A restaurant is a matter of team work. Head chefs who are good with savories sometimes require the help of a dessert chef to open a decent restaurant. It is, however, uncommon for dessert chefs to do so because although desserts are important, they are usually secondary to food. Enter Janice Wong Restaurant at National Museum.
Bear in mind: it’s National Museum, not National Gallery. People mistake the location because Janice Wong, known for her avant-garde desserts, would fit the new National Gallery better than the stodgy National Museum. So many people lost their way that the security guard at National Gallery said, “Who is Janice Wong? Why is everyone looking for her?”
Who is Janice Wong? She’s kinda big deal. She has worked with the best chefs in the world, including Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, and French pastry chef Pierre Hermé. When 2am:dessertbar at Holland Village was established in 2007, it redefined what desserts meant in Singapore; she combined art and food together in her almost-Surrealist creations. She was Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2013 and 2014. Her restaurants have opened in Tokyo and Hong Kong earlier this year.
The modern Chinese dim sum savory menu is designed in collaboration with Chef Ma Jian Jun. The dim sum turns out to be pretty and colorful (and I hope and guess the colors are natural, not from coloring). The 3-course set lunch goes at $28++, quite a good deal, and 5-course set dinner at $68++. We went for some items on the a la carte menu.
The signature 5 dumplings ($15) should be named Signature 4 dumplings, because one is terrible; I spat out the “potato cured pork.” I thought it would be something like dumpling with lap cheong, but it turned out to be a dry crumbly powdery ball with no discernible meat in it. It was like eating flour. That said, the other 4 dumplings are pretty good. The traditional chicken dumpling is bursting with flavors.
The Xiao Long Bao tasting platter ($20) includes whisky pork, truffle cheese chicken, foie gras pork cherry, and shrimp ebi kombu. My friend had difficulty lifting the XLB up from the basket paper, and I said, “Just yank it. The skin is so thick it won’t break.” Hahaha. On the bright side, the thick skin ensures that the juice stays inside the XLB, right? Flavors are good.
The trio of siew mai ($15), portobello rosemary, caviar shrimp, parma ham scallop olive oil caviar, are pretty and okay. The liquid egg whimsical bun ($4) is what we commonly call liu sha bao, which is quite standard.
The blackred noodles ($18) is pleasant. The noodles are nuah, but they still have a structure. The beef soup is more like Western beef consomme than Asian, light and refreshing, and goes well with the braised beef.
The noodles of scallop somen ($22) stick together that it tastes too floury, like the XLB and dumplings. It comes with ebi shrimp, salted egg yolk sauce, and ikura, and as a result, it’s extremely salty.
The savory dishes are characterized generally by their over-floury/flowery-ness, but they are still acceptable. However, when the desserts came, I wanted to flip the table. Chocolate Praline Poprocks Cake ($19) is not dissimilar to fudge brownies with ice cream and popping candy. The chocolate is fantastic, intense, sweet, and brooding, but at the end of the day, my expectations for cutting-edge-desserts weren’t fulfilled.
Cassis Plum ($24) is horrendous and pissed the hell out of me. It’s listed as “cassis bombe, elderflower yoghurt foam, choya granita, yuzu pearls, and yuzu rubies” which, if done well, should give subtle layers of sourness. But in reality, it’s a mess because there is no texture and everything culminates into an extreme souriness that is hard to swallow. There is a total disregard for balance. And this is coming from someone who likes and can eat very sour desserts. We left most of the $24 dessert untouched.
The decor is also terrible. The table is long, you are far apart from your dining companion. Almost every diner surrounding us complained about the sitting arrangement. I felt like a scene in the movie, reaching out for my partner as the train pulled away. I was closer to the stranger beside me, than my eating companion opposite me. It seemed like I was dining with strangers; it was awkward.
As for the service, it’s well meaning but clueless. There is a bespectacled boy who is super polite and sweet–I like him–but in general, the three wait staff are untrained. Even though there are about 8 or 10 tables, the three servers couldn’t handle it. In a restaurant of few tables, the female server came in contact with us only once by pouring water. That’s pretty strange. Most of the work was done by the young, inexperienced, hardworking boy.
When people stand at the entrance, the three servers ignore them until they are free. The correct response is to acknowledge and ask the customer to wait.
There is a handsome waiter who seemed like he didn’t like his job and has a perpetual blackface. When we asked him to change tables, he said no, but the young boy came to us and allowed the change. When we requested to taste ice cream from the handsome waiter, and didn’t buy anything in the end, I could feel him rolling his eyes internally. He didn’t even speak enough for me to determine his accent, race or nationality; that’s how he “interacted” with us, by not talking. He has attitude, but since he’s handsome, I accept it. Hahaha.
The service team needs a good manager to whip them into shape.
We spent about $145 for two persons. We were sorely disappointed at what our National Treasure has produced.
Janice Wong Restaurant Singapore
93 Stamford road, National Museum Singapore, 01-06, Singapore 178897
T: +65 9712 5338
M-Th 11am–11pm, F–Sat 11am–1am, Sun 11am–6pm
Overall rating: 2.625/5
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.