Something many of you may not know about me is that I am a quarter Chinese. My grandfather Wun on Tong immigrated from the Canton province in China to New Zealand in the 1930’s to flee the changes in government. He met my Irish grandmother in Auckland; they married and had a family of three children with my mum being the youngest. As is sometimes the way, their marriage unfortunately wasn’t meant to be and she left the children to be raised by their loving but hard working father. Sadly I never got to meet my grandfather as he passed away before I was born but my mum has very fond memories of him and has shown me some gorgeous photos of him. He was quite a handsome man!
My Chinese ancestry is one I know little about and I wish I had more knowledge of this side of my family. I love traditional Chinese food culture and I am not averse to trying unusual dishes however I am often heavily restricted with what I can actually eat because of gluten. Soy sauce is used ubiquitously in Asian cuisine however I am yet to see a bottle of gluten free soy sauce on supermarket shelves in any of the Asian countries I have visited.
Recently on our return from our Thailand wedding we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Singapore. One evening we dined at their Cantonese restaurant Cherry Garden and I was blown away how capable they were at accommodating my gluten free requirements.
I don’t usually like eating at the hotel we stay in excluding breakfast but with our post-wedding exhaustion kicking in we were both happy to be able to dine out without having to go very far. On arrival at Cherry Garden we were warmly greeted and taken to our table. We were offered some crispy fish as a complementary starter. They were like prawn crackers; crunchy, quite salty and very tasty. Fish pretzels!
One of my favourite Cantonese starters is chilled jelly fish. This is considered a delicacy and is usually prepared with oil, vinegar, chilli, sesame seeds and soy sauce. The chef was happy to make this dish gluten free for me. The jelly fish had the perfect texture and was resilient without any excessive chewiness. It wasn’t too spicy either meaning both the Boy and I could enjoy it together. We have mismatched chilli tolerances; he can barely tolerate any whilst I enjoy a bit of kick. Our polarised taste buds can run us into trouble sometimes when we share spicy meals.
Our next dish was a “trilogy of hand-picked mushrooms “. There were shiitake mushrooms in a spicy garlic vinegar emulsion and some Monkey head mushrooms in a tangy sweet and sour sauce.
The third and best part of this dish was the deep fried enoki mushrooms. Frying these tiny little things turned them into semi-translucent crisps that almost reminded me of whitebait. Being such a mushroom addict I was in seventh heaven, the combination of these three morsels made it a truly delectable dish. As we gobbled up the portions we were glad we didn’t choose the set menu as we would have never got this dish.
After walking past a number of bird’s nest stores earlier in the day, we were intrigued enough to try this delicacy for ourselves. Edible bird’s nests are among one of the most expensive animal products in the world with an average nest selling for about $US 2500 per kilo. When added to a soup, the bird’s nest forms a gelatinous substance. I was surprised at how mild its flavour was and it had quite a firm texture. The addition of crab and egg white gave the soup a lovely sweet after taste however I went bit nuts with adding the chilli oil to my soup, added too much and ended up nearly coughing up a lung.
Our next dish wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I ordered chilli crab anticipating it to be whole pieces of crab however out came a creamy crab soup. The Boy’s soup was served in a Mantou which is a type of Chinese bun and for mine they replaced this with some gluten free bread on the side. Considering how many fine dining Western restaurants don’t bother sourcing gluten free bread I was very impressed to be served some here. The soup was so velvety smooth and despite not being what I wanted I was not left disappointed.
Our final main dish was braised homemade tofu with monkey head mushrooms and green vegetables. The tofu was set with seaweed on top and was incredibly silky. It makes such a difference in texture when the tofu is made in house.
At this point our attention was drawn away from our own table and over to the couple next to us. The waiter had just brought out a spectacular looking dessert complete with dry ice. The smoke was tumbling down off the edge of their table and was mesmerising. I hoped that we could order one too. I was in luck once more. The waiter said that it would be possible to do a similar dessert gluten free. This would have to be the first time I have eaten a gluten free meal in a Chinese restaurant and not felt like I miss out whatsoever.
Our dessert consisted of cherries marinated in two Chinese rice wines: Nui er hong and Kuei hua chen. It was served with refreshing lychee sorbet. After so many courses it was good to end on something light but sweet.
Our experience at Cherry Garden was a polished one from beginning to end. It was a little on the pricey end but we did eat a number of delicacies and receive impeccable service. Their ability to adapt their traditional dishes to be gluten free was done with a can-do attitude and at the end of the night our waiter came over and gave me a fresh long stemmed rose to keep. A sweet gesture that brightened up our hotel room for the duration of our stay.www.mandarinoriental.com Price: $$$ Food: 4.5/5 (totally adapted for GF, wonderful flavours) Service: 5/5 (very polished without stuffiness) Ambience: 3/5 (a little dark and not a lot of other diners) Drinks: 3.5/5 (inflated mark ups on wine prices as often in hotels) Total: 16/20