October 16, 2016

Janice Wong Restaurant @ National Museum Singapore ~ Where Food Meets Art? Not Your Ordinary Dim Sum

It was a moment of déjà vu for me when our meal at Janice Wong Restaurant was over.

Janice who? Janice Wong.

For the uninitiated, she is the acclaimed local pastry chef who has learned from some of the world's best chefs including Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Oriol Balaguer, and Pierre Hermé, and is named Asia's Best Pastry Chef by San Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best for 2013 & 2014.

Janice Wong Restaurant is her eponymous flagship establishment for her sweets retail shop that also includes a 40-seater restaurant serving Mod-Chinese savory fare.

This is her latest venture after opening 2am:dessert bar in Singapore's Holland Village back in 2007, followed by 2am:lab as well as outposts in Tokyo and Hong Kong. So impressive for a young woman who is only in her early-30s! However.....

..... we were not so impressed by the overall dining experience we had during our visit to Janice Wong Restaurant.

In case you are wondering, the restaurant is situated in National Museum, and not National Gallery like what many has mistaken initially. I heard that the security guards at National Gallery was bewildered previously when visitors kept asking for "Janice" haha. They were supposedly there for a media event.

We thought that Janice's avant garde, contemporary style would have have fitted into National Gallery's setting better. The choice of National Museum's historical architectural grounds to anchor her flagship store came as quite an oddly surprise.

But upon stepping into the vibrant, colorful space, the entire scene is undeniably Janice Wong.

It is like a candy wonderland of sorts, with enticing sweet treats such as Marshmallow Paintings ($16), Chocolate Bonbons ($2.50), Chocolate Balloons & Kites (from $55), Assorted Spherical Cake ($10), Fruit Rolls ($9), Chocolate Paint ($15), as well as Mochi ($3-$5) and Ice Cream/Sorbet ($5) in assorted flavors

Offerings could be a tad too sweet though, my colleagues couldn't get through the two bottles of Chocolate Chip Truffle Cookies ($15) and Peanut Butter Marshmallow Cookies ($15) which I bought for them. Threw it away eventually when the short expiry period was up. Wasted.

Janice Wong's Mod-Chinese savory menu is a collaboration with Chef Ma Jian Jun, her co-author of Dim Sum: A Flour-forward approach to Traditional Favorites and Contemporary Creations.

A selection of Ala-carte Savory ($4 to $24) items such as BBQ Candy Pork Buns ($14), Soup Dumplings ($8) and Basil Barley Noodles ($24) is presented, alongside the 3-course Degustation Lunch ($28) and 5-course Degustation Dinner ($68) menu.

Instead of the typical dim sum offerings, expect inventive morsels that are delicately made and given a vibrant "pantone color" treatment. It is almost like an artwork. So intricate and too pretty to eat.

Just look at our platter of Signature 5 Dumplings ($15), and Mini Pots Siew Mai ($15) basket. If I hand these in for a 3-D coloring assignment, I think my art teacher will give me 100 full points.

If Janice's intention is to put some highlight on skin of the dim sum instead of the "over-rated" fillings (that's what we read), then I would say it's definitely a win in looks and certainly a fail in quality.

The texture of the dumpling skin itself were barely passable. It was a tad thick and chewy for our liking. Quite a pity, because most of the fillings were tasty. I especially like the succulent, crunchy freshness of the Scallop Prawn. The stuffing for Scallop & Olive Oil Caviar siew mai was bursting with such deliciousness too.

The one item which was totally disagreeable was the Potato Cured Pork dumpling. Dry, powdery and dense, we thought we were eating a lump of flour.

Whimsical Buns with Liquid Egg ($4) is essentially "Liu Sha Bao 流沙包" with a fancy title. That aside, the steamed bun with molten salted egg yolk was ordinary.

Nothing much to fault of the XLB Tasting Platter ($20) which consist of 4 pieces of steamed dumplings filled with flavorful Whisky Pork, Truffle Cheese Chicken, Foie Gras Pork Cherry and Shrimp Ebi Kombu. Well, except for the thick dumpling skin again. Perhaps we shouldn't complain as there's no worries about the skin breaking and juice escaping from the dumpling.

Friends who visited on earlier occasions shared bad reviews on the noodles, but what we had wasn't too bad. Though the Scallop Somen ($22) with fish roe, ebi, scallop and salted egg yok sauce was salty, it was still palatable as a whole. True, the noodles was soft but somen isn't known to have an al-dente bite either. It's okay if expectation are managed.

Same goes for the BlackRed Duple Noodles ($18). The mix of black and red noodles doesn't have the kind of springy texture which we prefer, but had a slippery, starchy bite which can be enjoyable too. Braised beef slices were tender and we both like the consommé-like soup which was clear and light yet full of flavors.

So far, still okay. We had expected the desserts to be the highlight rather than the savories. Ironically, both desserts which we tried turned out to be disappointing.

The Chocolate Praline Poprocks Cake ($19) features the unimaginative pairing of chocolate brownie with ice cream. Fortunately it was enlivened by the peanut butter-like spread with popping candy. Still, it was something rather simple to put together. There wasn't really any wow factor to speak of.

As for the gorgeous purple-hue Cassis Plum ($24) with cassis bombe, elderflower yogurt foam, choya granita, yuzu pearls, and yuzu rubies, it was sour. One-dimensionally sour. Extremely sour. Unbearably sour. We left most of it untouched.

Service was a mixed bag. While there was a helpful waiter who arranged a more suitable table for us as we didn't want to sit at the the uncomfortable looking bar seats or longish-shape table which will place my friend and I too far apart to have a decent conversation, there was also the non-smiling server who gave us the "you are just wasting my time cos I know you wouldn't buy any ice cream from me" roll-eye look when we ask to try some of the flavors.

Many years back I visited 2am:dessert bar and left unimpressed. This time round when I left Janice Wong Restaurant, the feeling is the same.

Creations that are visually pretty, taste that is mostly nothing out of this world, fare that is hardly satisfying, price that can be damaging for the wallet.

Though innovative ideas will definitely capture our initial attention, it is the overall dining experience which will determine if it's worthy of a return visit. In this case, it's a no.

Janice Wong Restaurant
Address: 93 Stamford Road, National Museum Singapore, 01-06, Singapore 178897
Contact: +65 9712 5338
Website: http://janicewong.com.sg/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chefjanicewong/
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-11pm / Fri-Sat 11am-1am / Sun 11am-6pm

Prices are (1) Stated in Singapore dollars (2) Subject to 10% service charge & 7% GST (3) Correct at point of published date.

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