates is that it smells a mite sweet but is not, and tastes as if it were real ham, which it is not. This dish arrives in a fried flower-like dough-type arrangement that makes a fine foil for the sugar-cured taste of ham.

Rather than dessert, because we had already over-ordered ever-so-many fantastic dishes at just one meal, we ended with E-Fu Noodles. They were simply super and a simple dish that slid right in and filled the few cracks left in our very full stomachs. This low-key winner has big pieces of crab claw and crabmeat, some shredded daikon, and strips of yummy fresh straw mushrooms mixed with soft strands of noodle. We had that with an order of Silken Bean Curd. That arrived and was elegant, tasted so smooth, and was a shimmering grilled wiggly mass of luxury sat in a little light soya sauce. The teeny tiniest slivers of ginger were appreciated for their textural enhancement.

Enjoy the food at this particular club with tea from the beverage cart. Selections include Tit Kum Yum, Ling Ching, Rose, and many others. You can enjoy the food with wine or tea or both; which we think is the way to go! The tea brews in one pot, there is another for water. The latter sits on a candle warmer. Select leaves from one of the many jars on this trolley; and as with wine, pick one that matches your food.

In Singapore, a city with hundreds of places to go to for fine dining, Club Chinois is in a class of its own. The physical space and food pair ancient Chinese elements with Western furniture and modern food. Chinese culinary roots are its ever growing branches. They did so in the past, are doing so in the present, and surely will continue into the future. Enjoying Chinese food with wines heightens taste, be they Bordeaux or bottles of Grand Cru. They compliment the food and the superior stocks that go into making it. In ancient ways, these broths cook for hours and that is what makes them divine. They are fine reductions, each different, each made like the fine wines served here, with attention to detail.

Club Chinois has impeccable service. Like the food, is a cut, nay it is a swathe above anyplace else. In this Horse Year, saddle up and make a reservation. Ride a wave of enjoyment at this five-star Tong Lok restaurant. We unashamedly say that Club Chinois is Singapore’s fine five-star winner!

IN JAPAN there is a five-star Chinese restaurant, too. It is WAKIJA CHINESE GUEST HOUSE at 6-1-10 Akasak; Tokyo Minato-ku; phone: 03/5574-8861. This Guest House has a Japanese executive chef who adores and specializes in foods from Shanghai and environs. Not too many people we spoke to knew about his few-month-old Chinese restaurant. We did because its executive chef spoke at the 7th Symposium of Chinese Dietary Culture on the same podium just after yours truly. That may explain why we were fortunate to get a reservation there.

The place is small and very elegant and it has a lovely garden-eating area; but this was November. Inside the small main eating area, were stimulating black and white striped banquettes. More relaxing was the wall of gorgeous teapots behind the small bar. The large bowl nearby might toss a terrific salad; we were told that it does at the noon hour and is used for noodle dishes at other times.

We got there grabbing the subway to Akasaka. Arriving at that stop, after climbing to the street of the same name, we walked toward the Savoy Hotel sign lighting the local sky. The name Savoy made us think of Cesar Ritz who worked at his own Savoy and invited Auguste Escoffier, the French culinary genius of earlier times, to join him at his famous same-name English hotel.

How appropriate that The Chinese restaurant near this Savoy rates five stars. It is a gorgeous facility complete with six hanging bird cages and their feathery stuffed inhabitants. It befits the modern magnificent Chinese meal we had there. True culinary cogniscenti led us to this forty-three year old master at this, the first place of his own. He is not only Japanese, but he received all of his training in his homeland and he puts out fantastic foods of Shanghai and its nearby regions. His Japanese sous chef, ten years younger, does too. Between them, they have dozens of years of experience cooking the foods of their beloved neighbor, China.

These two young exerts work with five even younger assistants, training them, as they have been trained. We were intrigued to learn that one of their youthful assistants was female, a rarity in upper-crust restaurants in Japan. The two masters and their trainees have worked together since the restaurant opened in July 2001, and they are quite the team!

When we arrived, we learned from press releases that since they opened, they have been wooing and wowing Chinese culinary offiianados world-wide. We learned that and more because we were joined by Mariko Taki, a talented Japanese woman with unbelievable expertise in Chinese cuisine.

Mariko arranges monthly dinners at top restaurants, many Chinese, and she has a large following. She taught cooking at a local Community College, is a consultant to many Tokyo restaurants, and a Chinese banquet specialist. She is quite familiar with this Guest House because she has hosted several dinners here. At one of them, she spit and prepared a whole roasted lamb on their garden grill. Her other credentials include but are not limited to her teaching Chinese cooking classes at the Takishamaya’s Department Store in Tokyo.

No menu here, and no ordering what you have in mind. Instead, the chef plans your very special meal. At dinnertime, only an elegant price-fixed nine-course meal is available; and it is only by reservation. Walk-ins are welcome at lunch; but do call before going to be sure place is available.

Our dinner was all classical Chinese food, most Shanghai style, and all served in fashionably modern style. Everything was plated individually, nothing served family style. Every dish and every item on them had their own decor of delicious tidbits. The first courses were served in tiny dishes, each specially suited to its own particular food. These small items were on a Limoge plate of understated elegance.

Later, in the basement kitchen we did see a menu. It was written in Chinese and Japanese and on a white board that sparkled as did every thing in that tiny kitchen. Later, they did provide us with a printed copy, and we share it here in the hard copy of this issue. The menu and this garden restaurant made us feel as though we were in Shanghai at someone’s rather fancy home. Not only did birdcages hang from a bamboo ceiling, but hot towels arrived in wicker baskets, and black gold-tipped chopsticks awaited our clean scented hands, as did a gold serving spoon.

When the tea arrived, it was fresh and delicious, and in a black metal Japanese teapot. Many kinds were available: There was chrysanthemum or yellow tea, silver tip white tea, pu-er red tea, and oolong green tea. They were served in small teacups with lids to maintain their heat. Soon after our first pot of tea, Champagne arrived. It was elegant, too, with pomegranate seeds in its exceptionally tall thin glass. All this foretold that this was to be a very special evening.

Our first course looked lovely, silver on the outside (aluminum foil) encircling a small piece of lotus leaf. In it sat a paste of very fresh lily leaves seasoned with fagara atop an otherwise pristine interior. The contents, steamed for many hours, made the texture ethereal. We later learned that what followed it was made from a Kyoto radish, an item about the size of a small Chinese pumpkin. That, too, tasted like heaven on earth.

They were followed by two identical appetizer platters, one for each side of the table; and they eliminated need for stretching. To go with them, we ordered a fifteen-year-old Chinese Shaoxing wine called Lao Jiao. It was wonderful and the best Chinese wine we ever had. It went well with the dumplings served with a Shanghai crabmeat sauce with sharks fin and their own roe. The platter was called ‘bonsai’ and on it were pickled brown ginger, pickled daikon, jelly fish, Shanghai dry-fried fish, shrimp, five-flavored beef, and drunken river crabs made modern and Cantonese-style with hot peppers and XO sauce. Each item sat in its china plate, each was tiny and terrific. The white-on-white Limoge under then all made you realize that you really were in a swank guest house.

The service and the food were elegant; they were likewise impeccable and understated. The soup that followed was a long-reduced stock with tiny tender pieces of chicken, beef, black forest mushrooms, and bits of daikon. Also served, but not next, was a Chilean Sea Bass Roe Cup. Actually, it was the spermatazoa of a male Tara fish, called Tara Kiko. It came looking as if the gardener helped it on its way as it appeared to be a chrysanthemum flower. Before it arrived, a very long-cooked minced pickled mustard green stew was served. Anwith it came a different tea, a very aromatic delicious oolong-type called Blue Tea.

After all of the above, a steak encircled with stem-peeled Chinese broccoli was set before each of us. This beef emulated Kobe beef in texture and tenderness. The XO sauce served with it was house-made and Lee Kum Kee needs to come here for lessons. Clearly, the chef-owner and his assistant, Mashikop Adachi who had previously cooked at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Yokahama, truly are masters. Every dish they made was masterfully presented, tasted like fine Chinese food, each a Japanese-style beauty, each gorgeous to look at and even better to taste.

IN PERU there are many Chinese restaurants, most called 'Chifas;' they are everywhere in this country. They also have a Chinatown with very authentic Chinese restaurants. We were fortunate to eat at a five-star winner in the Lima suburb of San Isidro. Appropriately called RESTAURANT ROYALE at 231 Ave., Guillerma San Isidro; Lima; phone: 541/421-0874. It and the suburb are very upscale, we would call this Restaurante Royal, a 'regal' one. You will know that as soon as you see then climb one of its two grand staircases. You will know it again when entering their foyer. If you come earlier that others in your party, you await them sinking into their soft all-encompassing sofas easier to get into than to make your way out of them.

Restaurant Royale oozes old-world charm. The Maitre d’ and the wait staff cam match or exceed the best servers anywhere in the world. We think of it as reaching new heights as does Macchu Pichu, the archeologic high point we scaled when visiting this land of the Andes. When we came down from that touristic height and visited Lima, we tried half-dozen other Chinese eateries (more on them in the next issue). But back to this regal one, reservations can be made by phone or e-mail (rroyal@terre.com.pe) at this restaurant, royal in size, too.

Once there, you will need time to explore their royal and extensive menu. It is a gorgeous thirty-six page coffee-table book-sized item illustrated throughout with eighty-seven color photographs. In it are more than three hundred and forty dishes, all fantastic foods. If selecting from such a list is tough, try the buffet at lunch. We did not have enough time to return but were told that it is terrific. It is an eighty-item groaning table than many come and seek out. For others who prefer fine dining complete with fine service, do as we did, they opt for dinner and have a difficult time making the hard choices their menu requires.

Cesar Loo, the owner, learned the restaurant business from his dad, who owned three of them. He is well on his way to emulating his father, he already has two. One is in Chinatown and called Salon China. This suburban eatery is his fine five-star restaurant.

Mr Loo advises that eighty percent of his clientele are locals, most not Chinese. He built this fine place to accommodate them and their desire for fantastic Chinese food. He knows a lot about fantastic food, and about Chinese food with outside influences. He was born in Macao where there are strong Portuguese overtones. However, he prefers traditional classic Chinese cuisine and serves it in a country that prides itself on the fact that Chinese foods are everywhere. What he has done in this place is highlight the best the Chinese culinary can provide. The pictures on the menu assist the Chinese and western clientele to gasp at the picture-perfect entrees seen on it and seen again when delivered to the table.

This restaurant has a grand staircase inside that needs climbing if you want to gape at gorgeous China-related artifacts that match the elegant surroundings. They are in glass cases on its landing. The broad stairway leads to banquet rooms, so no need to make it to the top if not invited to one. On the night we were there, a seven piece band was entertaining a birthday bash upstairs. We went up, we were amazed that even on the stairs, not a sound made its way down to the main dining floor. Good thing, because then and on week-ends, a three piece ensemble entertains.

In the main room of this Royale, is a glass enclosed area with hanging roasted meats. They glisten; their lacquered surfaces reflecting a smile you will make if you go close. From that area, we enjoy a Spectacular Asado en 4 Sabores Especial. It is four roasted meats from there and we watch a chef chop and slice them for our pleasure. Pleasure it truly is when we enjoy these roasted miracles of taste set around a bird made of a huge carrot. It stands over the most succulent crisp-skinned Sucking Pig, one of the four items in that sectioned platter. It is everyone's hands-down favorite. Slices of the large Roast Pig was a close second. Both have skins that crackle when you take a bite. Neither is greasy inside or out, and the sides are soft and savory.

The Roast Duck was fine and the Roast Chicken was very good, too. Their huge platter comes with four different sauces, each makes a perfect marriage with the meats. They are good and different ones work for all, everyone in our group able to experiment. This gorgeous looking presentation could easily feed double our number, and every one of us wished our stomachs were double in size to accommodate more of them.

Another great dish was two-way shrimp. Two ways means one in a batter and made one color, the second with a thinner exterior with mayonnaise mixed in. The thought of this oil and egg emulsion turned one of us off; but after tasting it, the comment was that it is surprisingly good. I recall a following dish called Grandmother’s Shrimp; this grandma devoured it as it was so good.

An order of Piqueo Royal was three noodle nest baskets, contents intended to feed a dozen. There were that number of breaded crab claws, fried cuttle fish pieces, and batter-dipped prawns. They were crispy, crunchy, and every item tasting as though it never saw a drop of oil. All came with a seafood fried rice called Arroz Chaufa Royal al la Cacerola which was a mite sweet partly from it sitting in half a pineapple.

At the Chef's suggestion, we had Nio de Mariscos Saltados con Semillas de Pino, which translates to tiny taro nests with assorted seafood sauteed with pine nuts. The scallops in them were tiny and tempting. Ate all of them before tasting the shrimp and vegetables mixed with them. The baskets were set on a hill of thin-sliced cucumbers and oranges. Another carved beauty perched in the center is shredded Chinese greens surrounding the baskets. The cashew nuts, carrots, and peas mixed in are fresh and fantastic, too.

At the next table, a family was making happy sounds over their Conchas Secas Guisadas con Ajo. They really enjoy these conpoys, as dried scallops are called, braised with garlic and green vegetables. Few people order such a dish because of the cost of the conpoy; and frankly, had our chopsticks been longer, we would have done just that and enjoyed them and the chestnuts with them that cried out for our attention.

A casserole specialty at the next table also included a fine Taufu Rellano con Cameron which is a beautiful batch of bean curd stuffed with shrimp, braised duck nuggets, and bitter melon. It tastes terrific as does their Pata Asado of crispy roasted duck served with a Siun May sauce made with plums. As I oogle it on my way to the Ladies Room, they allow a small taste which tells me it is as good as our Pato Asado con Balsamina or our braised duck nuggets with bitter melon.

The house special soup called Sopera Royal comes thick with chicken, duck, roasted pork, soy bean cheese, and many different green vegetables. All are long-cooked and soft, their tastes enhanced by the long-reduced superior stock. A table nearby is slurping Guisado de Aleta de Tiburon Superior. On the return from the facilties, I gaze in envy as they discuss and devour their shark’s fin braised in oyster sauce. I did ask them if it is good and one lady responds: “too good to share.” She tells me that the Langostino Saltado con Leche is equally divine. A young teen-aged boy at that table whispers to me in British-accented English, that the langostinos are the best because they are sauteed in milk and egg white. He offers me a bite and I enjoy it.

Fit for any Royal, anyone can enjoy twenty-eight or more dim sum delights all day every day The dozen specials are changed almost daily. Also special at this five-star facility, is that every dish is plated beautifully. Each item looks as though awaiting a camera. Most presentations could grace the cover of a food magazine; and probably sell double the number of copies anticipated.

Peruvians celebrate special occasions here. Knowledgeable tourists coming to Lima can celebrate any and every meal here. Whether they order Carne de res con Salsa de Tausi which is a simple fried beef with black bean sauce, the Costillas de Chancho Kin Tpu, their Peking-style spare ribs in a sweet sauce, or a simple Tortilla con Verduras, they will delight in every top quality ingredient made by China-trained top-notch chefs. They can have everything with one or more of the four fine teas, oolong, po ling, long jing, and jasmine available to help digest every royal thing they serve. And they should!

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