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January 10, 2014updated 29 Jan 2016 1:29pm

Sitwell scoffs in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong

By William Sitwell

Author: by Spear’s Editorial

I nipped to Asia this week. A whistle-stop tour that took in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong. The food elements – bar airline dining – went a little like this.

There was Din Tai Fung (pictured above) within the shopping mall of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. This is a vast building that looks like a large, long slug-like boat balancing on three decks of cards. You can go up to a bar at the top of a bit of it and look out over the city.

I imagine it would be a fun place to watch the night-time Grand Prix – not that you’d be able to make out what was happening. Although having said that whenever I go to Silverstone to see a race in daylight I haven’t a clue who’s in the lead anyway.

Still, up on the umpteenth floor gazing down onto little cars whizzing around the streets you’d probably get less deafened by all that broom-brooming and less overwhelmed by the exhaust fumes. Which is what petrol heads love and I hate.

But closer to ground you’ll find Din Tai Fung. The place has branches all across Asia so I thought I’d check out what the fuss is about.

First you get entertained while you queue by watching dumpling makers in action. About five chefs work around a counter quickly knocking out the little treats before they get put into baskets for steaming.

So one rolls out little circles of dough, for example, and flicks the result over into a pile, while another stuffs it with some yummy crab or pork. And the team move around and change jobs so they don’t go too bonkers doing it for hours.

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You can gaze at this for a while, imagining how you’d seriously muddle it if given a go, before you get a little mesmerised by it by which time, you hope, a table is ready.

Then you order, as I did, a whole load of stuff, ask them to bring it as it is ready, then complain they haven’t brought you anything, then that they brought the wrong stuff, before asking where the beers are.

Service, you see, is haphazard. The food is fine – nothing epic – stuffed dumplings, some more wobbly than others, some more bun like and one very sticky, and there were soaked and soft peanuts swimming in a bowl of sticky sweetness. We reckoned this might be a sort of dessert dish. Although it came before some other dumplings and egg fried rice. And we hadn’t ordered it anyway.

Oriental breakfast

Breakfast the next morning – at the Mandarin Oriental – where you can get a closer view of those fast cars as they whizz around the marina – was a more placid affair.Although my plate was the confused result of a typical greedy Brit overwhelmed at the site of a vast buffet.

So along with my freshly-cooked omelette – with a little green chilli and tomato – bacon and croissant there were some spicy chickpeas, lentils and soft and buttery parotta bread.

Individually it was all excellent. Although my stomach seemed a little less happy with this fusion breakfast food cocktail.

Lunch was at the Mandarin’s Cherry Orchard, where they was great Peking duck with impeccably thin, sweet skin, and where they put the duck in the pancake for you – a supposed bonus I assume for weary travellers.

That night I dined at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant – the Wasabi Bistro – seated at the bar with chef doing his stuff in front of us and the wonderful backdrop of the lit-up skyscrapers behind us. I had a bento box stuffed with sushi and tempora.

Then we flew to Bangkok and stayed at what I reckon has to be one of the best hotels in the worlds: The Mandarin Oriental (there’s a tour theme here I know – but this is the best one).

Late, tired and pathetically unadventurous, we dined at a Chinese restaurant around the corner. It’s called the China House (pictured below) and when, on arrival, they asked for a room number, we realised we were even less adventurous than we thought we were.

China house

But it’s a cool and elegant place with sweet little booths – quite boudoir like, your own chic dining cubby-hole – and a menu with some strange sounding dishes. I didn’t order the ‘Oxtail jump over the wall’ or the ‘Bird’s nest consomme’, or ‘sweet and sour pork with fruits on melon ring’,
but did have a vast and wonderful plate of soft-shell crab.

It was definitely worth the long and brave journey we had taken from the hotel (some 26 yards) with its crispy garlic and a sauce made from pumpkin.

I think the next feeding was breakfast where, on the terrace by the river, I had the fluffiest red chilli omelette yet. The chef turned it by tapping his left hand, which held the pan, with his right. The little puffed up egg mix nudged over until it was perfectly done.

Dinner was on the opposite side of the river where the hotel has a smart Thai restaurant run by Vichit Mukura, now a famous chef in the city who appears on TV and pops out cook books. He’s worked in the hotel for 27 years and now gets called up by every smart politician or member of the royal family when they feel peckish.

After some nibbles – and the best chicken wings I’ve had (the result I gather of a long, intrepid marinade) – among the red and green curries was a very good tom kha gai.

The last coconut soup revelation I had in Thailand was at the airport some 15 years ago. This was an equally tasty version but served in a hollowed-out coconut. As you fished out the soup and some chicken you could scrape a little coconut from the inner walls.

As the party boats sailed by, music pounding from the decks, we revelled on our more Zen-like terrace.

Then it was Hong Kong and dinner at Duddell’s. This is a new trendy HK spot, filled with tall, beautifully-clad and elegant nymphs, all pausing between sentences to light up their faces with the white glow of their mobiles to check what they might be missing in other trendy hit spots.

The staff wear tight, light brown suits – the sort of thing the Beetles used to wear in the 60s. Great on Beetles and slim Chinese folk, less good on the heavier waiting staff.

We guzzled more dumplings, some excellent meltingly-good slices of duck, a disappointing plate of crispy salted chicken – yellow, anaemic, weird – and a revolting dessert plate of almond cream. It tasted like the calamine lotion my mother put on our chicken pox.

Landmark restaurant

Then there was breakfast at Amber, the restaurant of the Landmark Hotel. Error. Coffee was terrible, and my egg on muffin was sitting on leeks. Eight-thirty in the morning is too early for leeks in my book, especially when it’s got a poached egg sitting on it, wherever I might be in the world and however hungry.

But fortunately lunch redeemed Amber’s reputation. Specifically Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus, whose Frenchified cuisine might jar with Asian aspirations – and forget any sustainability pretensions, this is Hong Kong so he flies in pears and pigeons from France – but his sea urchin dish needs to be eaten. Within a pretty porcelain cup, shaped like a sea urchin, he pops fusions of lobster and urchin, topped with a few bits of caviar and crowned with flecks of gold leaf.

It’s a beautiful dish, the heavenly creation of a man trained by French legend Guy Savoy – to whom Gordon Ramsay owes his youthful education – and Pierre Gagniere who helped ice the cake of his career. I also drank some great wines – even the oaky California Hesten chardonnay – and a lush slice of a big pear (France again). The food, wine and service is great.

The room and location less so. Tables look out onto the backs of characterless tower blocks (with no hint of the magnificent city we are in), the dull room livened (ish) by long golden tubes that drape from the ceiling. It’s the sort of décor that fights to hide the reality. Only thing is to go with the flow, get sozzled and fly home.

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