Looking for a second opinion on that Michelin-starred restaurant people won’t stop talking about? Introducing the Mitchell Lin Guide, where JUNK re-reviews Singapore’s Michelin-rated dining establishments. 100% local. 100% honest.
Do you regularly go out in search of fine dining Cantonese food? Or are you the kind of person who mostly stumbles across it at wedding dinners? Usually, we find ourselves in the latter camp; we don’t often consciously pay to eat “better” Chinese food. In spite of that, Lei Garden has been a usual stop for dim sum, which should attest to its reliability.
This time round, we’re here for dinner. Helpfully (for our purposes), they have a recommended “Michelin Star” menu, which consists of 9 dishes, opening with an appetising portion of crunchy mala-tinged preserved vegetable and crispy silverfish that taste kind of keropok-ish.
Then, there’s a conscience-testing shark’s fin soup with crab meat, followed by grouper with vegetables in a generic sticky sauce, and “Japanese-style” grilled bamboo clams. These recall nothing Japanese but are tasty to the point where your internal MSG-meter will go on a high alert.
Our eyes light up with the arrival of the Peking duck – it’s easily the highlight of the meal, and is probably the most delicately presented dish too, featuring slivers of glossy, perfectly roasted skin handily folded into the pancakes.
The closing dish was “Poached crispy rice with Mushroom Cibes (sic) and pork cubes”. Unlike the duck, which was a big hit at our table, this dish leaves everyone a bit mystified, and the verdicts on taste are mixed. The dish is crispy rice, dumped into a seafood stock featuring cubes of mushroom and pork. It’s presented tableside and allowed to sit before portions are scooped out and presented to you.
The broth is the colour of rusty water, and all together, it has the look of that leftover slosh you find swirling around at the bottom of a hawker centre cleaning trolley. It also tastes quite like what you imagine that to taste like, too – salty, yet indistinct, and generally you don’t know if you want it in your mouth. And yet, two of us had a second helping out of curiosity and (mostly) disbelief. We agree that we actually almost like it.
Despite that last (slight) misstep, our meal still ended up being as classic as they come. What can we say? Cantonese cuisine has held a place in the high end of Singapore’s culinary scene since day one. When a stalwart like Lei Garden sticks to its own playbook, it easily bangs out an enjoyable, irony-free meal – the fine dining version of the easy-listening smooth jazz that plays in the background. It’s not necessarily the most exciting thing ever, but everyone can agree there’s something to like.
Read the rest of the Mitchell Lin Guide here.
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