Photos by Chong Yap unless otherwise indicated
Food critic Chong Yap of popular food blog Make Your Calories Count, was at Tong Le Private Dining at OUE Tower for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. It is one of the only two restaurants in Singapore that offers a dining experience in a revolving tower.
With its offering of a panoramic tour of the Marina Bay area while seated in the comfort of chic, dark wood furniture, the revolving Tong Le Private Dining restaurant will inspire you with glimpses of the Marina Bay waterfront and possibly your office if you work around Raffles Place. We even had the luxury of watching the Marina Bay Laser Show from our table at 8pm which featured spectacular light and water displays!
It was quite an unconventional way to celebrate Valentine's Day at a Chinese restaurant but 14 February this year coincides with the last day of Chinese New Year, also known as 元宵节. While it is typically a day for reunion with families, this day is celebrated as the Chinese Valentine's Day in Hong Kong.
The overall dining experience in a revolving restaurant and the fine quality food served complemented with dedicated service made this meal especially memorable for us as we celebrated our sixth Valentine's Day together!
The restaurant is divided into two separate levels, 8 and 10 with the former having karaoke facilities for diners. We were given a table on level 10 and you could experience the exclusivity right from the moment we stepped in as we were warmly greeted and ushered into a private lift to the 10th floor. This reminds us of our dining experience at Fook Lam Moon in Hong Kong. While Fook Lam Moon accepts walk-in customers, having a meal at Tóng Lè Private Dining requires advance reservations.
Stepping out from the lift, we were welcomed by a designated butler for our table who greeted me by my name. While there was a master butler who attended to our needs, there were two other younger servers who assisted him. That surely added a layer of personal touch and we were ushered to a cosy area that exuded sophistication and elegance. Our table was partitioned away from the neighbouring two tables so we were given that desired level of privacy.
Offering only set menus, each had a really meaningful and traditional meaning from 惜春, 锦绣 to 长乐.
We had countless yusheng this year but seeing that this was the last lohei for the year, could it be the best?
The serving of yellowtail and tuna was generous and thickly sliced too, which suited my preference. The designated butler who served the dish recited the words of blessing in a seasoned fashion and with when he was done, it was the usual messy affair for us!
While sweet plum sauce remained the base sweetener for this classic dish, the homemade sauce was well balanced with the acidity of the fresh passion fruit which paired the lime juice to give the tang.
The texture was largely similar to the one tried at Park Palace, which ingeniously introduced crispy vermicelli to give a nice crispy crunch to each mouthful. We particularly loved the glazed cashews that made all the difference.
The fresh vegetables were finely sliced and with overall it was presented elegantly against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset.
There is no denial that bird's nest is one of my lady's favourites when it comes to food! With the option to customise your menu based on dining preferences, I chose this over shark's fin. We enjoyed that the broth was viscous and rich in flavours from the chicken broth and crab meat. It tasted very much like your usual shark's fin in terms of taste for the bird's nest was plain in taste but you could taste the premium quality in the cave bird's nest as we slurped down the delicious chunks in big mouthfuls! Only carefully selected premium grade bird's nest from swiftlets in the Aerodramus family in caves were used for the preparation of this dish.
Personally, I found that introducing black truffle to this typically Chinese soup suggested subtly a fusion touch by the chef as the thin slice contributed marginally in terms of flavour but surely spruce up the elegance and exquisiteness of the dish.
Our complaints for the dish were that there was a small crab shell remnant in my soup and for the lady, we found a transparent sleeve typically found in crab claws and legs in her serving. While we did not voice to the serving staffs, we did leave it out on the plate but I suppose it went unnoticed.
Before the chef introduced the mains, we were presented with this homemade sorbet which was intended to cleanse our palate. The sorbet was made from roselle, which is a type of flower and interestingly, there were popping candies drizzled on top which would sizzle in your mouth! In terms of taste, it actually reminded me of sour plum which was a balance of mild sourness complemented by a satisfying level of sweetness that pleased our palates.
While the flavours and the popping candies were brilliant, it was not as smooth as desired and for the lady's portion, there was a frozen chunk of ice. I felt that while the culinary concept was refreshing, the preparation technique could be further refined.
This dish is a classic from the Ming Dynasty royal cuisine. Involving luxurious Chinese ingredients such as abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw, crispy deep-fried oyster, pig tendons, it was simmered over low heat for an extensive period of time.
Individually served in claypots over a live fire which dissipated after some 30 seconds, it surely brought wows to the table with such a graceful appearance to the dining table. We enjoyed the savouriness of the dish with the viscous gravy which captured the fine essence of the premium ingredients. The abalone was cooked to perfection with just a slight bouncy texture without tasting too rubbery and both the fish maw and sea cucumber were almost melt-in-your-mouth tender.
I am a huge fan of geoduck clams so this was a must-try and quite frankly, I was looking forward to it right from the beginning!
The slices of geoduck clam were sliced to an uniform thickness and I loved that the selected cut was the more crunchy portion with a blend of the tender cut.
Served sashimi style, the server poured in the hot seafood broth before us, allowing minimal but sufficient cook time for the prized geoduck clam which was the star of the dish.
The dough fritters were deep-fried to a beautiful golden brown crispness that gave a nice texture which complemented the al dente handmade rice vermicelli which had the bounciness of a classic egg wanton noodles but thickness of ramen. Let your imagination run wild.
While the respective ingredients impressed, I found that the seafood broth lacked depth and flavour. Quite frankly, I was quite disappointed as it tasted very pedestrian and personally I found the broth for geoduck clam at flagship Crystal Jade Palace Restaurant fared a notch better.
I succumb easily to a good dessert and it is usually not hard to win me over with some good quality yam like all Teochews would. The combination won me over completely, be it the presentation or flavours, it seemed to form a perfect harmony. The rich coconut ice cream complemented the velvety smooth yam paste and I loved the crisp Chinese yam slice which served its purpose of aesthetics and adding a fine layer of texture with its crispness.
On hindsight, while I loved the dessert, we thought that if the yam could be served warm, it would add another dimension to the dish as it pairs with the ice cream.
We were pleasantly surprised when we were served a complimentary dessert by the chef. The Chinese calligraphy was anything but praise-worthy and the kind thought, priceless. As I made it clear during my reservation that I was going to celebrate Valentine's day concurrently, we thought that this was a very special touch by the restaurant and the chef.
A simple chocolate cake with a delicately crafted chocolate cookie resting atop, the dried cranberries were perfect condiments to match.
Reminiscing the meal, I realised that Tóng Lè did a sublime job in trying to inject elements of fusion techniques while retaining conventional Cantonese cooking.
Often, we find ourselves craving for a perfect dessert to sum up a sumptuous Chinese meal but on this occasion, I am convicted that Tóng Lè nailed it. What made the dishes outstanding were the additional visual effects such as the dry ice and flames that added a varying dimension to the dishes.
There was also a fine collection of wine and various types of liquor to choose from.
At times, I had some questions about the dishes and the menu. The younger serving staff were not knowledgeable enough to answer our queries and personally I thought that was an aspect that requires some improvement considering that you are offering fine private dining. Overall, the serving staffs were very courteous and we were always greeted even on the way to the washroom or on the way out. Special attention was taken to walk us to the lift before they bid us farewell.
In accordance to traditional Chinese customs, it is common practice to send gifts and rice to close business associates and extended family members as a form of blessing for them to do well in the year ahead.
While the meal came to just under S$200/pax, I felt that it was a meal that was worth the calories and certainly worth a visit.
We are looking forward to our next visit already!
We took a stroll after dinner along Fullerton Bay area and saw this irresistibly beautiful full moon against the backdrop of Marina Bay Sands. I am sharing this picture here despite it being a poor quality snapshot from my trust-worthy Blackberry.
Nonetheless, I hope everyone had an enjoyable Valentine's Day with your loved one or for those who took the time to spend it with their families, had a good reunion on 元宵节!
Tóng Lè Private Dining
OUE Tower, Level 8 & 10
60 Collyer Quay
By reservations only: (+65) 6634 3233