In the rather intriguing PR slug-fest to crown the new king of shopping malls in Singapore – the ION or Orchard Central – crowd numbers seem to be giving the thumbs-up to the former. Of course, whether the people milling around the ION’s bold-faced shops are actually buying anything is another story because, for the moment, all the cash-register action seems to be taking place in the vast food basements. All of which made the rather deathly silence of Orchard Central’s eighth-floor restaurant promenade on a recent visit just that little bit more eerie.
The Shaanxi menu at Duo Le benefits from its plum location right next to the schizophrenic lifts (get into the wrong one at ground level and you’ll shoot right past the floor you want), but that also means if you’re seated near the void, you – and the low-key chinoiseried interiors with highlights of orchids – are bathed in very unflattering fluorescent light.
And maybe it was because there were only two other occupied tables that night (one of which appeared to be family members of the owners), but the solicitous service bordered on the intrusive. The captain stood sentry right by our table and watched us crunch into the stack of crisp, oversized winter melon sticks that had been soaked in orange juice from a carton (and yes, you could tell it wasn’t freshly squeezed). ‘How is it?’ she asked. Go away, I prayed. Meanwhile, dishes emerged from the kitchen at such a clip, we wondered aloud if the restaurant was closing early that night. Or maybe this is the speed at which people in Shaanxi province eat? The ever-vigilant captain marched swiftly into the kitchen and slammed on the brakes. Thankfully, the kitchen’s enthusiasm, matched with a sure and confident direction, in many ways almost created a palimpsest of a Crystal Jade. The thinly shaved rounds of sweetly flavoured, aspic pork knuckles, for instance, were familiar, though a lively kick came courtesy of the chilliflecked vinegar dip.
And despite the starched linen, the quietly swanky setting and the thick-papered glossy menu, Duo Le successfully avoids pretentious culinary tricks. So, the vegetarian plate of cashews and mushrooms, streaked with slivers of yellow and green peppers, brimmed with comforting garlicky and oniony flavours. Zha zhiang mian – the natural white and spinach hued loops blending with a creamy hard-boiled egg – was tossed with a subtle gravy of mince and bean paste; and the bijoux thinned skinned dumplings flooded the mouth with sweet meaty, chive-scented juice. However, due to either a simple lack of imagination, or a somewhat miserly approach to the menu, there are only four desserts to choose from. None caught the eye; a verdict confirmed with the arrival of a dull rock-sugar flavoured soup of white fungus streaked with the same store bought orange juice that had earlier graced the winter melon sticks. It was a telling lapse, one that you couldn’t help thinking, as you walked out, would never have happened at Crystal Jade.
|Venue name:||Duo Le|
#08-09 Orchard Central
181 Orchard Road
|Opening hours:||Daily 11am-10pm.|
|Do you own this business?|