Friday, October 09, 2009

Review: Food Opera at Ion Orchard

Some weeks ago, the PR company for Food Opera at the Orchard ION gave us a call and invited a group of bloggers to sample their new outlet and its offerings. While joking that this was quite far from our usual concept of posh-nosh, we were intrigued to see how this idea of a "high-end" food court would play out.

On that day, we were shown to a private table within the food court but also given a tour of the premises, which included many esoteric animal sculptures owned by Dr George Quek, Chairman of the BreadTalk Group, who is behind this new venture. The idea of a "Food Opera" was to showcase the artistry of enterprising hawkers and to suggest an elegant ambience with unconventional furnishings and decor, like acrylic chairs, chandeliers and oversized picture frames.

Food Opera has 26 stalls (4 of these are mini-restaurants) chosen for their authentic cooking and long history. It is affiliated to Food Reupublic, Bread Talk, Din Tai Fung and Toast Box (isn't it amazing how large his empire has grown?)

The first dish that was brought to the table was a plate of abacus yam from Mei Zhen Hakka Delights. My mother is Hakka and I've inherited very little appreciation for the cuisine, so it surprised me that I actually thought this dish very flavourful and nuanced.

The second dish was Fatty Weng's Fried Oyster Omelettes. The oyster omelette of course, is a perennial favourite and this one even had some wok hei but as with most oyster omelettes, it started to cool and congeal quickly.

The third dish was the smoked duck from Guan Chee Roasted Meats. This dish of sliced duck was so pink, succulent and moist, it looked almost like a plate of undercooked char siew, rather than duck. True to the image of "Food Opera", the plate of duck meat comes embellished with decorative flowers and garnishes.

The stall also does other roast meats like roast pork crackling, which was good and char siew, which was not quite so good (tinted red and somewhat overflavoured in rose syrup).

My favourite dish was Li Xin Chao Zhou Fish Ball Noodles. The fish balls are large and bouncy, yet light and effortlessly smooth- having been hand-shaped from fresh ground Yellow Tail, the taste is clean, without a fishy after-taste, even and sweet. These are the largest fishballs I've seen, and the unanimous opinion was that they are also some of the finest fishballs we'd ever tasted. The stall is quite an interesting one to peer into because you can see their whole process of shaping, chilling and cooking the fish balls.

My second favourite is the red wine hor fun, from Ah Wok's restaurant: this was well fried, with a well-balanced flavour. It's a great dish to order because people do a double take when they first hear the mention of "red wine" in the same sentence as "seafood hor fun". Oddly enough, however, the combination works brilliantly, as the red wine, when exposed to the searing heat of the wok, quickly reduces to a jus that coats and enhances the umami of the seafood. This mini-restaurant within Food Opera sells zi char and is one of the places that you can get a larger table for a proper sit-down meal.

The other dishes fed to us were the Hainanese Curry Pork Chop with Chap Chye, a sambal kang kong, an assortment of tofu and the Ayam Goreng Bumbu from Padang Padang and they were all pretty good.

One dish that we were split on was Ah Wok's crispy duck, some people did like it but for me, it was too thin and dry.

Lastly, we sampled the Chendol and the Gula Melaka Avocado from the Ice Shop (No. 7). I didn't like the Gula Melaka Avocado, the avocado content wasn't high enough and the whole thing tasted reminiscently of soyabean. The chendol on the other hand, was probably one of the best I've had in Singapore, with a powerful punch of coconut milk. It was a pity that the jelly strips were not home-made and had a tinted kelly green, rather than a faded pandan green colour to them but all in all, it was very satisfying.

There were many other stalls that we didn't get to try- the 3rd Generation Laksa and Prawn Noodles, the Balestier Bak Kut Teh and the SGKuehKueh stall, an offshoot of the famous stall in Amoy Street. There is definitely reason, thus, to go back to Food Opera- while I don't know if Singaporeans would pay the premium in prices, just because you get to eat on proper ceramic crockery (as opposed to melamite ones), this place is packed out almost everyday, which goes to show, good food and a good location, is definitely the key to success.

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