Gao Ren Guan reminded me of two very important things that we tend to forget. We become so complacent with the flavour palette with which we have become familiar that new tastes sometimes have a hard time winning over our affections, and unjustly so. Secondly, we eat Chinese food regularly, but it’s food with its provenance in very select parts of China, with Canton, Sichuan and Hokkien provinces being the most dominant. Gao Ren Guan’s Gao Zhou-centric cuisine is a succinct reminder that Chinese food is so much more diverse than we give it credit for.
Describing itself as serving the sort of food that you would cook at home (improbable, unless you have a Gao Zhou mother or cook), Gao’s cuisine pays tribute to the province from which it hails. Experiencing it for the first time is like meeting a stranger with whom you’re not quite sure if you’ll get on. There are dishes that are readily accessible, such as the braised salted chicken with ginger, which yields a familiar taste, but also, uncharacteristic of Chinese cooking in general, fairly restrained.
Other dishes however were more of a struggle, and I say this from a purely personal point of view. The braised fried pork belly with yam, comprising fatty pork belly slices sandwiched between slices of yam and smothered in a blanket of rich, savoury ‘nam yu’ gravy seems to me a touch OTT. Not least because neither the pork nor the yam – both fatty, both oleaginous – triumph in what seems to be a futile struggle for textural dominance. Similarly, the braised tofu pok balls stuffed with minced pork, shredded fish and chives in a fish bone soup may be a house speciality, but the resulting flavour is confusing because none of the ingredients take precedence.
That’s not to say that none of the food is enjoyable: the crispy nam yu pork using fatty meat from the cheeks is a welcome alternative to char siew and the juxtaposition between the crispy edges and the fatty centre is immensely satisfying. Similarly, the grandpa omelette that’s fried with chicken and duck’s eggs might seem unorthodox but the almost cheesy taste it produces is far from unpleasant and actually works. Keep an open mind and try the stir-fried Gao Zhou lettuce with dace in black bean sauce. The bitterness of the lettuce is assuaged by the black beans and dace, and the dish is a taste sensation that, once acquired, will grow on you.
It’s easy to dismiss a province that’s known more for its lychees and longans than gastronomic prowess, but kudos to the owners of Gao Ren Guan for showing us that it’s time to stop resting on our culinary laurels and open our minds to the diverse landscape that is Chinese food. Fay Khoo
|Venue name:||Gao Ren Guan Jaya One||Contact:|
72A Jalan Universiti
|Opening hours:||Daily, 11am-3pm, 6pm-10pm|