Published on February 6, 2008
Chinese New Year in Thailand gives gourmets of all ages reasons to cheer, restaurants luring families with a feast of food promotions. But what kind of Chinese fare is sure to satisfy the different tastes of all your family? One option is the array of all-time Cantonese favourites featured by a restaurant that has built up a name for itself both here and abroad.
I first heard about Crystal Jade from a neighbour, a Hong Kong-born Canadian who has settled in Bangkok. A fanatic foodie, Nicky Chan used just one word to describe Crystal Jade's offerings - "delicious" - before drifting off into a midday gastronomic reverie.
Two years ago Crystal Jade, a branch of a Singapore-based, Hong Kong-run restaurant chain, made its Bangkok debut in the newly opened Siam Paragon with its signature selection of Cantonese-style dishes. It's sister branch, the Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao at Erawan, has since opened, featuring hand-made la mian noodles and Northern Chinese dishes on the menu.
Bangkok's Crystal Jade retains the same kind of decor as its peers in other countries, with oak-wood tables and rich deep-red velvet upholstery giving the place the solid, cosy-but-grand ambience of a banqueting hall. Private rooms are also available, seating any number from four to 14 guests.
Crystal Jade has two main menus, one for Cantonese dishes and one for dim sum (spelled "tim sum" here, following the spoken Cantonese). The restaurant stands out against the tide of special Chinese New Year banquet menus offered elsewhere, sticking to the variety of dishes that have proved popular all year round. It's refreshingly democratic, giving all family members plenty of tastes and textures to choose from.
Our auspicious meal began with a plate of colourful mango duck (Bt200), the thick and succulent slices of roast duck breast interleaved with bright slices of Thai mango nestled on a bed of tangy mango sauce. The simple combination delivered an exotic journey for the taste buds. The tender duck needs to be eaten with its crispy aromatic skin complete with visible sliver of underlying fat. You can always hit the treadmill afterwards, but for the full celebration you have to experience all the flavours.
Crystal Jade is known for high culinary standards, a reputation that must be difficult to maintain across all of its 50 branches in Southeast Asia. One secret, according to the chain's Thai partner Ek-rit Boonpiti, lies in the quality-control brought by the frequent impromptu visits by executive chefs to each branch.
"We're also very serious about ingredient sourcing," explains Ek-rit, an advocate of the authentic flavours of Cantonese cuisine. "We only use the best ingredients we can find for each dish, and this keep our sourcing department busy all year long."
For big families, a huge combo platter of suckling pig, marinated sliced duck, deep-fried prawn dumplings and marinated jellyfish with sea whelk (Bt1,400) is a good choice for a starter. The restaurant is famed for the meticulous preparation of its roasted suckling pig (available in portions ranging from single to whole-pig) and the results meet our expectations. One thing I quickly learn here is to train my palate to Cantonese flavours, which don't need to be drowned in dipping sauce. I'm a dumpling person, and it's not long before I'm munching through a small mountain of crunchy prawn dumplings. I make a mental note: a return visit would be worth it just for these wonderful morsels.
The variety of dim sum on offer is almost overwhelming. We have always been predictable in our ha-gao and sui-mai orders, so here we opted for crispy-fried bean curd prawn roll (Bt85), baked abalone-and-chicken pastry (Bt85), crispy, light taro curry puff (Bt75), and steamed barbecue pork bun (Bt65). One bite of the abalone pastry is all it took to shatter my expectations of a fatty, cheap-cookie-like taste that have built up through previous encounters. The light-as-a-cloud pastry is just too delicious to resist, instantly making this dish my number-one favourite from now on.
Traditional New Year's fare like soup, whole fish and seafood are all available at Crystal Jade. At this time of year, the Chinese pay close attention to the meanings of each dish, with seafood signalling prosperity and good luck. But note that the sumptuous "Monk Jumps Over the Wall" soup (Bt1,200/person) needs to be ordered in advance. This broth to beat all broths is made from expensive ingredients believed to be highly beneficial to health. Lobster served with rich soup with sprinkles of dried fish (Bt700/piece) is also an edible good-luck charm, as is the whole steamed coral trout (Bt260/gram).
Crystal Jade's food is a reminder that we need to eat well to live well, and a good meal is always a wonderful thing to be shared with your family.
Crystal Jade Restaurant is open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch and 5.30 to 10pm for dinner. Sunday lunch is available from 11.30am to 4pm. Call (02) 129 4343, 610 9363.
Sirin P Wongpanit