Diehard foodies first fell in love with their dim sum offerings, and then declared their Peking duck as one of the island’s best. Today, Wah Lok at Carlton Hotel also has a huge loyal following for its Cantonese à la carte delights, which has won it numerous awards, billing it as one of Singapore’s top restaurants.
Big on traditions and fresh flavours, the fine-dining restaurant recently re-opened after a four-month renovation by Hirsch Bedner Associates — its first since it opened in 1988. While the menu hasn’t changed much, the décor now reflects a modern take on the Chinese courtyard concept, with ochre tones against classy dark wood and lacquered arches in an impressively spacious entrance coupled with nine private function rooms.
But while its interiors have been stunningly transformed, many perennial favourites on the menu still remain: Mouth-watering shark’s fin with crab meat wrapped in egg white, pan-fried Japanese scallops with asparagus, as well as baked cod in banana leaf, just to name a few.
Ng Wai Tong, Wah Lok’s Hong Kong-trained executive chef, has also rolled out a new seafood section with dishes featuring live Australian king crab, snow crab, Alaskan crab, live abalone, North American geoduck, sea whelk, humphead wrasse (su mei), panther grouper, leopard coral trout (tung sing pan) and green wrasse.
One new appetiser which caught our attention was the baked diced abalone and chicken pie. More often found in western than Asian restaurants, this popular comfort food could not have tasted any better. The thin pie crust seals in the flavours of the ingredients and every bite delivers a juicy mouthful of savoury chicken and briny, sweet abalone with a slight chewy texture.
Another appetiser, the deep-fried ling zhi mushrooms with salt and pepper, was surprisingly tasty despite its very basic preparation. Also worth trying is the traditional chilled tofu dish served with a twist: A slightly spicy century egg topping complements the refreshing tofu and offers added texture.
Wah Lok’s double-boiled superior shark’s fin with chicken is not served in a starchy broth with crab meat and roe like how most restaurants do. Instead, it is a very light soup that is clear and comforting. What you taste more of is the chicken, but because the Cantonese prize texture as much as they do taste, the fins play an important role in this dish. Together, they create a medley that is guiltily tasty.
Other new signature items and must-try specialty dishes include braised fresh deer sinew and goose web, chilled foie gras and whole abalone, baked stuffed sea whelk and bird’s nest with crab claw in clear superior soup.
The restaurant is also well-loved for its lunchtime dim sum fare and Wah Lok’s new fried glutinous rice with diced preserved meat and Chinese sausages is toothsome, chewy and not at all greasy. Other favourites include baked barbecue pork buns, deep-fried shredded taro with mashed pumpkin, steamed bamboo fungus and vegetable dumplings and baked custard buns.
Because Wah Lok is a restaurant big on traditions, they pull out all the stops for the Lunar New Year, the biggest festival on the Chinese calendar. While our neighbouring country claims to have invented this dish, we can proudly declare this Wah Lok version — Australian lobster yu sheng — ours.
It is a very creative spin-off on the traditional shredded version with some very interesting twists. Expect mixed greens — yes, just like a salad — shredded carrots, shredded radish, jellyfish and ultra-crispy fried cod fish skin (our favourite). The drizzle tossed on this dish is also very cleverly put together: Sour plum juice, lime juice and fish sauce. The result? A lovely green salad with succulent lobster meat that is definitely gratifying — a far cry from the usual too-sweet, too-sour versions, which offer too much crunch.
Their resplendent list of signature Chinese New Year dishes also include hamachi yu sheng Soon Tak-style (thick hamachi slices, shredded cucumber, shredded ginger and ground peanuts served with soy sauce and lemon), braised sliced abalone and dried oysters with vegetables, braised dried oysters and dried scallops with black moss, and roasted whole boneless suckling pig.
But no Chinese New Year feast is complete without trying its Longevity Poon Choy, an authentic Cantonese festive favourite which features an elaborate three-layer dish of an assortment of delicacies: Abalones, scallops, sea cucumber, dried oysters, a braised pig’s trotter, homemade dace fishballs, roast duck prawns, mushrooms, yam, radish and black moss, all slow-cooked to perfection.
As with Cantonese cuisine, it is customary to end your meal on a sweet note. A new addition to the menu, the chilled sea coconut, preserved apricot and sweet basil seed dessert was pleasantly refreshing and definitely quenching. Other favourites include the double-boiled hashima with lotus seed and red dates, or the soothing double-boiled bird’s nest with crystal sugar.
Our recommendations for a delectable Lunar New Year
Australian Lobster Yu Sheng
Cold Beancurd & Century Egg; Baked Diced Abalone & Chicken Pie; Deep-fried Ling-Zhi Mushrooms with Salt & Pepper
Double-boiled Superior Shark’s Fin with Chicken
Longevity Poon Choy
Fried Glutinous Rice with Diced Preserved Meat & Chinese Sausage
Chilled Sea Coconut, Preserved Apricot & Sweet Basil Seed
Carlton Hotel, Tel: 6311 8188/8189; opens daily, lunch 11.30am to 2.30pm, dinner 6.30pm to 10.30pm