Three month-old Song Garden is the Cantonese restaurant of the newish Mercure Bugis and boasts of 7 private rooms. We sat in the Peony Room with a ginormous marble table of about 2.5m in diameter, accommodating up to 25 people. It would be a riot if they install a karaoke system in the private room.
Hong Kong native, executive chef Wong Shea Nung, who has more than 40 years of experience, leads the team. The dim sum section is handled by Hong Kong chef Leung Chi Man, formerly from East Ocean, with 30 years of experience. For you food noobs out there, or foobs, the very popular East Ocean is reputed to be one of better old-school dim sum restaurants in Singapore. So now you know where the chef has gone to.
Although the chefs have 70 years of experience between them, and you’d expect the food to be lao kok kok, the chefs are rather innovative and presented some interesting modern dishes along with the traditional ones. For example, their dim sum, served during lunch time, comprising of 30 items, has some updates. They pan-seared otah on siew mai ($6 for 4 pcs), which is not bad.
Their steamed cheong fun with fresh prawns ($6, 5 pcs) is a play on the traditional Hong Kong zaa leung (炸兩), rice noodle roll around youtiao. I never understand zaa leung–carbs wrapped around carbs?! But here, the sheet of rice roll, made fresh in-house daily, is sprinkled with crispy light flour, before rolling with prawns. This is fantastic, so crispy and delicate at the same time. I also appreciate the fragrance of the homemade soya sauce, adding a light saltiness to the prawn-sweetness. It is rather expensive to serve 5 bite-sized pieces for $6 but it is delicious.
While the innovative dim sum is delicious, the innovative dishes aren’t as good as the traditional ones. The two dishes that I didn’t like belong to the innovative category.
The chilled five-spice foie gras with blueberry compote ($26.80++), which is more terrine in texture, has locked up the buttery fats of the goose liver, and as a result, it isn’t as umami as a pan-seared rendition. The tartness of blueberry may go with a pan-seared version, but for this block, I’m not so sure.
The other dish I didn’t like is the mentaiko cod fillet ($19.80) with yuzu slathered on it. Not sure if it is the color, but I kept imagining that I was tasting orange instead of yuzu. And the seasoning has overpowered the taste of the delicate fish.
Ok, now for the excellent dishes. Lobster with pumpkin purée ($28++), which comes with black garlic bread stick, and can be shared among two persons, is super delicious. The pumpkin broth is flavored with lobster stock and thickened with shark cartilage and fish maw. The cartilage and fish maw are boiled for 12-14 hours, thoroughly dissolved in the soup.
It tastes slightly like saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, more expensive than gold, and has a lip-smacking texture of collagen. Warming to the stomach. So much umami. I enjoyed this so much I was willing to risk third-degree burn on my lips by draining the last drops, drinking directly from the extremely hot hot-stone bowl. Kids, don’t try it at home.
A small incision is made in the Australian lamb rack ($22++) and stuffed with diced cod fish, mushrooms and spring onions. It’s very lovely, tender with no hints of gaminess. The honey-black pepper sauce is not spicy or overpowering; instead it complements and doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of lamb, a balance that requires the skills of a master.
Think of the signature roast chicken ($25 half chicken/ $50 whole) as a bao (bun), not a roasted chicken dish. The skin of the chicken is stretched and dried before it is roasted to a crisp. The skin, beancurd skin, and sweet bean sauce sit on a cushion of thin mantou. It’s not bad, but I think I’ll go for a roast chicken with some solid meat next time.
Vegetables never tasted so good. Sautéed asparagus with wild mushrooms in white truffle oil ($28++) is beautiful with a medley of different textures, all perfectly cooked. WHY hasn’t anyone thought of adding truffle oil to stir-fried vegetables before this?! It’s so delicious. The fragrance of the truffle comes as a lingering aftertaste, so you’d want to keep eating the vegetables to keep the memory of the taste alive.
Braised pre-seared vermicelli with shredded fish in silken egg white ($24++, 3-4 pax) goes well with their homemade XO sauce.
There are some innovative dishes that don’t work, but the majority of the items are delectable and unexpected, hard to find them anywhere else in Singapore. On the whole, it’s a pretty good Cantonese restaurant and it’s worth coming here.
Song Garden Restaurant
122 Middle Road, Mercure Singapore Bugis, #02-01, Singapore 188973
Tel: +65 6521 9299
Weekdays 11.30am-2.30pm, 6pm-10pm; Weekends & PH 11am-3pm, 6pm-10pm
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Written by A. Nathanael Ho.