The planning and preparation that one puts into organising a surprise special meal is quite often undone by the most unexpected of circumstances. Very often the amount of effort, planning and research put into finding a nice restaurant coupled with the anticipation of how your loved one, friend or family member will react to it can lead to a situation where you not only stress yourself out in the lead up to the event, you also end up foisting unrealistic expectations onto the venue and food in question.
With my chosen restaurant researched and booked, my girlfriends suspicions and incessant questions subtly and expertly deflected; the day arrived and we made our way to what I hoped would be an enjoyable, relaxing and romantic evening together. The chosen venue for the birthday dinner was Michelin Starred Summer Pavilion at the Ritz Carlton, Millennia Walk.
I can count in single digits the amount of Michelin starred restaurants I have been to in my life; for very obvious reasons the expense, often the location and the exclusivity has kept me away. However, whenever the opportunity has arisen I always grasp it with both hands and look forward to it with something bordering on manic joy and anticipation.
I remember the very first Michelin starred restaurant I went to: Winteringham fields. A gorgeous property set in the lush fertile flat lands of Lincolnshire in the North of England. My father had just retired from the Fire Service and had very generously decided to treat his family; myself, my sister and my mum to our very first restaurant of this kind. The experience was truly wonderful, although oddly I remember very little of it now. What I do remember now are small snippets of that time and place; photographic memories seared into my memory. I remember how the late autumn English sunshine bathed us in gentle warming light as we sipped our Gin and Tonics in the garden before dinner; I remember the phenomenal service and the insane Cheese trolley which the waiter spent 15 minutes ‘introducing’ us to the myriad of cheeses. I remember the look of contempt on the French Sommelier’s face when we ordered 1 bottle of wine for 4 people for 7 courses and, I remember the small stools brought out for my sister and my mum to place their handbags on, and how my mum thought this was for her to sit on.
Probably none of the Michelin starred restaurants I have been to since then have come close to replicating that experience and I doubt any others ever will. There can only ever be one first time after all. However, a few have wowed me with the sheer brilliance of their food, some have underwhelmed and some have downright disappointed and made me question how on earth they managed to get a star in the first place. This feeling of disappointment was what happened on my recent visit to Summer Pavilion.
Expectations were high: a Michelin Starred restaurant in a 5 Star hotel, high quality Chinese food in a beautiful setting. On this evening, I am sorry to say, expectation and reality were very far from being aligned.
We were met with a curt but not utterly joyless welcome from one of the waitresses who showed us to our table; a rather discreet area set away from the main dining area, slightly hidden from the main space. Perfect for a romantic birthday dinner. This was as good as it got.
Upon taking our seats and perusing the menu, we were met with a cacophony of noise from two large circular tables, each of which must have had 15 to 20 people sat around them. This was actually the last day of Chinese New Year and it was very obvious that this was either 1 or 2 families celebrating the end of the festivities.
Whenever you have a large group sat around a table in a restaurant, unless they are nuns, there is going to be a large amount of noise. This was no exception. From the ageing aunties shouting above each other to be heard, the drunk uncles and their offspring behaving like they were at a raucous wedding to the fat Children running around the restaurant, one of which was dressed like a multi-coloured melted marshmallow. The noise level was unacceptable for any restaurant and the waiting staff did not and possibly dared not do a single thing to deal with the situation.
Nevertheless, we pressed on, surely the food would make up for the shortcomings of our fellow guests? It was not to be our night, nor the Chef’s for that matter. What followed was probably the most sub-standard, unimaginative, soulless meal I have had in a very long time.
To start with we had a trio of cold braised beef, jelly fish and abalone. Cold braised beef Chinese style is not my favourite by a long way but it certainly trumps Abalone which why anyone would want to eat something that eats like shoe leather is beyond me. Still, this course was, by the standards of the meal, quite ok. Next followed a soup of chicken, Sea Whelk and fish maw served in a coconut. The presentation was nice and the taste was quite subtle and inoffensive but very short of spectacular. I asked for mine without the Fish Maw as, why on earth would anyone actually order the dried swim bladder of a fish? For the uninitiated, Fish Maw looks like a used sanitary towel that has been soaked in cold tea, the taste, I would venture, is probably of a similar nature.
Following this we had Sautéed clam, chives and bean sprouts. This was actually my favourite course, the flavours worked well and it was cooked very delicately; the clams were soft and sweet and the vegetables crunchy and fresh. However, the presentation was severely lacking, it looked as if it had been thrown on the plate by a chef who stopped caring right about the time 2 tables full of rowdy ah bengs walked in and ruined his restaurant. After this came a course of steamed vermicelli with crab in a lobster stock. Again, it was nice but not spectacular but also extremely surprising to have 2 soup based courses within the same menu. Desert was Chilled Aloe Vera, Kiwi, Strawberry and lime Juice. Utterly boring and uninspired.
Perhaps we caught the chef and the team on an off night? It happens to the best of us, and one night does not a bad restaurant make. However, I saw more than enough during this one service to make me seriously question the wisdom and thought process behind granting this establishment such a coveted culinary award.
Our meal for 2 cost around $270.
(This entry was originally written in February/March 2018.)