There are some things in life you just can’t get enough of and dim sum is definitely one of them.
I’ve always had a penchant for dim sum, partly because I enjoy eating fresh, succulent seafood and also because this is the only meal I know that comes neatly bundled in small packages. What’s even better is that you can gently ease everything down with cups of steaming long jing tea in between laughs and your tête-à-tête.
I had the rare treat of spending a relaxing Saturday afternoon at just the right place for dim sum. Nestled on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Orchard Singapore, the Pine Court Chinese Restaurant is well-located at a great vantage point that maintains a comfortable distance from the bustling weekend crowd. And to match the whopping panorama of the cityscape, Pine Court prepared a delectable array of Cantonese dim sum just for me!
It was really quite an experience being able to enjoy a leisurely sip of good chinese tea, sink my teeth into bite-sized portions of freshly steamed ‘Shanghai’ dumpling filled with pork and crabmeat and chatting away with Ms Cheyl Chen, Assistant F&B Director at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore. After all, I’m your average working class person who’s got to observe the 9s to 5s.
In between our girly banters, I began to fully appreciate why the chinese often use mealtimes as a good opportunity for striking business deals. It’s really here at the dining table where people are most relaxed to enjoy their hearty meal and are open for an honest exchange. For two hours, time really stood still. Cheryl and I chatted like old friends about life and the virtue of perseverance. In fact, Cheryl shared with me her life story as a hotelier, her work as Assistant F&B Director and the fact she used to be an assistant sous chef having to start from bottom up and as far as Lausanne in Switzerland at her own expense! As I sat there, fully absorbed, I couldn’t suppress the resonance I found in her story. Truly, her life story is inspirational, matched only by the warmth of her hospitality and superb choice of dim sum dishes.
Speaking of which, Cheryl included in the menu the baked barbecued pork pie with cheese which is incidentally Pine Court’s very own signature dish. Locally known as char shao tsu, this mouth-watering morsel came baked to a crisp perfection, with a generous toss of white and black sesame seeds which added to the texture and crunch. This had to be one of my favourites. What’s really good about Pine Court’s version of this flaky treat is the oozing centre of diced roast pork swimming in a rich cheesy barbeque sauce. Definitely a good balance of texture and taste.
Also equally impressive was the crisp-fried thousand filo with fresh mango and prawns. A friend from Kuwait once told me that Kuwaitis believed in the importance of food looking as good as they taste. I suppose that’s quite universal, given the increasing emphasis on food presentation and styling. I couldn’t agree more as I was served these delicate golden-threaded pillows, quite unwilling to sink my teeth into them because they looked so good. I caved in finally, and there was no regret. The sweetness of the mango really brought out the savoury zing of the prawn and the crisp of the tiny filo weavings like black on white.
Just in case you’re wondering where on earth are the usual (dim sum) suspects? Whenever you go to any respectable dim sum restaurants, what do you usually order as yardsticks of quality? For me, it has to be siew mai (pork and mushroom dumpling) and har kau (shrimp bonnet). Well, unfortunately, I don’t have the photos of the latter. I do, however, have photos of the siew mai , and wait till you see this. It’s surely going to whet your appetites!
The siew mai has somewhat evolved over time, and restaurants have attempted to recreate the siew mai without losing its defining quality: robust flavour and juicy pork-based fillings. Some have tried putting prawns on top of these little pork parcels to add that visual glam to this traditional dim sum but I still like the one done by Pine Court in the customary way. So, pick up those chopsticks, and roe, roe, roe your siew mais, gently down your oesophagus. Yumz.
Another staple at dim sum restaurants is the roast pork bun (char siew pao). Admittedly, I am not a big fan of flour-ey things (e.g. bread, buns) but I must admit this char siew pao was just too good to miss, especially when it’s fresh out of the steamer. Another classic done to perfection.
Another very appetising dish was the steamed shrimps dumpling with chilli sauce. This was yet another visual treat as much as it was a gastronomical delight. Absolutely delish. As with all their other dishes, the freshness at Pine Court is irrefutable. You can bite into the prawn and feel it bounce back about a good 0.02%. The chilli oil that is lavishly doused on the dumpling is a comfortable-spicy and not overpowering at all. For those who can’t take spicy foods, have no fear because this is way too mild to cause a coughing fit. For those who thrive on super-spicy foods, well, it’stime for some natural sweetness. This dish will definitely not disappoint because of the way the chilli oil complements the stuff hidden under the muff.
Cheryl also ordered for me the roast duck and roast pork –two food items I avoid like the plague. Call me an ignoramus if you like, but I just can’t get pass the foul, gamey flavour of these feathered friends and the idea of eating Miss Piggy no matter how hard I tried. This duck dish, however, is different. You have to try it for yourself to know. In fact, I find the duck meat so immaculately seasoned that there’s hardly the usual nauseating flavour that comes with poorly-seasoned duck meat. As for the pork, it is beautifully crunchy and goes really with the condiments and sauces, speaking of which, want to make a guess as to what the green stuff is? And by the way, I still prefer not to eat pork.
My dining experience at Pine Court was a really memorable one. The food was stupendous, the company wonderful, and an entire afternoon of nothing else but lingering conversations, quiet spaces and good dim sum is truly the way to go. I went away nourished by the food and refreshed by the exchange I had with an unpretentious conversationalist and food connoisseur. This was truly an extraordinary dim sum experience that left me “pine-ing” for more. But before we go, how about some figs, sea coconut, aloe vera and tangy sorbet for desserts?