We dine at the Holland Village outlet of the Crystal Jade La Mian XLB chain of restaurants fairly frequently, so you could say I'm pretty familiar with the stuff here. By and large, what was served at the tasting was in line with the stuff I'd come to expect of the ever-dependable Crystal Jade Group. Still, I went back a couple of days later, incognito, to try the same dishes with the Hubs, as a quality control of sorts. Save for the marinated chicken, everything else, including the service, was on par with the tasting.
Service here is swift and perfunctorily efficient. I've always been partial to Crystal Jade's elderly auntie waitresses, they may be no spring chickens but they sure move like one!
I've always wondered how chefs get the soup into these little dumpling bundles, and it turns out that the stock is made into a jelly and then blended into the pork mince. Upon steaming, the jelly bits melt, filling the dumpling pockets with soup. And to think I used to think that the stock was injected into the dumplings! Here, the eponymous Steamed Soupy Xiao Long Bao ($5.20 for 4 pcs) was very respectable. I've always been enamoured with Din Tai Fung's version, but Crystal Jade's rendition is relatively competitive. The skin may be slightly thicker than DTF's version, but it's still thin enough and chewy. The pork mince is fresh, and the soup is delicate and sweet.
The Chicken Marinated with Chinese Wine & Wolfberry ($9) is a popular starter dish. Succulent chicken is dunked in a cloudy, collagen-rich broth sweetened with wolfberries and Chinese Shaoxing wine.
During my return visit, the appetizer was noticeably more chilled and there was a definite increase in the alcoholic levels of Chinese wine. This was a lot more heady, but somehow, cleaner in taste. This made for a crisper, clearer, more enticing appetizer, whereas the former would have fared better as a side dish for its more rounded flavours.
The Spicy & Sour Soup in 'Sichuan' Style ($7.50) was choc-a-bloc with ingredients - soft beancurd strips, slippery Chinese black mushrooms and egg drops mingled with crunchy julienned bamboo shoots and black fungus for a toothsome bite. Just the right balance was struck between the sour and spicy, and these flavours were in abundance so I was left sniffling a fair bit. For those who love their chilli, you can opt to spice it further by adding chilli oil.
On my return visit, the Hubs loved this for its strong robust flavours, it was just as sour as it was spicy. You've been duly warned.
The Braised Pork Belly ($14.80), is another popular choice here. Hours of braising had resulted in a gelatinous skin and meltingly tender meat. This was the Shanghainese version of our Hokkien kong bak, with a more savoury mellow flavour than its sweet overtures of the more intensely flavoured Hokkien counterpart.
As with the Hokkien-style kong bak bao, fluffy steamed pancakes were on hand to sandwich the fatty pork. A plain contrast to the richly seasoned meat.
On the return visit, the Hubs mentioned, while wolfing down the sinfully fatty meat, that he needed to get more insurance. In particular, those that covered heart disease. If there ever was a (good) reason to lie (by omission) to your cardiologist, this would be it.
The Sauteed Egg White with Fish Meat and Conpoy ($13.50) is a dish we order quite regularly here. Best eaten piping hot, because it develops a cloying film when tepid. The fluffy clouds of perfectly fried scrambled egg whites relied on the umami taste of shredded conpoy and Chinese ham bits for flavour. Texture aside, this is very delicate, almost verging on plain. For those who prefer stronger flavours, this may not be as palatable for you as it was for me.
I loved the Spicy Chicken with Poached La Mian ($9.80). It's basically a Shanghainese version of the Hubs' much beloved Korean cold spicy noodles (bibim naeng myeon). It blended the piquant and sweet with spicy to make a delightfully refreshing, palate-cleansing clear dish. For a carb dish, this didn't feel carby at all.
On my return visit, the Hubs' tasting notes were that he'd have preferred this much colder, and more piquant. To be fair, he was comparing it to his incomparable Korean cold spicy noodles. That said, this made for a passable substitute to tide him over his motherland cravings till we make our yearly pilgrimage to Seoul.
For dessert, the Mango Pudding ($6) is always a crowd pleaser. World-renowned Philippines mangoes are used here, with half a mango made into chunks and the remaining half juiced into the pudding. The pudding is smooth and sweet but not overtly so, with plentiful diced mango cubes laced into it.
Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao
241 / 241A Holland Ave
Tel: 6463 0968
Open daily from 11am to 10pm