Oldest Private Dining Chefs
By TianTianChi - Saturday, Jul 20, 2013
Red Star Restaurant is nowadays better known as one of the last few remaining restaurants which still serve dim sum on trolleys, like the good old days. Very few of the patrons remember this restaurant was one of the top choices for weddings and celebrations in the 1970s till 1990s. This was afterall the combined brainchild of the legendary Four Heavenly Kings of Chinese cuisine, the late chef Tham Yu Kai, chef Lau Yoke Phui and is now managed by the remaining two master chef Sin Leong and chef Hooi Kok Wai.
With the influx of nouveau Chinese cuisine, their style of simplified and minimalistic cooking from the 1990s is now labeled as old school. However, this place remains as a favourite for companies and clan to hold their gatherings and functions. Most of the time they will choose one of the standard banquet menus.
For those in the know, there are more up the sleeves of these two master chefs. When given sufficient notice, they can whip out a special feast that is unlike any other Chinese private dining menu. It will not be a Zen style, East and West fusion with ambient lighting, smooth and slick wait staff in smart uniform, Riedel wine glasses with chateau wines. It can in fact be loud, showy and excessive – reminiscent of lavish wedding dinners of the days gone by.
In a typical dinner like this, the appetiser is served on a golden dragon stand, and here it comes with four different dishes. The Osmanthus Shark ‘s Fin may look like a simple looking stir fried shark’s fin with egg omelette but it takes an experienced and skilled cook to be able to achieve fluffy flakes looking like osmanthus flowers clinging to the shark’s fin needles. The egg’s flavour permeated each strand of the fin. This is a dish best eaten with a piece of fresh lettuce.
There is also Roast Golden Coins. The star here is the slices of candied lard made by pickling in sugar and rose wine for days till the aroma and sweetness are well absorbed, turning the piece of lard translucent and crunchy. It is sandwiched between a slice of pork loin and a slice of chicken, all cut in round shape, stacked, skewered and roasted. When removed from the skewer, the round shape and the hole in the middle makes it looking like a Chinese coin, hence the name.
The Liver Ball consists of minced chicken, pork and liver are shaped into a ball with a salted egg yolk wrapped in it and then deep-fried. This dish is addictive with the crispy texture, moist and juicy filling, crusty and gritty bite.
Also popularly requested is the Pan-Fried Chicken Roll. This creation of theirs was well copied in many restaurants during the 1980s. Chicken meat, usually from the leg is flattened and seasoned. It is then rolled into cigar shape with julienned carrot and pan fried and slathered with a savoury sweet sauce.
The classic Chicken Aspic dish is given a makeover here. Slice ham, poached chicken, roast duck, pork trotter are assembled carefully to resemble a life like koi bonded with jelly made from concentrated chicken and pork stock. You can imagine the myriad of flavors from these items.
You can ask for their excellently done shark’s fin braised with pig tail but it gets more interesting when you are given a Double Boiled Chicken stuffed with bird’s nest. Yes, whole chicken is painstakingly deboned from within and stuffed with bird’s nest. It is then double boiled for several hours. Many know how bird’s nest taste like in a sweet dessert but it works even more wonderfully so with savoury stock, absorbing the richness of the chicken.
Another unique dish is the Braised Turtle Meat wrapped with a net of lace pig caul fat. It is steamed for hours together with flavour absorbing ingredients such as chestnut, dried mushroom and bamboo shoot. The flavorful meat comes out glistening and smoothened by the caul fat, fork tender and hardly has any gaminess. This is a favourite of the elderly and male customers for its supposed nourishing benefit.
Steamed Garoupa with prawn is another rare dish that needs lots of work. The fish is completely deboned, the meat scrapped out and made into paste with prawn, scallop and water chestnut and is then spread over the fish skin, laid back over the remaining structure of the fish and steamed. It is made to look like Qilin, a mystical animal symbolizing good omen.
Included in the menu are also other signature and classics of the chefs – deep-fried duck stuffed with flavorful gummy glutinous rice, deep-fried noodles with delectable dual sauce and so on.Steamed Garoupa with prawn is another rare dish that needs lots of work. The fish is completely deboned, the meat scrapped out and made into paste with prawn, scallop and water chestnut and is then spread over the fish skin, laid back over the remaining structure of the fish and steamed. It is made to look like Qilin, a mystical animal symbolizing good omen.
Included in the menu are also other signature and classics of the chefs – deep-fried duck stuffed with flavorful gummy glutinous rice, deep-fried noodles with delectable dual sauce and so on.
One common thing among these dishes is they are made with artisanal skills, mostly handmade and with the freshest ingredients. So much skill is needed that both chef Sin Leong and chef Hooi Kok Wai will personally cook them. Skills, not many new generation “fast stir-fry” Chinese cooks care to learn these days as they are considered “not profitable, difficult and time consuming”.
For that same reason, they are only able to cook for a few tables at any one time. Comfortably between two to five tables each session. Each table usually ranges from $1,000 for a 9-course dinner, not excessive considering the work put in. To order the private dining menu, it is better to speak directly with chef Sin or chef Hooi for discussion of the menu. It would be best if you can communicate in Mandarin or even better Cantonese.
At their age (Chef Sin is in his 80s and Chef Hooi in his 70s), it is not an exaggeration to describe them as the oldest private dining chefs and still practicing a fading art.
RED STAR RESTAURANT
54 Chin Swee Road
Tel: 65-6532 5266