Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Chairman: FINALLY

September last year it was, I think. That’s when I first heard about The Chairman. The back-to-basics Cantonese fare I had actually never really known. It was big news. I had a chance early on to check it out. Something came up. Cancelled. I had another chance to go. Something else came up. Cancelled. I had a third chance to drop by. Something more came up. Cancelled.

Well, fourth time’s a charm.

Last week, I finally (no joke) nabbed myself a seat at one of the upstairs round tables. Attention to details followed my every step. Two sets of chopsticks for every diner – a pale beige pair for personal use and a black pair for communal use (both engraved with the restaurant’s name). A waistcoated server poured a thin stream of Chinese tea from the long-snouted pot. It was VIP service sans any sort of snootiness.

(Start it up: pig's ears, stomach,cantaloupe)

I took a nibble of the dried shrimps in front of me, wishing there was a bowl of steamed jasmine rice for me to lunge into. But knowing that it was just the start of the meal, I restrained myself. Our first course arrived shortly – a square plate piled with crunchy pig’s ear, unctuous pig’s stomach, cantaloupe strips and a flecking of fragrant chili. A flavorful mix which didn’t wow but had us prepped for the main meal. Two versions of baby duck followed – one plate Dragon Well and chrysanthemum tea-smoked, the other soy braised. Being, usually, a fan of the tea-smoked variety, I found myself surprisingly oohing more over the soy braised version. Such absolutely fresh, sweet-smelling meat braised to tenderness on the bone. Mmmm…

(tea-smoked BB duck)

(... and the soy-braised variety)

The next course definitely had me waxing lyrical. Deep-fried yellow croaker fish – split open across the belly, perfectly gutted and absolutely flawlessly prepared. Deep-fried to such perfection that the bones crunched up like potato chips. These were served with – get this – Italian balsamic (aged for 15 years, no less!), which, I have to say, was absolutely necessary. Without it, the fish was actually a little bland, with its beautiful flavors locked up inside. The balsamic was like the magical key, releasing all of the goldenness in the fish.

(Looks kinda freaky: yellow croaker)

(Good for the skin: steamed fish)

The soup was a little difficult for me to appreciate being that I don’t really have much experience with and knowledge of good Chinese soups. But it was chock full of “stuff” (a whole duck, lychees, conpoy) and yet, was surprisingly unfat (especially with the duck!). a good stomach satisfier. The heftily portioned steamed fish mushrooms and shredded pork. As Isaac explained, the fish served is prized for its high collagen content and indeed, sandwiched between the firm flecks of white flesh and the skin was a layer of smooth, slippery collagen, which added such a richness to the flesh that without, would’ve made the fish seem tough and dry. But as well-prepared as the fish was, we all couldn’t help but turn our undivided attention to the next course – the huadiao steamed crab...

(Hello love: huadiao steamed crab)

(Flavor-soakers: Chan Chuen Fun)

Now, I have a confession to make: I actually don’t like the flavor of huadiao, which explains why I usually pass up the drunken chicken. And, true to my tastes, I was at first put off by the huadiao in the crab but, on a few more bites, I came to tolerate it and a few bites more, I fell more and more in love with it. Before I knew it, I was piling the accompanying thin, flat rice noodles (Chan Cheun Fun) and extra rice into my bowl just so I can bathe it in the crab water-huadiao sauce. Ugh, it was addictive. The alcohol brought out every ounce of freshness in the crab water – it was sweet, bitter, fragrant, LOVELY. The following steamed chicken with coarse sea salt, ginger and scallions was good but sorry, totally overshadowed by the predecessing amazing crab. Bad timing, chicken… but the crab was a tough act to follow.

(Maybe next time: chicken)

Next to the table was a silky smooth steamed egg custard with crunchy bits of pig lard. Welcome to cholesterol land. I scooped two big spoonfuls onto my bowl of rice. Then added more of the remaining huadiao crab sauce. Couldn’t get enough of that.

And can you please indulge me while I go on about how amazing the sweet and sour prune-marinated spareribs are? The meat around the bone were sponges of flavor. I wanted to lap it and lick it and just do nothing but love it. They added lemongrass to the marinade (a personal favorite herb of mine), a genius move that set this spareribs dish apart from any other of its kind.

(Smooth: steamed egg with lard)

(2nd highlight: marinated spareribs)

After a prerequisite dish of greens (morning glory stir-fried with salted fish paste) and a carbs dish to end (chan cheun fun stir-fried with beef. Funnily enough, it’s the second time I’ve had this dish in a single week), we were presented with tiny teacups of almond tea. Adorable. I sniffed and decided I wanted to turn the tea into a perfume that I could just spray around the office and my bedroom. The tea was so velvety, it slipped down my throat like a sweet, liquid almond butter. It’s a shame then that they decided to serve us two scoops of red date and ginger ice cream after that. Someone needs to read the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream book because The Chairman’s ice cream had huge ass ice crystals that seemed so out of place in a restaurant that, up to that point, was serving nothing but absolutely stellar fare. But let’s not let that small glitch ruin the dinner, shall we?

(Chan Cheun Fun with beef)

(Just like buttah: almond tea)

(Let's disregard this: ice cream)

The Chairman is a rare restaurant breed. I don’t expect many other restaurants to follow suit. But who needs other restaurants to follow suit? We already have this. We have The Chairman.

Thanks Isaac for organizing!

FOOD: 4.5/5
SERVICE: 4.5/5

18 Kau U Fong