Although we were served some of the dishes ala carte-style at the invited tasting, this review is based solely on the dishes at the self-serve buffet counters, i.e. the same stuff partaken by the everyday walk-in diner, As such, the need for an incognito revisit did not arise.
The buffet was a mixed bunch of hits and misses, with the bulk of the offerings averaging right smack in the middle. I think, the main issue with these pedestrian dishes, was the execution. The concept to luxuriously amp up traditional Peranakan cuisine was brilliant, and while the flavours were just about right, the finishing was lackadaisical. That said, the dishes served ala carte style fared half a notch better than their counterparts sitting in the buffet counters. It was only to be expected, freshly cooked grub will always be better than food left out in the open. Personally, I think the buffet would fare better if they converted the buffet to an ala carte one, instead of the current self-serve buffet.
The Kueh Pie Tee, luxed up by a dollop of keluak nut paste and fish roe, was a major hit for its unique spin on a local fave.
The Kueh Pie Tee and Popiah counter, where the appetizers are made-to-order.
The Popiah, dripping with juices, was scrumptious as well. I loved the generous addition of freshly shredded sweet crabmeat in this.
The Chicken Satay was surprisingly good. A small amount is put out every so often straight from the grill, to ensure you get only the piping hot ones, and the chicken skewers were succulent, flavourful and moist.
The Chilled Seafood, namely Oysters, shucked only upon order to maximise freshness, were sparkling fresh.
Ditto for the Black Mussels, Prawns, and Littleneck Clams.
The Cempedak Creme Brulee had a controlled balance that toed the fine line of sweet and rich.
The rich creaminess of the Durian Penyet was balanced out by the light pandan jello base, and sweetened further with gula melaka.
The Steamed Black Cod Otak, a premium rendition of a local classic, didn't impress. Unlike Curry Wok's stellar version, there weren't any noticeable hunks of fish flakes, so this kind of got lost in the sea of mediocrity.
As a quick comparison, this was the version served ala carte at the tasting, and from the looks of it, indeed nicer than the above one at the buffet stations. Piping hot, and half a notch moister, this was quite outstanding.
The Laksa, made-to-order, was just a little generic, with chunks of dry-ish chicken and a forgettable gravy. That said, the awesome punchy sambal kicked the gravy into high gear, so the more the better, and the quail's egg was a lovely touch.
The Chap Chye, inspite of its uninspiring appearance, was brimming with a mellowed garlicky sweetness, and boasted a comforting homestyled taste. Not super outstanding but fairly memorable.
The Lembu Rendang, using Australian beef cheek, needed a while more on the fire. The flavours were all present, but the texture needed more time to achieve that elusive fall-off-the-bone texture.
The Ayam Buah Keluak was commendable, especially the meaty nut filling, but like the rendang above, the chicken needed more time on the stove to be fork-tender.
Ditto for the Nangka Lemak, jackfruit chicken curry, with its spot-on flavours but less than tender meat.
The Desserts were a-ok, but the Peranakan-styled ones stood out noticeably. The cakes, clockwise from top, Mango Cake, Coconut Tart, Corn Fudge Cake, Pandan Kaya Cake, Coconut Gula Melaka Cake.
More desserts, with Portuguese Egg Tarts, Mini Doughnuts and a smooth and rich Durian Penyet.
Kueh Amboon, Kueh Rainbow, Ang Ku Kueh, Kueh Seri Kaya, Kueh Ketar, Kueh Lapis, Ondeh-Ondeh
And then there were those that made me regret wasting my calories. The Chilli Garam Fish was disappointingly dried out. Methinks it wouldn't have been this dried out if it was served ala carte instead.
The Fish Curry looked like it'd been sitting out for a while, with the noticeable film of solidified crud at the side.
The Kangkong with Sweet Potatoes in titik paste was lacking in that heady punchy flavour.
The Udang with Sambal Petai was let down by the tasteless but bouncy prawns.
The Babi Pongteh was lacking in that rich sweetness, and to compound the lackluster watery sauce, the pork belly was still tough and meaty.
Ditto for the Kong Bak as well.
The Sayur Lodeh was another vapid dish, I particularly disliked the powdery gravy.
There was a decidedly limited Indian section, probably to cater to their international hotel guests, with Butter Chicken that had also evidently been sitting out on the buffet for a while.
The Braised Sea Cucumber with Mushrooms was insipid. I was hoping for that rich earthiness of properly braised black mushrooms, but these were waterlogged and didn't have the time to properly soak in good braising sauce.
The Steamed Carrot Cake with mushroom and Chinese chicken sausage, another uninspiring dish that'd been sitting out for some time, was lacking in that soft, melty texture.
The Fried Hokkien Mee was very pedestrian. Good concept with copious amounts of pork belly and lovely stock, but failure to follow through resulted in a rather run-of-the-mill offering. The rendition that was served at the tasting, ala carte-style of course, was a hit, so you know the kitchen is capable of much better food.
Ditto for the Mee Goreng, which vegetables had actually gone yellow-ish from sitting out in the buffet for a significant period.
I hated how they dosed the Chilli Crab with that much coriander leaves, which totally distracted from the gravy. This would have been much better self-served on the side. I couldn't tell how the gravy tasted without the overpowering taste of the garnish.
And then there were the party poopers. The Oyster Omelette, with mushy oysters and overdone rubbery eggs was an epic fail.
The Fried Calamari, Hokkien Springroll, Otak Phoenix Roll were just as overdone. These were fried to a rubbery stubbornness that made my jaws hurt when I tried them.
The Roasted Pork was awful. It was dry, tough and I spit it out after a good amount of chewing.
Also from the Indian corner, the Matter Paneer tasted as bleh as it looked.
I really wanted to sample the Vegetable Dhal, but the crud film was just too off-putting.
My sincere thanks to the Orchard Hotel marketing team for the warm hospitality and invitation.
Straits Cuisine Buffet
Daily lunch from 12noon to 2.30pm (Adults $48, Child $24)
Daily Dinner from 6pm to 10pm (Adults $68, Child $34)
442 Orchard Road
Orchard Hotel lobby
Tel: 6739 6565