Our team goes undercover to suss out the latest and most talked about restaurants in town.
When The Privé Group announced that they would be unveiling a contemporary Chinese restaurant at the Asian Civilisations Museum, naturally, we were doubtful that the restaurant would have any lasting appeal. After all, just across the river are the popular Si Chuan Dou Hua and Peach Garden restaurants. Still, the group is known for their reliably tasty concepts, so we wasted no time in popping down for a look once Empress opened in late November.
A glance at the menu only confirmed our suspicions at the outset that we’d be in for Chinese fare with an Anglo slant – which self-respecting Chinese restaurant in Singapore, or even the world, would serve the much scorned Singapore-style Noodles ($22/33/44) complete with the dreaded curry powder? And so it was with low expectations that my companion and I started the meal.
Our appetiser of Deep-fried Tofu & Salted Egg Yolk ($10/15/20) was surprisingly promising. A thin layer of powdery yet creamy yolk held the tofu cubes together well enough that we could pick it up with our chopsticks, but as we bit through the fragrant crispy skin, silky smooth bean curd burst forth and rendered the dish downright addictive. It’s a dish that can be rather hit or miss on separate occasions, so we ordered it again during a return visit and were satisfyingly assured of its consistent standard. Similarly, the Poached Amaranth with Trio of Eggs ($20/30/40) was so satisfyingly rich with eggy and garlicky flavour that I couldn’t stop slurping up the ‘soup’.
The meats, on the other hand, were less impressive. On the Triple Roast Platter ($28/42/56) was Empress Sweet & Sticky Pork Ribs, Empress Char Siew and Crackling Roast Pork, of which the latter two used Spanish Duroc pork for its superior fattiness. This worked well enough for the siew yoke, which boasted a shatteringly crunchy skin and unctuous succulence, but was less noticeable in the char siew. The ribs were unfortunately slathered in so much sauce that we could barely taste the meat. Another dish of Iberico Pork ($32/48/64) with honey angelica sauce was likewise not to our taste – the thin pork chops were too fatty and provided little bite, and has a slight bitter taste from the sauce. We also regretted a side order of Crispy Aromatic Duck Salad ($18) – it was only fragrant because of its plum-citrus dressing and the deep-fried duck slivers were overly oily and gamey.
Skip the Empress Fried Rice ($24/36/48) as well – the combination of char siew strips, prawns and olives didn’t draw any oohs and aahs, and crab was strangely missing from the dish despite being described on the menu. The Crispy Battered Cod ($18/person) fared significantly better with its flaky, milky-sweet flesh and floral aromas from the spicy ginger flower glaze.
High-flying white collar executives around the area will do well to note that Empress’ lunch sets offer great value for their portions. At just $38 for the Executive Set Lunch and $58 for the Chef’s Set Lunch, you get six courses and seven courses respectively, and there’s possibly enough to feed two. You can also opt for dim sum during lunch – the Empress Dim Sum Platter ($9.8) comprises har gau, siew mai, seafood and spinach dumpling, pork and pumpkin skin dumpling, and mushroom dumpling. The crystal skins are pleasantly light, thin and not too sticky, and each piece is texturally pleasing.
While I won’t be penning Empress down as a must-try, the restaurant serves up enough winning dishes that corporate types might fancy giving it a chance now and then when in want of less chinois and more modern, breezy interiors and decent food. Watch out though for the museum tour announcements – they blare loudly enough in Empress to make you jump in your seat. #01-03 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place. Tel: 6238 8733
Average dinner bill for two, with tea: $140
Must-tries: silken tofu cubes slathered with salted egg yolk, and the aromatic ginger flower-glazed cod.