average-ish cantonese fine dining at the basement of the sheraton – which is to say, it fulfills at least the baseline for the sort of eating you expect at this sort of establishment.
very traditional, quite heavy, not really inspiring. we had high hopes for this place: it’s an institution in its own right, and you’ll notice from its clientele that it draws many old-school regulars. but while I have a care for tradition, our tastes run to the lighter flavours associated with modern cuisine – and we found this place a little too conservative, and might I say, a little stifling.
this post is a little late – but the flurry of CNY (chinese new year) celebrations and the closing of the financial does not make for punctual blogging.
I pretty much loved the candied cashews laid out at the start – very moreish, and always a great nibble.
no CNY celebration meal is complete without the obligatory yusheng, a tossed salad of long vegetable strands, pickled ingredients, nuts and raw fish in an asian dressing. it’s pretty traditional here – and a little boring. at least they had our favorite batang fish.
also, the ambience here is a little more sombre – we had to pretend to be serious adults and curtail our usual boisterous
flinging tossing (if you thought this was messy, you ain’t seen nothing yet).
the a la carte items were quite successful though, and the highlights of the meal.
first, a clear soup chock-full of fresh seafood bits and delicious with their natural seafood-sweetness, steamed in a small pumpkin. very pricey (more than $30 a serving if I recall correctly), but really very good. that pumpkin doesn’t make for good eating though, with all its flavour seeped into the soup.
sautéed beef cubes are a standard order for us when we see them, here fried with peppers and onions. tender, savory, good with rice.
we took the waitress’ recommendation of these fried (prawn?) patties – very similar in profile to ngoh hiang and very moreish, especially as they had little trace of oil.
those dishes rather outshined the presumed star of the meal – the poon choi or pen cai, a claypot full of expensive, sumptuous ingredients that are braised together to form a prosperous welcome to the new year.
the pot served here is composed primarily of hearty and heavy, hugely savory, and rich-tasting meats – which cooks up in a sauce that captures all that richness and rather amplifies it. ironically, it’s not a pot that tastes particularly rich (in the sense of expensive) – and the dearth of both vegetables and seafood mean there is little in there to temper that heavy leadenness.
we finished the meal with a dish of pan-fried niangao, which is a sticky, chewy cake made of glutinous rice flour. not too sweet, and with a nice eggy exterior, this was a pleasant way to end the meal (if also a little heavy after the poonchoi).
I think it’s significant that this is the poonchoi that broke the proverbial camel’s back (i.e. we’re not of mind to order the dish for our celebrations next year) – but when you amass such a large variety of ingredients in a single dish, balance is key. you need richness to usher in the new year, but that needs to be doled out with a light touch – because let’s face it, at the prices of these things, no one here is a resource-poor villager seeking sturdy, substantial sustenance.
but the a la carte cooking shows expertise and a deft hand with flavours, and really, if you like heavier tastes – this might well be the place for you (and your parents). the prices are competitive with others of its class, service is old-school and polite, and the ambience is both posh and sombre (in a very good for business meals sort of way). a traditional fine-dining institution for sure.
Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant
39 Scotts Rd
tel +65 6839 5623
$$$: nearly a 100ish, though it depends on your orders