Now that the series is finally coming to Singapore, we can expect a flourish of interest in all things Koreana, especially Korean food. Crystal Jade fired the first salvo with the month-long promotion of a special menu featuring dishes inspired by the series.
The set was for a minimum of four people. Good timing then that fifth brother came down with his wife to attend a wedding. We were seated in one of the booths in the small and crowded restaurant. The waitresses wore a pink costume instead of the usual beige uniform, and that appeared to be the only special touch to mark the promotion. Around us, it was business as usual with other customers ordering bbq, ginseng chicken and kimchee fried rice. It felt a little weird, I pretended we were eating in a canteen off the palace kitchen.
The appetisers were the usual, this is good because I've always liked their kim chee and pickled radish. A cool drink of honey, ginseng and red dates was served to tune the tastebuds.
The first dish was Summer Rolls, a D-I-Y style wrap of a variety of vegetables, omelet strip and sauteed beef. It was also the signature dish of the lead character. This also typifies my impression of the cooking in the series, where vegetables and herbs were used in abundance and cooked very simply. Here we had fresh mushrooms, red capsicum, golden mushrooms, omelet, beef, carrots, bamboo shoots and cucumbers. All the vegetables were sliced into even and long julienne strips and seasoned lightly. The taste was refreshing and the flavours harmonious without any particular taste dominating.
The next two dishes did not seem very palace-like but were tasty if one could overlook their everyday-ness.
Then there was a plate of seafood and vegetables wrapped with an eggy mixture and fried lightly. Some of the pieces included a juicy pork stuffing. Also a grilled whole fish with delicate flesh and sweet taste.
A hearty dish of braised beef ribs with radish and ginseng came next. The meat was tender and infused with the twin sweetness, one of full-bodied dried red dates and the other, a more subtle bitter-sweetness from the fresh ginseng. Absolutely delicious, we cleaned out the little stone pot.
We were already very full when this pretty dish was set before us. A generous steamboar of seafood and winter melon soup. The strips of winter melon were sweet and still a little crunchy, and I enjoyed too the little pieces of gingko nuts hiding in the delicate soup. The portion was more than generous for two or three people and we were too full to do justice to it. It would make a lovely meal for a cold evening.
In case we were still hungry, the final dish was a bowl of ginseng congee. The pine nuts, red dates and ginseng slices hidden inside were lovely, but the dish was spoiled by a most jarring detail- the congee tasted like those served in their cantonese outlets, and it made a very incongrous base for the medicinal-like flavours of ginseng.
The last dish summarised the bizzareness of the meal. It was impossible to be transported mentally to a 'royal' mood when seated in our little cubicle in the middle of a noisy and bright restaurant and getting more than a few whiffs of barbequing activities from neighbouring tables. CJ may have used this promotion to test the waters for when the expected Jewel fever take place, like what happened in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia. If they plan to do it again, at least do it at more upmarket venues like CJ Golden Palace. (Hmm, as if anybody from CJ is reading this blog!)