$20-$40

Canton Paradise 乐天小香港, 112 Katong, Joo Chiat

Canton Paradise is revolutionizing basements. Basements are where food kiosks and supermarkets are so finding Canton Paradise to be so classily furnished is a pleasant surprise. No expense is spared in the decor. Beautifully lit with royal purple backlighting, partitioned by Chinese window panels, walled by gray bricks of varying shades, the ambience reminds one of a royal secret chamber or where you practice your 内功 (inner kungfu).

The restaurant has booth seats and round tables for 4 to 10 people, best to come in groups.

Under the Paradise Group which includes restaurants like Paradise Inn and Taste Paradise, Canton Paradise captures the essence of Cantonese cuisine through Executive Chef Hu Shu Sheng, a native of Guangzhou, China, so native that he cannot speak English or Mandarin well; he only speaks Cantonese! While the cuisine is authentic, it is, at the same time, innovative. There is a good mix of traditional dishes and originally created dishes.

Cantonese cuisine is known for roasts and soups and naturally, we didn’t begin with them. What? We are not predictable.

Starters
Fried pumpkin coated with salted egg yolk & mixed nuts 秘制坚果炬南瓜($7.80) was interesting. The first taste that hits you is salted egg yolk, like in salted egg yolk crabs, slightly grainy and only very slightly salty (salted egg yolks aren’t really salty). It looked greasy so it was surprising that it wasn’t. After the yolk, there was an after-sweetness of pumpkin. I am not a fan of starchy, dense food in general but the pumpkin came across very light. This dish wasn’t on the food tasting menu; it was something extra we ordered. To find a dish that is not a specialty of the restaurant to be handled so excellently, I assume that other non-specialty dishes may fare as well.

Dim Sum

We love dim sum so much at RERG that dim sum has its own category on our site. When I saw this, I bounced out of my seat and said excitedly, “OMG is it 流沙包? Is it 流沙包?” (Salted egg yolk custard bun.) It looked exactly like the salted egg yolk bun I had at Mouth Restaurant. I went back to Mouth Restaurant several times but the quality and size of the bun have dropped so I am looking for a new place with an equally good bun.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t baked salted egg yolk bun; it was baked BBQ honey pork bun 脆皮叉烧包 ($4.50 for three). But fortunately, the skin was good, as good as the first baked bun at Mouth Kitchen I had. Crispy on the top and bottom because they were closest to the heat, yet the inside was light and fluffy and airy. Someone at the food tasting–I forget whom–mentioned that the texture was similar to 菠萝包 or in English, bo lou bao (use an angmoh accent to pronounce). But there is a vast difference: this baked bun is more delicate, a touch will collapse the bun, so much lighter and altogether more exquisite. Seriously, all buns should be baked like this. Chef Hu, can you please hold a conference and teach all the Chinese chefs in Singapore how to bake a bun?

The BBQ honey pork was excellent too. The sweetness contrasted with the bland bun; and the meat and the bun were competing for which was softer. My only complaint was Y U NO give more char siew? Fill up the bun, please.

Unfortunately for us, the daily dim sum ends at 5pm so we didn’t get to taste other items. But from the menu, there are some very intriguing dim sum items that RERG will have an excursion to try: cheong-fun stuffed with preserved turnip 菜谱肠粉 (cai-por, the thing atop chwee kueh, $4); organic brown rice cheong-fun stuffed with eggplant and minced meat 金沙红米肠 ($4.50); baked truffle chicken pie 黑松露鸡派 ($4.50); baked chicken and pineapple pastry 凤梨鸡粒酥 ($4.20); and baked custard rice ball 脆皮炬麻糍 ($3.50). Typing this entry has improved my Mandarin.

Roasts

BBQ pork belly with honey sauce 秘制肥婆黑叉烧($15.80) should be directly translated to fat lady’s secret recipe black pork belly. Fat lady because at least 1/3 of the meat is fats–I checked. And fats make the meat so tender it melts in the mouth. It’s black because of the honey; honey burns, so it gives the top layer a crispy burnt texture but the interior remains tender. The dish is more expensive than the rest because it uses an expensive cut of pork.

Where else can you find this Canton crispy BBQ pork 脆皮叉烧 ($15.80)? Roasted slowly for 4 hours until it is a gorgeous golden brown, the fatty pork tasted exactly like lard and–drum roll–it is lard. However, the juices that burst in the mouth weren’t oily at all. In fact, it felt more like juice from meat (like the xiao long bao kind) than oil. As you bite closer to the heart, the taste changes into something sweet, almost honey-like.

Steamed kampong chicken in Canton Style 水晶真味三芭鸡 ($15 half/ $28 whole) is Singapore meets Canton meets Australia because the free-range chickens are imported from Australia. Compared to the previous two roasts with heavy flavors, the chicken came across healthier and had a very clean but bland taste. Free range chickens mean the chickens have less fat under the skin and don’t have that gelatin-fat that hawker centres’ chickens have but the meat, including the chicken breast, was very smooth and tender.

Soup

3 different soups are prepared daily ($6.80 per person/ $16.80 per pot) and a pot can be shared between 6-7 people. For our tasting, we had Chicken soup with fish maw, honeydew, a shellfish and pork ribs. The combination was pretty wide-ranging, ingredients ranging from the land to the sea, from animals to plants. It tasted homely, definitely made in-house. But I have to say: on a bad day, my mother’s soup charred and nearly burnt down the apartment, the horrible stench of coal would linger for days in the apartment and on our clothes. But on a good day, my mother’s soup can rival Chef Hu’s, hers is sweeter and Chef Hu’s ingredients in the soup were rather tough. That being said, my mother has the advantage of boiling soup for an entire day or even days while Chef Hu doesn’t have that luxury and besides, a true blue Cantonese doesn’t eat the meat in the soup–so it doesn’t matter if the meat is tough or not–because they think the essence is already in the soup.

Spring Water Tofu
If you notice the categorization of food so far, you’d notice they are broad groups: appetizers, dim sum, roasts, etc. But tofu is so unique that the press release gives it a category of its own. This is because making tofu is Chef Hu’s specialty; the tofu is made from scratch in the kitchen from superior soybeans and natural mountain spring water. There are many dishes with tofu here and we tried steamed lingzhi tofu in soya sauce 清蒸灵芝山水豆腐 ($8.80). it is true that the tofu was so smooth that it just melted in the mouth but to me, tofu is tofu and tofu is bland. The “lingzhi” in the tofu wasn’t perceptible.

Claypot and Other Cantonese Specialties


Wok-fried pork belly with salted fish 咸鱼花腩锅 ($14). The meat was chewy, in between the texture of soft bacon and crispy one. It was a bit tough for me because my stereotype is Chinese pork belly should melt in the mouth. However, there are good and bad porky tastes, and this dish belongs to the pleasant porky flavor that doesn’t stink but still retains a distinct pork scent. The salted fish complemented but didn’t overpower the pork. A tinge of leek lingered.


Wok-fried mustard leaf with minced duck meat 水东炒鸭仔菜 ($12.80) is characterized by its bitterness, a bitterness more intense than bittergourd. I love bittergourd so it is strange I didn’t like this dish. (I didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t like it.) But it is the ingredient that is flawed. The cooking was still well executed, the vegetables remained crunchy.


Wok-fried bean sprouts with vermicelli and salted fish 乡下佬炒银芽 ($12.80). The poetic Chinese name is mangled by the English translation. It should be “Country pumpkin stir-fries silver sprouts.” How poetic is that! As the Chinese name suggests, the main ingredient is the bean sprouts, not the vermicelli. The vermicelli is intentionally cooked in such a way that it is crispy. A pleasant if lackluster dish.

Szechuan

Poached sea bass with pickled cabbage in fish stock 辣辣地酸菜沸腾鱼 ($12.80). Voted as the most value-for-money dish by me, a one-person democracy. For people who like heat, this is a must order. It was very, very, very spicy but there were many dimensions that came through despite the spiciness: the saltiness from the salted vegetable and the sweetness from the fish stock. It was quite amazing how one could taste the saltiness and sweetness after all that chili. The fish meat was extremely fresh and delicious and ample. So much fish! This soup can serve up to 10 bowls easily.

Desserts

Custard glutinous rice ball with grated oat 金沙汤圆 ($4.80 for 3 pieces), an original chef’s creation, has the salted egg yolk filling!! in a gelatinous covering. Although the oats are on the surface, the first taste that hits you is the salted egg. The sweetness and scent of oats will come as an aftertaste. More salted egg york filling will be nice so that it explodes on the first bite.

Chilled red bean and yam jelly 芋头红豆糕 ($4.20 for three) is refreshing, nicely done but nothing unique.

We must have drunk up all the tea in the restaurant because we couldn’t stop drinking the addictive gula melaka milk tea 黑糖冻奶茶 ($3.80). It wasn’t overly sweet, so it was quite refreshing.

Service: As with all food tastings, you don’t really interact with the service staff. But as I was walking into the restaurant, a male server chatted with me and we hit it off like old friends within 15 seconds. A female server (she looked like the captain) was serving me hot soup. I was seated in a corner so, out of politeness, I reached over to take from her but she said it was hot and she’d rather deliver it herself. It’s these small considerate gestures that work for me. When we left, they said goodbye. From the limited interaction with the service staff, I like them.

After we finished the meal, we mistakenly believed it was expensive because we were deceived by the beautiful decor and prices of the roasts. But as I write this entry, I realize how reasonable the price is. 5 persons ordering 5-6 dishes: each person only pays $20-30. Ordering roasts will increase the paying cost but the roasts are understandably expensive because of the quality of meat and I do think the roasts are the best dishes and are worth the money. You get what you pay. On the whole, if the dishes have a bigger portion, it would be great. Taste-wise, we liked almost everything we tasted. And the variety of dishes is wide: there is something for everyone. My top three recommended dishes are roasts, Szechuan soup and tofu.

Canton Paradise is opening another outlet at JCUBE in Jurong by March and another one in the city by third quarter of 2012.

Canton Paradise 乐天小香港
112 Katong
112 East Coast Road
B1-15
T: 6344 8201
Website

M-F: 11am – 10pm
Sat, Sun & PH: 10.30am-10pm

Rating: 3.751/5 stars

PS: We thank Carlyn, Chenyze and Canton Paradise for their hospitality.

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