Majestic Restaurant had better brace itself for serious competition in Chinatown, for as far as modern Chinese dining goes, Pavillion is the name to watch for. You might not have heard of Kelvin Lee and Chan Kwan Kee, the duo helming the champagne drape-fronted kitchen, but their pedigree – they’re alumni of Jiang Nan Chun, Hai Tien Lo, Jade Restaurant and, of course, Majestic – is something to behold. The dim and sultry colonnaded dining room, bordered by artwork and overhung with beaded glass-ball lamps and flowing red tassels, speaks volumes for the effort that’s been put into creating an atmosphere of discerning refinement.
It’s hard not to be enamoured of this chinoiserie-enhanced outpost where, at times, workaday ingredients are elevated way beyond their humble appearance and flavour. Take our Japanese-accented chilled bean curd, sparkled with flecks of mashed-up century egg and dashi-flavoured sakura ebi, a refreshing departure from the sheer agadashi tofu that’s commonplace in Japanese restaurants; or our double-boiled chicken-essence consommé, which arrived perfumed with chi chi morille mushrooms instead of the common shiitake variety. Even the thick wedges of deep-fried and sliced pumpkin with pork floss, salted egg yolk and curry leaves – another immensely popular tapas-style dish – were redolent of a souped-up Thai treatment normally reserved for squid.
That said, Pavillion also excels at classics. We give our thumbs up to the hunks of baked belly ribs, coated thickly with a piquant zheng jiang (vinegar) sauce, the fried-then-braised slivers of pristine-white sea perch resting on a cloud of egg white, and the exquisite mee sua crowned with crab meat in a robust chicken broth.
Even the lamb dish – a meat that sends many Chinese epicures recoiling in disgust was a standout, perfectly grilled and drenched in a dense Chinese honey sauce. If you really want to get esoteric, there’s the made-over, wok-fried hor fun that’s stripped of seafood and tossed with pork strips, as well as chai por (salted turnips), or the fried rice with seafood and otak. True, the addition of unassuming ingredients like chai por and otak may sound a tad peasanty for the slick environs, but they actually play their part in bringing these dishes vividly to life
Desserts, however, are not the restaurant’s strong suit. The home-made dumpling in ginger tea – packed with sesame seed, melon sugar, peanut, salted egg yolk and butter – was overly ambitious, while the almond cream served in coconut tasted flat and lacked the ‘wow’ factor. On the whole, the duo’s cooking flair is understatedly elegant: refined, inventive and big on palate gratification, even if it’s not easy on the wallet. If price is a concern, watch out for Pavillion’s newly launched dim sum menu. With a price tag of $3 to $4.50 per serving, lunch at this exquisite restaurant has just become more affordable. Eve C