SINGAPORE – The skies threatened to pour the day I decided to visit Min Jiang at Dempsey for lunch. And so, against my better judgement, I called for a Grab (my first this month) to whisk me off to the hills of Dempsey (my third this week) for a quick lunch with rather enthused company.
The ride was convivial, no thanks to a 5-star driver who regaled me with stories of the huge fish he ate at a restaurant in Jurong (whose name I have completely forgotten), his son who once worked as a server at a famous restaurant but was duly let go when the management found out he was under-aged, and how a friend selling bicycles is enjoying roaring business during Circuit Breaker. So, all in all, quite an enjoyable and informative ride.
I am thrilled to be here at Min Jiang at Dempsey. I've ever only perused pictures and been absolutely in awe at the gently sloping slats of wood that run the width of the space. An actual visit today proves no less breathtaking as I step into a double-leaf door that opens up to a silhouette of a tree, artfully etched into the wall.
But there's no time now for mindless gushing. SafeEntry check-ins must be processed, temperatures taken, and hands duly sanitised. A gentleman in Ming Jiang's signature grey uniform processes my registration and brings me to the dining area, marked by a gradual shift of colour in the square mosaic floor tiles, from orange to green, as if a transition from Earth to a lush forest. Oh, how poetic.
Seldom have there been places that manage to arrest my attention the same way it did with Min Jiang. If I had a home, I want it to look exactly like this—lots of rattan screens, wood aesthetics but not overpoweringly so, soft, warm lights that glow and guide the eyes to a sense of space, and I wouldn't mind a large patch of green outside either. Architect and interior designer, Ernesto Bedmar has done right by this charming, British-era building—and it shows.
As I wait for my food to arrive, the dining room slowly fills up with diners as varied as the dim sum Min Jiang offers. There's a table of ladies who lunch, all dressed in long skirts that billow with each small movements, as they catch each other up over the events of the week; to their side, two ladies, each with a Hermes tote occupying a chair, whispering in hushed tones and laughing gently at jokes only the upper-class understands; seated at an angle away from me is a table with two gentlemen, possibly friends, their brows furrowed in concentration, savouring the meal in silence.
While Bedmar is paramount to the elegance of the locale, it is Master Chef Goh Chee who breathes life into the cuisine at Min Jiang—best described as a creative and contemporary melange of Sichuan and Cantonese. His is a storied career spanning 32 years with more than half of those years dedicated to perfecting the quality of food on offer here and at the other Min Jiang outfit at Goodwood Park Hotel.
It starts with a Deluxe Dim Sum Platter (S$38++)—a quartet of small bites synonymous with cuisine such as this. I especially liked the intensely fragrant Steamed Blue Pea dumpling with truffle vegetable as well as the 'Golden Pumpkin'—a cute little morsel shaped to look like a pumpkin, but inside, is filled with glutinous rice. It's such a surprising play on texture that I can't help but to, in the words of Workers' Party Raeesah Khan, stan.
Elsewhere, a bowl of soup comes with a parcel in the centre, accompanied by a rather thin, cigarette-like spring roll. On the menu, it's known as Braised Sea Treasure Soup in Pomegranate Egg White Parcel accompanied with Prawn Spring Roll (S$48++)—yes, indeed a very unnecessarily long, but descriptive name.
I suggest having this with a touch of vinegar (as any self-respecting connoisseur of this cuisine will know) if only to enhance the brininess of Sri Lankan crab meat in the soup and the abalone and scallops filling in the delicate egg white parcel. Precariously balanced across the bowl, is the prawn spring roll, which I'm quite sure I could finish off at least ten had it not been for annoying self-respect.
I love the Typhoon Shelter Squid and Soft Shell Crab (S$32++) because when has anything fried let anyone down, am I right? The history of this, I've been told, originated from the shelter bays in Hong Kong used to protect fisherman's boats during the island's unrelenting typhoon season. The Bay was filled with floating seafood restaurants—this cooking style came from those very boat dwellers seeking refuge from harsh weather.
At Min Jiang, squid and soft shell crab is the seafood of choice and are breaded and fried with garlic, shallots, and dried chilli flakes. What you get from this is a symphony of aromatic flavours accompanied by a tinge of numbness from the various places where chilli is employed—there are some on the prawns, some in the crisp, some from the flakes. It's all very comforting and easy to eat.
An Iberico Pork Fried Rice (S$18++) could have utilised the protein better given its stellar quality. Here, it's made into a char siu and cooked simply into fried rice and served in a mini pumpkin, which, if I were, to be honest, is the only exciting thing about this presentation. I've been spoiled rotten as you can see from the previous dishes that seem to have been given more outwardly love than it needed.
One cannot go to a restaurant like this and not have the Legendary Wood-fired Beijing Duck served with Homemade Crepes (S$118++) served tableside by a slightly bemused Chef who will carve a whole duck for your Instagram stories.
The ducks here are from Ireland, which explains its lean qualities and delicate flavour and smoked over Applewood to a perfect hue of gold. At Min Jiang, it is served in two methods—firstly, festooned into crepes with sweet sauces, and the remainder made into either a stir-fry or a soup. Either way, it's a presentation to behold for virgin Chinese restaurant visitors.
Dessert is an over the top presentation of a Chilled Blue Pea Lemongrass Jelly with Lime Sorbet and Malay Cake with Salted Egg Custard (S$12++) that comes to the table in a swirl of smoke and drama. It's the perfect palate cleanser after a rather flavour-laden meal—the tart lime sorbet and lemongrass jelly deserve special mention as a refreshing and uplifting denouement.
It is served with a Malay cake which, from a quick Google search, comes from the Cantonese ma lai go, a fluffy steamed cake with origins in Malaysia which then made its way to Hong Kong.
It starts to drizzle again as I make my way out, the crowd in Min Jiang thinning as lunch comes to a close. I feel like I have found my favourite Chinese restaurant—a gem that combines the best of food and ambience with a keen sense of service from start to end.
I honestly cannot wait to come back here again, and that is not something I often say for most places I visit. Get me a table by the huge window facing the patch of garden: I will return.
Website | 7A & 7B Dempsey Road, Singapore 249684
Lunch: 11.30am – 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.30pm – 10.30pm
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