Tuesday, September 27, 2005

TO REVIVE JADED PALATES

It is the most classic example of selling ice to Eskimos! That is the impression I have of Singaporean-owned Crystal Jade group when I discovered they succeeded in enticing Shanghainese to partake their own delicacies in its modern, quick-service outlets found in several Chinese cities.

Hoping to repeat similar success with its newly opened Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Loong Pao outlet at the annex block of Lot 10, Crystal Jade's biggest lures are its ‘la mian’ (hand-pulled noodles) and ‘xiao loong pao’ (little dragon dumplings).

With an open kitchen concept that accords diners their bustling dim sum and noodle-making theatrics, the new Crystal Jade outlet's meandering layout offers various seating options – an outdoor patio for smokers, simple and fuss-free table seating upfront for customers who want a quick bite, and a semi-enclosed dining section further back for bigger groups and private entertaining.

The menu with colour photographs serves as a helpful guide on what are the dishes available here. An order form is provided so that diners can personally indicate which are the dishes they wish to order.

Happily, we found the dainty ‘xiao loong pao’ (RM7 per order) passed muster as the dainty pork-filled dumplings were just superb with its sweet, soupy stock. Although not as good as the ones we had at Din Tai Fung in Singapore, they certainly can rival those we ate in Shanghai. Just remember to pick them up carefully with your chopsticks and try not to pierce the skin or else you’d lose the best part of these delicious morsels – the flavourful superior stock in it. The only setback is the dumpling skin was a little thick but apparently the outlet chefs had to make it so after numerous customer complaints about the skin breaking apart too easily.

It is always amazing to see a skillful ‘la mian’ chef hand-pull a chunk of floury dough into delicious threads of chewy noodles. His effortless demonstration belies the years of practice at getting this art of noodle-making just right. The fine noodles taste scrumptious too, complemented by deep-fried golden-brown meaty pork ribs (RM12).

Less successful was the ‘la mian’ topped with minced meat and chopped mushroom in spicy sauce (RM10). While the sweet-spicy sauce was tantalizing enough, I wish it was less starchy with more minced meat in it. The ‘la mian’ with minced pork and vegetable wontons (RM12) was equally disappointing as the dish was rather bland and we had to perk things up with the ubiquitous chilli oil and vinegar.

One of the more unusual and noteworthy dishes in the menu is sautéed egg white with fish meat (RM26). I recall a Shanghainese chef told me this legendary dish was created to satiate the Chinese emperor’s craving for crabs. What's an imperial cook to do but to put ingenuity to the test by whipping up a mixture of fluffy egg whites and white fish flakes. Needless to say this delicious mock crabmeat dish succeeded in appeasing the emperor. You’d wax lyrical over Crystal Jade’s version too - with a whole egg yolk mixed into the sautéed egg white and fish meat, the creation was velvety smooth.

For a ‘do it yourself’ treat, the ham and crispy dried beancurd skin (RM24) is a memorable delight where you sandwich slices of briny and smoky Yunnan ham in red chilli oil and deep-fried ‘foo chook’ (beancurd skin) in between cotton-soft thin slices of ‘man tou’ bread.

We also love the crispy eel (RM13). Cut into finger-thick slices and deep-fried until crispy, the eel was coated with a sweetish sauce and topped with some shredded ginger.

A slightly more unusual Shanghainese specialty is deep-fried rice crackers with sautéed minced pork (RM16), a dish that pairs crunchy cakes of puffed rice with a robust, chunky sauce of pork mince, mushroom and beancurd dices.

Nothing beats a refreshing ‘tong shui’ (sweet broth) such as sweetened dried longan with snow fungus and wolfberries (RM5) to wash down the hearty fare you had just eaten. Other types of sweet broth served include glutinous dumpling in sweet ginger soup (RM5.50), glutinous balls with sweet wine syrup (RM5.50), almond beancurd with longans (RM6) and mango pudding (RM6).

Overall, Crystal Jade is a good and affordable place to discover the many culinary delights of cosmopolitan Shanghai. Service is quick and efficient, with the wait staff more than willing to guide you on what to order.

CRYSTAL JADE LA MIAN XIAO LONG BAO (non halal)
R2 Annexe Block
Lot 10 Shopping Centre
50 Jalan Sultan Ismail
50250 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 2148 2338

Business hours – 11 am to 10 pm daily

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